Ever have one of those momentous Christmases that endures the test of time and defies fading memories? You know, kinda like the one Ralphie had in A Christmas Story? Well, it appears that one Christmas in my family stands out above the others and is brought up every few years or so. We still laugh about it every single time.
When I was about 10 and my brother seven, we were given the task of buying each other gifts for what I remember may have been the first time. Until that year, my mom had set aside one gift and had put the other's name on it. She may have been better off with that game plan.
Christmas memories of that era abound. A live tree, a country home, and family visits (especially from Aunt Bubbaloo) were the hallmarks of that time. The local mall was a beehive of activity, so my aunt took us there to do our duty. Armed with five dollars each (that went a long way then), we set out on a mission to find the perfect gift. When my brother and I asked each other what the other wanted, we gave answers that were typical for our ages. I had asked for an initial necklace as that was something all of my friends in school had (it was the 70's). My brother, sensitive and caring, wanted a hamster to show how responsible and grown-up he had become in his young years.
Being the older of the two, I was allowed to go off on my own to shop. Back then, you could do that and not worry about having some pervert mess with your kids, so my aunt and I agreed to meet up at a designated place within the mall.
Headed to the department store with pets, I picked out what I thought was the cutest hamster they had. It was Christmas Eve, yet the store had a fair amount of hamsters left. I was excited to think of the look on my brother's face when he opened his gift. I couldn't wait to get home.
My aunt had taken my brother to the jewelry department of another store in the mall to look for what I wanted. Letting him be independent, she watched from afar as he looked for a necklace with a "D" charm. He interacted with the clerk, made his purchase, and, after meeting up with our gifts in hand, we headed home to wrap for the next morning.
My aunt had no clue that my mother forbade a hamster. I said nothing, so Aunt Bubbaloo had no problem with me getting my brother a hamster. We got home, and I headed straight to my room with the hamster. I left the little rodent there while I went to gather supplies. I returned with wrapping paper, a small bowl for water, a few sheets of newspaper, scissors, tape, and a bigger box. I don't remember how I snuck a lettuce leaf upstairs, but I do remember having one with me.
I locked the door to my room so as not to be disturbed and have the surprise ruined. I shredded the newspaper and placed it in the bigger box and then headed to the bathroom to get water in the bowl. Carefully placing the small margarine bowl in the box with the newspaper and lettuce, I opened the store's box to transfer the hamster to his temporary new home.
After getting him in there, I quickly closed up the flap on the box and taped it shut. Carefully wrapping the box with the prettiest paper I had, I did something that in retrospect makes me wonder what I was thinking.
I marveled at the job I had done in both being so stealth and so meticulous in wrapping. Then I remembered that the little pet who was getting a new owner in the morning needed air holes. I took the scissors, and, reminiscent of Tony Perkins in Psycho, proceeded to stab holes in the box -- with the hamster inside. No blood, so all was still good. I placed the box in my closet. That night, my mom came and asked me what I had gotten my brother. I told her, and her face fell. She wasn't outwardly upset, but I now know that her first thought was "Oh my God!" She took the box from my closet under the pretense of wanting to put it under the tree since we were going to bed. The hamster was never seen again. In later years, she told me that when she took the box, the hamster had already tried chewing its way out. To this day, I don't know what happened, and I'm not sure I want to.
The next morning, I opened my brother's gift to me. Remember...an initial necklace was all I asked for. The box was the right size and weight, and I quickly tore open the paper. Imagine the surprise I got when I see an initial necklace...with the letter "W". Guess I should've been more specific.
To this day, we still rehash the memories of that Christmas, and it never gets old. At least we didn't put our eye out.