A Christmas conspiracy

December 23, 2010|By Peggy Rowe

In our house, Christmas revolved around three people: Jesus, Santa Claus, and my mother — not necessarily in that order. At no other season of the year were my efficient mother's micro-managing skills more in evidence: from the melt-in-our-mouth sugar cookies to our hand-smocked holiday dresses to the tree in the living room, perfectly shaped and decorated.

Every gift beneath the tree was selected and bought by my mother. Even the gifts my father and sister and I gave to her, she had purchased.

"I know what I need," she'd say. "I may as well just buy it myself."

On Christmas morning, there were beautifully wrapped presents beneath the tree, and when she opened her gifts, Mom oohed and aahed over "our" impeccable taste. There was genuine surprise, of course — when we got to see the gifts we had given to her. This arrangement was fine with Dad, who hated shopping.

And so it was. Christmas in our happy home was a conspiracy — and about to get even more convoluted.

The year I was 16, with my sister away at college, Dad came to me the week before Christmas.

"Hon, would you do me a favor?"

"Sure," I said. My dad might have been merely a supporting player at this season, but he was the best. I still remember the Christmas morning he had green paint on his hands that exactly matched the shiny green bicycle Santa Claus had brought me. And the time he raced our electric train through the Christmas garden so fast that it jumped the track, wiped out the manger, and flung Baby Jesus into the duck pond.

"Could you find out what your mother wants for Christmas?" Dad asked me. "I'll give you some money, and you can buy it. I'd give anything to see the look on her face when she finds a gift under the tree that's really from me."

The following morning at breakfast I put out some feelers. "You've had that bathrobe as long as I can remember, Mom …"

Her eyes narrowed. "Did your father ask you to buy me a new robe for Christmas?" she asked.

"Well, no…" I said, avoiding her eyes.

"Because if he did, I'd rather buy it myself. I know what I like and where to get it on sale."

"Dad wants to surprise you," I said, feeling suddenly disloyal.

"Just give me the money; I'll buy the robe and be surprised on Christmas morning."

That was the year I began doing Dad's Christmas shopping for Mom. Or so he believed. Long before Dad had even thought about Mom's gift, she had already purchased and hidden it. I wrapped the gift, then gave it to Dad so that he could surprise her on Christmas morning.

A week before Christmas, Mom would also give me the present she had bought for me to give to Dad. This was good; I disliked shopping as much as my father did.

Our deception took a detour the year Dad got specific.

"Your mother likes pink," he said. "I want to give her a pink sweater."

When I told her, she rolled her eyes. "I haven't bought anything pink since you were a baby." The next day she returned the pocket book she had already purchased.

That Christmas morning, we were treated to a stellar Bette Davis performance as Mom modeled and exclaimed over her new pink cashmere sweater.

Dad winked at me, thrilled at having surprised the love of his life once again. "You always seem to know what your mother likes. Do you get tired of doing my shopping?" he asked me.

"It's no trouble at all," I assured him. "Really. Christmas shopping is just one of those family traditions I'll always remember."

And that was the truth!

Peggy Rowe, a former schoolteacher, lives in Perry Hall. Her e-mail is peggy.rowe@comcast.net. Read her blog at http://www.mikeroweworks.com/peggys-blog/.

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