At our house there has always been a tradition of surprise packages under the tree. Not a surprise like a new car or diamond necklace. No sirree. The presents under the tree were always fair game for the shake and guess game. Dad was the champ at this game. Sometimes he didn't even have to pick it up. He could look at it from across the room in his easy chair and say it's an indoor pool with an automatic bottom skimmer. Invariably he would be right though the pool was just an example of his practiced eye. We could never have fit such a gift in a rectangular box underneath sparkly paper. It's just an example.
The rest of us at the bottom of Olympus would have to pick it up, shake it, toss it (if it were light enough), and approximate its weight in our attempts to guess. Invariably our guesses were wrong. But the game was the thing. To give the appearance of one thing while being something totally different.
One Christmas when I was very young, prior to my entry into Riverland Terrace School, the local grammar school, my mother decided to fool the Duke of Deduction. The night before I'd taken a lovely little package done up in blue with a rich green bow to him. He looked at it and said, "You can put it back, now, son. I don't need to handle it. It's an electric shaver."
My mother was standing behind my dad. I saw her face grimace. Then, as if a light had gone on in her mind, she smiled and went about her business.
Next day after my dad had left for work and I was still asleep, my mother picked up that package with the shaver and very carefully unwrapped it. She removed that electric razor and filled the box with hard candies. The weight was aprroximate and the package tight without the rattle of loose packing. It was perfect. She smiled to herself as she meticulously rewrapped it. She replaced it in the same spot. It looked completely undisturbed in the placement under the tree. Me? I was oblivious to the scheme. I was too young to be devious. Dad's all knowing ability was just another part of life, like breathing.
The excitement of Christmas was building to a frenzy in my little brain. Santa was coming tonight! It was Christmas eve and to relieve some of the excitement in preparation for sleeping through Christmas Eve night, dad came up with an idea.
He announced, "We'll open one package apiece to night.'
My eyes went wide as I took in all the packages under the tree. I had shaken and rattled all of them. Picking one would be a chore. But not too much of one. I grabbed the biggest.
"OK. If you want that one. But it's said that the best things come in small packages." It was dad's way of trying to steer me toward another choice. It didn't work. Bigger is better in a child's eyes.
My folks sat and watched as I carefully unstuck tape. My relatives used to make fun of me being so persnickety in my unwrapping technique. It was something I learned from my dad. He was always very deliberate in his actions. I copied him like any son would. Finally, I had the box naked of paper. Inside was a Western Ranch model with small plastic men, horses and cows upon flat plastic bases. The ranch house, barn and corral was perfect for my interpretation of the wild west. It was just what I wanted. After a hoop of joy I hugged my folks and fell to playing.
My mother was next. Dad gave her a box wrapped in Santa paper. She took her time opening it and found a watch. Her face lit up and she kissed dad as a thank you. She showed it to me. It was a silver Timex, the watch that takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'.
"What about dad? Where's his present?" I asked. "Which one do you want, dad?"
"I don't need to open one. I'm fine," he said.
My mother went to the tree and picked up her special package.
"No. It's only fair that you open one too." She smilled as she handed it to my dad.
"Alright," he said with a knowing smile. "I'll open one too."
"Yay!" I said.
His slow and deliberate unwrapping took forever in child years. He placed the paper aside. "Keep that. It can be used again." Ever the man of the depressin years, dad saved everything for future reuse.
He opened the box. His face became a mask of puzzlement. Inside was not the razor he had foretold. Inside was an array of hard candies of all color and stripe. He stared at it for a few minutes then looked up at my mother who was grinning like the Cheshire cat. Her moment of triumph was lost in a child's voice asking, "But mom where's the electric razor you bought?'
Her smile waned as dad's waxed. The triumphal expression went from my mother's expression to dad's. It was almost palpable as it drained from my mother's face into my dad's.
The triumph my mother so richly deserved was snatched from her grasp by a child's innocent question. We teased one another about that for years afterward.