I’m embarrassed to admit it, but when I was growing up, I sometimes forgot to buy Christmas gifts for my mom and dad.
What sort of son would do be so absent-minded? This one, I guess. I can’t have been the only one, which does nothing to ease my failure to show how much I loved and appreciated my parents. I did, you know. I just tended to live in my own world, over-thinking everything except what might make my mother or father happy on Christmas Eve. Which is sad, because they never forgot me.
I didn’t always forget. When I was in Cub Scouts, for example, as Christmas neared, the den mother often chose activities that would not only give us a leg up on a merit badge but also serve as a possible gift for a parent or sibling. One year she had us use clay to make things. I made a lumpy ashtray. No one in our home smoked at the time. Well, my big brother, probably, but not at home. Another year our den mother brought simple plans for a tie rack. I jumped on that for my dad.
My dad may have been a dry-land farmer, but he was raised to believe that a gentleman should be presentable for public events, church services and other occasions that would involve seeing people and being seen by them. Part of being presentable in such situations involved wearing an actual suit — matching slacks and jacket — with a carefully ironed shirt and a necktie. My dad also favored a hat for such occasions. Not very long before he was diagnosed with cancer, in fact, he purchased a new hat. When Dad died, the family decided that my father-in-law should have the hat. He wore it until his death, and now it hangs from the hall tree near our kitchen door.
Dad wanted nothing fancy in headwear or neckties. Dark, quietly stylish in an old-fashioned way, that was his preference. If fashion dictated wide ties, his were less so. If ties were narrow, his were a touch wider than the trend. Along with his crisp white shirts and his suits — which he wore for years and years, never mind the width of the lapels or the double-vent fashion — his quiet ties made a fashion statement for a guy who cared little for fashion.
One year I bought him a tie for Christmas. It was wider than fashionable at the time. It had too many stripes. The stripes were too bright. He wore it, anyway, and he told people his boy gave it to him. I heard him say that once, and I swelled with pride, too young yet to understand he really was saying that he cared enough about his son to wear something that didn’t fit his fashion taste at all.
Most of the time, that tie hung on the tie rack I’d crafted in Cub Scouts for a gift a couple of Christmases earlier. The tie rack was about as plain as you could imagine. It was pretty much a rectangle of sanded-smooth plywood that I’d varnished to a nice shine. High on the back, I’d fixed a ring that could be hooked over a nail in the wall. Down both sides, I’d cut slots that would hold ties. The slots were a little crooked, because I wasn’t that gifted with a coping saw. It was a rather awkward way to hang a tie, because the rack rested flat, so ties had to be shoved into the slots, and they draped one over the other. When my dad pulled one tie out, a couple of others came loose, too.
Even so, my dad took that goofy gift, pounded a nail into the inside of his closet door, hung the rack and slid three or four of his ties into the slots. He said it was perfect, just what he wanted, and what a surprise. I felt like a million bucks.
Few children would tell you as Christmas Eve nears that it is better to give than to receive. Once in a while, though, it can be.