Hiding Christmas presents from me took more time and thought for my parents than buying them.
I began looking shortly after Thanksgiving each year.
To my chagrin I struck gold one early morning a week before Christmas while most everyone in the house was sleeping and I was stealthy and quiet as a mouse.
Way back in the corner of the dark basement where I usually was too scared to look I found the black Western saddle with tapadero stirrups and accoutrements I thought were silver. The set included a matching black bridle and breastplate.
I rode an English saddle in those days but wanted to be a cowboy.
All I lacked was that saddle.
Finding it was one of the best and worst moments of any Christmas in my childhood. I had stolen the element of surprise and wonderment from no other than myself. And then I worried about how I was going to feign amazement so that my parents would not be disappointed.
When I walked down the stairs that Christmas morning the beautiful cowboy saddle was under the tree and seeing it there was still wonderful. It was more real in that setting.
Even though it was winter with over a foot of snow on the ground my father and I drove to the stable before we even ate Christmas dinner and I put the saddle on my horse and rode with no sense of the wind and cold. We had work to do, he and I, cattle to move –even though we had no cattle. Imagination is a great gift.
I remember all of this so clearly each Christmas and the memory ages well with the years.
The other gift I recall from childhood – and I have had a great many gifts since – was from my brother, five years older. I was 12.
There is no telling where he might have come up with the money at 17 for the gift: a .22 caliber rifle with a gold trigger. He said we would hunt with it. He hunted and I did not. There was no way of me knowing the caliber was not much of a threat to a large animal, especially from a person who had never fired a gun.
“We’ll go deer hunting together,” he said, knowing I longed to spend time with him no matter what he was doing.
Sure enough, again even before Christmas dinner, we left to go “deer hunting.” He briefly showed me how to fire the gun as I aimed at and missed a series of soda cans on a log.
We trudged through the snow to the woods and he stationed me behind a tree. He told me not to fire until he had come back to stand next to me. He would be driving deer toward us, he said.
I stood and waited, shivering from the cold and from believing I might actually see a deer and have to shoot it. It was not what I wanted.
My brother returned to say he believed the deer were headed our way. We waited and waited and waited.
“Time to get back home,” he said. “We’ll come back another day.”
We never went back again, which was fine for me. There were no deer and my brother knew I didn’t want to shoot one. I just wanted to be with him – hunting – with my own rifle.
That’s why they say it’s the thought that counts.
The rifle gift was nothing about a gun or hunting. It was his acknowledgement of how badly I longed to hang with him and his friends and how often he complained about it to my parents.
The saddle could not make me a cowboy, especially in Maine, and the rifle could not make me a hunter.
That was not the point. It never is at this time of year.
Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at email@example.com