Thursday, December 18, 2008

No Gift Before Its Time

Katie and her boyfriend have already given each other their Christmas presents. (One has already been exchanged.) Katie has her big present from her father and me, too—help buying a new MacBook. She doesn't care about packages to unwrap under the tree. She prefers to know that she's getting what she wants or needs.

Me, I want no gift before its time. I'm a sucker for the Big Moment when everyone's sitting around the sparkling tree, carols in the background and all. Strange, then, that one of the best Christmas gifts I ever received involved no tree or carols. Not even a living room.

Years ago, one of the great loves of my life gave me an early Christmas present I'll never forget.

In early summer I mentioned that I'd been to "visit my pearls," meaning I'd gone to Dayton's semi-annual pearl sale intending to buy a string and had, once again, talked myself out of it. We laughed and the conversation moved on. Six months later, great hubbub surrounded his selection of my Christmas gifts. The kids went shopping with him several times. Three friends reported having been consulted. Colleagues teased about his preoccupation with the mystery gift.

Two weeks before Christmas, we took all four kids to see "Annie" at the Ordway Theatre in St. Paul. Steven drove to Wisconsin that afternoon to pick up his oldest daughter from college. His 17-year-old daughter had dinner with the kids and me and we all headed off to meet at the Ordway. Steven was a reluctant user of cell phones, but he called from the road to ask what I was wearing that night.

"Um...not a turtleneck, okay?" he said. "Less is more at the neckline." We hadn't seen each other all week and I laughed it off as suggestiveness.

Our arrival at the theatre was a flurry of getting the car parked and the kids organized. All three seemed pretty wound up, but that wasn't unusual. Steven and Shannon arrived just in time for us to find our seats before the curtain went up. They seemed more flustered than usual, too.

At intermission, Steven led me to a bench in the hall. The kids gathered around us and he produced a beautiful box from his jacket pocket. Inside was not just a pearl necklace, but the pearl necklace. With the help of my children and friends and his colleagues, he found the precise size, length, and color I wanted. It had been one off-hand comment so long ago, I had no idea he remembered at all. As I cried, the kids clapped and cheered. Strangers smiled and joined the applause.

As much as I loved the pearls (and still do), the true gift was that he listened and remembered the conversation, that he went to such great lengths to discover what I wanted and find it. I guess it's always the right time for that.


Terry said...

A man who listens... what could be better. My story is very similar to yours, an offhand comment in the fall about always loving Adirondack chairs, resulted in a custom-made pair arriving on Christmas Eve. My kids and his all knew, and joined in the excitement of the surprise. Ten years later -- he's still listening!

Michelle O'Neil said...

To be heard. The greatest gift of all.

Stacy said...

nice! (i gotta catch up here)

kario said...

What a terrific story. I'll bet he was terribly proud of himself (as he deserved to be!).

By the way, anyone who doesn't stop to listen to you is missing an awful lot.


Deb said...

To be known in that way is to be truly loved. Smart man.

I love surprises like that, no matter the time or the gift. It's the recognition that gets me every time.

luckyzmom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
luckyzmom said...

This happened to me 28 years ago, with a big brass hour glass which wasn't, as you said, the "true gift".

Carrie Wilson Link said...

How'd I miss this one? I agree with all the above comments - to be heard - best gift ever.

Terry said...

I think it's terrific that it was "one of the great loves of your life"
It's fun to remember those.