Gifts that Return

Gifts that Return

Gifts that ReturnThis story is reprinted by permission from a work originally published in 1987, with special thanks to Linda Fogg Phillips

It was early Christmas morning.  We kids had opened all of Santa’s gifts with nimble fingers in record time, and though Santa had only brought Mom one gift (“she must not have been very good the year I mused), she was still unwrapping it.

She started out opening a great big box, and then she found another smaller one inside, and on and on.  As she worked her way down, unwrapping and opening, to a very small box, I momentarily forgot about my new Lite Brite set and the colorful clown I was creating.  Even though I was just six years old, I knew the climax was near.

Mom’s face shone brighter than the Lite Brite as she held the small jewelry box close to her.  She looked at Dad inquisitively, hardly breathing; Dad smiled back with a sheepish grin.

Mom opened the small box slowly.  She peeked in. . . and, after a brief glimpse, she threw the box open.  “Oh goody!” she screamed, pulling out a key with a note attached.  Mom read the note and with excitement in her voice proclaimed, “It’s down the street!  C’mon kids!” but not forgetting to add with motherly authority, “Don’t forget to wear the new slippers Santa brought you.”

The entire Fogg family ran down Stuart Avenue in new pajamas and slippers.  A blue and white Lincoln, sporting a big red bow on top, awaited us at the corner.  The car was Mom’s Christmas present (“She must have been awfully good this year,” I recanted).  Mom kidded Dad.

We all got in and drove around, but soon I wasn’t so impressed – - our old red stations wagon had more room, and I could see out the windows better.  I wanted to get back to my Lite Brite clown.

A few months later, when all the novelty of Christmas had worn off (and my Lite Brite set was strewn all over the house, making Mom angry when the pieces got caught in the vacuume).  I began to notice something funny.  Dad always drove Mom’s car to work.  Pretty soon I was back in the good old red station wagon, and was glad of it.  I could see out the windows.  I could see the coming of spring as we drove to Jimmy’s house, the grocery store, and school.

The gift returned to the giver.

Years later on Christmas morning, I was befuddled to discover that Santa had left me an industrial-sized push-broom right next to my furry red stocking (even Santa with all of his Christmas magic couldn’t make it fit inside).  Written on top of the broomhead in bold capitol letters was the message, “To Brian, Love Santa.”  Thanks Santa.  What a practical guy, this Mr. Claus.

Dad saw that I got the chance to play with the push broom often – in the garage, on the driveway, around the patio.  But soon summer came, melting all the North Pole charm, and I was either too hot, to busy, or too rebellious.  In the end, Dad did most of the sweeping.

Gifts return to the giver.

At seven kids, our family stopped growing.  In the following years, I headed off to college.  After one hectic semester, I finished up my finals and went happily home; Christmas was fast approaching.

Christmas tradition in our family says that each year we give one special gift; before Christmas we draw names, and then handmake a gift for that person – no buying allowed.  That year I drew Gregory’s name.  He was the youngest, eight years old, and all he wanted were Transformers.  Despite my best efforts in a liberal arts education, I had not yet leaned the wonders of Transformer crafting.

I decided to make him a sign with his name on it.  I took out my calligraphy set and practiced my uncial letters.  Finally I had it right.  I stroked out in four-inch letters:

G-R-E-G-O-R-Y.  I added embellishments with gold metallic paint.  I drew an anchor on the end, leaning against the last letter.  I made the chain of the anchor weave back through the other letters of his name tying all together.  I framed it carefully and was ready for Christmas.

On Christmas morning when Gregory opened the gift, I was so elated for him I hardly noticed the disappointment in his eyes – no, it wasn’t a Transformer.  I took the sign and carefully mounted it on his – formerly my – bedroom door, as he unwrapped the rest of his gifts, mostly Transformers.

The sign stayed on his bedroom door for the next few months.  Then Gregory went to the UCLA hospital; the sign went with him.  Among the stainless steel, fluorescent lights, and isolation rooms, the sign told the doctors, nurses, and visitors who lived there – Greogry (and his Transformers, of course).

Two months later I took the sign down from the hospital door.  I was numb.  Gregory was gone.  Mom distraught and exhausted, was on her way home in the car with Dad and the rest of the family.  My older brother and I stayed behind, would be stoics, to pack up all of Gregory’s things and then make the five-hour drive home.  

After the funeral, after things had calmed down, after Mom had the courage to do it, she unpacked Gregory’s things.  His clothes went back in the drawers, his Transformers back on the shelves and his sign – my sign – back up on his bedroom wall.

It’s been a couple of years, it’s Christmastime, and I’m home from college again.  I’m staying in my old room – Gregory’s old room.  I’m not surprised to see Gregory’s Transformers unused on the shelf; his “We are the World” poster looks a little older, a little more faded this time home.  Mom keep saying she’s going to turn this place into a sewing room come the new year.

The sign I gave Gregory for Christmas years ago is still there on the wall; the blue and gold uncial letter still unchanged; the anchor, a symbol of Christian hope, still leaning; the chain still weaving through each letter; and each link of the chain, thank God, still unbroken.

Gifts do return.

BJ Fogg

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BJ Fogg is a Stanford innovator and psychologist. He teaches both in the academic setting and in industry. His focus is behavior change and persuasion via technology.


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