Tuesday, February 7, 2012

More Than Just A Christmas Present

Christmas had always been a special time of the year, and as children, my brother and I would anxiously await the big day, working our way through the tiny chocolates contained within our Advent Calendars, knowing that with each chocolaty treat, we were one day closer.

The days and weeks leading up to Christmas tended to provide plenty of opportunities for mischief however, as with each passing year we became more adept at finding our parents’ favourite hiding spots.  In the early years, presents would be lightly shaken in an attempt to determine the contents within, and despite not knowing for certain, we revelled in the simple fact that our names were written on them.  Being the eldest, it was my duty to assure my brother that the letters that he could not yet read did in fact spell out his name, to which he responded with great excitement and joy.

As our skills gradually improved, we’d ever so carefully peel back the scotch tape on one end of the present, just hoping to catch a quick glimpse of the box beneath, before re-sticking the tape back to its original position, ensuring any minor tears in the wrapping paper were adequately covered up.  Having a two man team proved to be very beneficial, as it allowed one man to conduct surveillance, while the other investigated the presents with his name on them, before switching off, and allowing the other to do the same.  Oh yes, watching GI Joe offered far more than mere entertainment, it taught us the basics of what was necessary for a successful mission.

Gaining confidence in our ninja-like abilities to get in and out undetected, and knowing that Christmas morning was becoming increasingly spent at our grandparents house, with each visit we’d scout out the surroundings, and learn which pitfalls to avoid.  We even assigned ourselves code names; my brother was “White Ninja”, whereas I was, in hindsight the much less stealthy, “Ninja Dave”.  The hallway leading from our shared bedroom out into the living room was very squeaky, as it was an older home.  Even under the light weight of our child-sized bodies, it was nearly impossible to walk from one end to the other without alerting all others in the house.  Or so they thought.  One particular Christmas Eve, after saying our goodnights and retiring to our bedroom, yet remaining wide awake, we waited for all others to go to bed.  The light that had once been shining under the doorway was no more.  The coast appeared to be clear, or maybe that’s what they wanted us to think.  We were not fools.  We would not fall into their trap.  The risk was high.  We waited patiently.    

Ever so slowly, I turned the doorknob, and opened the door just enough to peek into the hallway.  Opening the door a little more, I stuck my head out further, checking to my left, then to my right, then back to the left once more.  Not a sole to be found.  It was time.  Motioning to my brother using our not-so-complex hand signals, he joined me at the door.  Into the squeaky trap-laden hallway we went, and having learned the spots to step that made the least amount of noise, we applied our knowledge, tip-toeing our way very slowly and discretely into the living room.  Standing in front of the tree, with the mountain of presents below, we fought off the temptation, knowing the amount of trouble we’d be in if we acted on our urge to dig in, and instead turned our attention towards the stockings, the contents of which had not been wrapped.  After a quick inspection, one thing became abundantly clear… they had been expecting us.

Unbeknownst to us, shiny new bells had been affixed to our stockings this year, causing us to pause, evaluate this unexpected turn of events, and come up with an improvised plan of attack.  We quickly determined that by cupping the bells in the palms of our hand, we could mute the loud ring, thus reducing the audible output to a mere dull rattle.  No, we would not be denied.  We took our stockings down into the basement, and emptied them onto the floor.  Excited by our findings, we closely examined our bounty.  Fighting to keep our composure, we knew the risk increased with each passing minute, and carefully began placing the items one by one back into the stockings in roughly the same order they had come out.  Back up the stairs we went, bells still cupped in our hands, placing the stockings back to their original positions.  Once again, we carefully tip-toed our way through the squeaky hallway, ending up back into our room. 

Before having a chance to celebrate our successful mission, and perhaps not as quiet during the return trip as we had thought we were, moments after closing our door we heard footsteps in the hall.  We scurried into our beds, closed our eyes, and listened with extreme attention.  The footsteps continued down the hall into the living room, then made their way back again, stopping in front of our door.  There was a pause.  The door knob turned slowly, and the door began to open.  My brother and I both pretended to be asleep, eyes closed tightly, unsure what would happen next.  Had we been caught, were we going to get in trouble?  Our eyes remained tightly shut.  The door quietly closed once more, and we both breathed a deep sigh of relief.  Deciding we had experienced enough excitement for one night, we tried to get some sleep.  Who exactly checked in on us that Christmas Eve remains a mystery, perhaps it was Santa himself, uncertain within which category, naughty or nice, we belonged.

Growing increasingly bold as the years went on, and with the Nintendo video game system being at the top of our Christmas Wish List this one particular year, we took things to a whole new level.  While still young, we were just old enough where our parents could leave me in charge for several hours as they played cards over at the neighbour’s house.  This provided vast new opportunities for investigation that had never been known to us before.  Upon finding what we thought could be the box containing the Nintendo, we did more than just rattle it.  We did more than just check one of the ends for a quick glimpse.  We placed the box onto the ground, and with surgical precision, removed all of the tape, and all of the wrapping paper, ensuring we did not create any new wrinkles or creases that could possibly tip off our parents.  Although very excited as our hopes for a Nintendo had been realized, we remained focused on the task at hand until all of the wrapping paper was completely separated from the box.  But it didn’t end there. 

Knowing that we likely still had at least another hour and a half before our parents would return, we opened the box, and pulled the Nintendo completely out.  We inspected the grey cube with red lettering, and the accompanying cords.  Looking at each other, we figured we had come this far, why not go just a little further.  So we then hooked the system up to the television.  There was only one problem, we needed a game.  Back to the “secret” hiding spot we went, and pulled out what we thought might be a game, and again proceeded to carefully remove the wrapping paper.  Success!!

