On Christmas morning, there was a big package under the tree with my name on it. This was it! I was going to be the envy of every boy in the second grade. The anticipation was overwhelming. I almost peed my pants as I tore the shiny red paper and revealed...
A plain white box. I had seen the racetrack I wanted in the store, and it did not come in a plain white box. It came in a box with a picture of cars neck and neck at the finish line. Blurry trail of color...crowd cheering...rubber burning...
There must have been some mistake. Someone had put my name on the wrong present.
“Go ahead and open it,” my stepfather said. He always needed a shave and stunk of booze, even on Christmas. Especially on Christmas, truth be known.
I opened the package. It was a set of gray pajamas, pocked with pictures of blue Indy cars. Something a little kid would wear to bed, not a big second grader. I started bawling. I couldn’t help myself. I knew he would make me wear those PJs until they were threadbare and busting at the seams, and I knew I would never ever get that Hot Wheels racetrack as long as I lived.
When he saw my grief, he called me a spoiled brat and stomped away to fix himself another highball. I never forgave him, and things were never the same between us. We hated each other until he blew his brains out when I was fifteen. Now I always tell people with kids to buy them what they really want, even if you have to go in hock to do it.
I pulled a Parrish here. This is an excerpt from my work in progress. Still, as you go out shopping tomorrow, try to remember that your gifts just might affect the recipients for the rest of their lives. Especially the little ones.