After about a half hour of sheer joy as we played what would nowadays be considered a fairly primitive computerized hockey game, and proud of our accomplishment, we knew it was time to start putting things back to the way they were.  We very quickly realized however that removing the contents from the box was a far easier task than trying to put them back in, and despite our best efforts and multiple attempts, just could not get everything to go back in, in such a way where the box would retain its rectangular shape.  The clock was ticking, and panic began to set in.  Finally we had no choice but to proceed regardless, and ended up with a slightly less than rectangular box.  Under the circumstances, what else were we to do?  We lined up the wrapping paper, and began re-wrapping the box.  To our horror, due to the misshapenness of the box, the existing creases in the paper were not lining up properly.  Accordingly, neither were the small marks in the paper left during the removal of the tape.  We tried to stretch the paper to make it reach, but wrapping paper isn’t really known for its ability to stretch, and our efforts caused the paper to tear in the corners.  We looked at each other, and then at the clock.  Maybe this time, we had taken it a little too far.  Forced into using additional tape, we did the best we could, and placed the wrapped box back into its “secret” hiding place.  Although there was never further discussion of that incident, we suspect our parents were on to us, as next Christmas, new and improved secret hiding spots were found.

Unable to find future presents after that whole Nintendo fiasco, I was forced to direct my attention elsewhere.  Once again, Christmas Eve was spent at our grandparent’s house, and while I was a little older by this time and had lost some of that excitement that had fuelled me in previous years, my brother being three years younger, more than made up for the difference.  It was his favourite time of the year, and he did not try to hide that fact one bit.  It was Christmas, and he was in his glory.

With new rules put in place by our parents, Christmas morning was not to begin until at least 7:00am, meaning we could not leave our room before that time.  They even went so far as to place a digital alarm clock in our room, with clear instructions that we were not to step one foot out our door until the clock reached 7:00am, if not later.  Surely they had to know that the “if not later” part of their instructions was nothing more than wishful thinking on their part.  We agreed nonetheless, and went to bed without incident.

It was around 11:00pm or so when I was awoken by the sound of my parents and grandparents rustling around in the hallway, before making their way to bed.  I looked over at my brother, in the twin bed next to mine, and he was clearly not affected by the noise, sound asleep with visions of sugarplums dancing in his head.  After some time, and having trouble falling back asleep, I decided to have a little fun.  Quietly, I reached over to the alarm clock, and fumbling around in the darkened room, found the buttons that controlled the displayed time.  With a little adjusting, I managed to move the time forward to 7:00am, then quietly placed the clock back into the small table that separated us. 

I reached over to my brother’s bed, and gave it a little shake, before quickly getting back into a position that would give the appearance that I was in a deep sleep.  It didn’t work, so I tried again.  This time he moved around a little bit, but ultimately went back to sleep.  So I tried for a third time, shaking his bed even harder.  This time he sat up, wondering what had just happened, and looked straight in my direction.  With my eyes opened just enough that I could see through my intermingled eyelashes, I watched.  With great disappointment however, he laid back down.  I thought perhaps I had failed.  But then it happened, he rolled over to face the alarm clock.  Like a fisherman feeling that first little nibble, my heart started beating faster, as I continued to watch through my partially closed eyes.  With just the light of the alarm clock in the room, I could see his eyes open wide when he saw what time it was.  My heart continued to beat faster and faster.  He whispered my name, I pretended to sleep.  He whispered my name again, and I pretended to awaken from my slumber.  “What is it” I asked.  “It’s after 7, we can get up now!” he stated, barely able to contain his whisper.  “Oh, I don’t know, I’m still pretty tired.  I think I’m going to sleep just a bit longer, but if you want to go out, go ahead, and I’ll see you out there in a bit” I replied.  Unable to understand why I wouldn’t be jumping out of bed with him, and excited to begin the Christmas morning festivities, he got up, and opened the door. 

It was still dark, and nobody else was awake (which I suppose was not all that surprising given that it was actually 11:21pm!).  Being considerate as he was, he tried his best to make his way down the squeaky hallway without disturbing others.  I listened intently with each squeaky step, trying to muffle my laughter.  Squeak… squeak… squeak… he continued until reaching the living room.  The squeaking suddenly stopped.  Silence.  I adjusted in my bed to see if I could hear anything, yet still, complete and utter silence.  Squeak… squeak… movement, followed by more silence.  Imagining his face when he saw that the clock in the living room did not match the clock in our bedroom, I could barely contain my laughter.  Squeak.. squeak.. squeak.. squeak… his footsteps slowly made their way back to our room, and he closed the door.  At this point he could hear me laughing, and putting his Christmas spirit momentarily aside, hauled off and punched me in the arm as hard as he could.  I did not fight back, as I knew I deserved that. 

Amongst the gifts I received that morning, a nice new bruise on my arm was one of them.  Little did I know at the time the significance of the real gift I had received that day.  Although he didn’t think it was funny right away, he did eventually find the humour in it, and acknowledged that I had gotten him pretty good.  We laughed about it for years to come, and while the bruise eventually healed and went away, fond memories of that night and many others like it lived on.  As with most things in life, things change, sometimes beyond our control.  While new memories such as these may now be an unfortunate impossibility, I hold on to the old ones, and this is the gift I carry with me, always. 


  1. I thought I left a comment on here yesterday but I guess it didn't go through. Loved the story Dave. Your last sentence hit home. Keep them coming - Meredith