50: The Best Gift of All

50: The Best Gift of All

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Christmas

The Best Gift of All

Any mother could perform the jobs of several air traffic controllers with ease.

~Lisa Alther

Larry was seven and I was five and we were obsessed with dinosaurs. When we saw the plastic dinosaur models at the toy store, we wanted them more than anything else.

I wrote a letter to Santa, asking him to please, please bring me a Stegosaurus model kit. Larry wrote a similar letter, asking for a Tyrannosaurus Rex model. We both wrote in our letters that we had worked awful hard to be good that year, which we had, and if Santa could just see his way to bringing each of us a dinosaur model kit, we wouldn’t ask for anything else.

When my mom read our letters, she looked at us and asked, “Are you sure you’re both old enough for a model kit? Those things can be hard to put together.”

“We can do it!” I told her, envisioning how I would snap a few pieces together, put a dab of glue here and there, and voila, my Stegosaurus would be staring at me with all the prehistoric coolness only a gift like that could bring.

“Not a problem!” my brother Larry said, probably imagining how ferocious and mighty his easily put together Tyrannosaurus would look once he spent five minutes or so slapping it together. The smile on his face grew even wider than before.

“If you think you can really do it,” she said, looking unsure. “I’m sure Santa would be glad to bring you model kits for Christmas.”

“Dinosaur model kits,” my brother said. He showed her an ad we’d cut out of the toy store’s catalog.

“Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus Rex,” I added, pointing to pictures of the specific kits.

Mom looked at the pictures. “There sure are lots of little bitty pieces,” she said softly.

“It’ll be easy!” I said confidently.

Well, Christmas Eve came, and my brother, sister and I went off to sleep, although I didn’t do much sleeping. Somewhere around 5:00 a.m., Larry and I slipped out of bed and crept downstairs to find that Santa had come and gone, and under the tree were two big presents for my brother and me!

I tore the wrapping paper off mine and jumped for joy. My model Stegosaurus! Santa had brought me the toy I had wanted more than anything. My brother got his Tyrannosaurus Rex, too. We danced around the living room, then ran to the kitchen table and opened up our model kits… and stared at what looked like a million pieces of plastic. There was a big, fat manual that had instructions on how to put the model together. It might as well have been a manual on how to fly to the moon. My brother and I sighed at the same time.

Still, we were excited and we set about twisting and bending the pieces out of their plastic holders. When we were through, it seemed like there was even more pieces than before.

“You two are going to put those things together?” my sister asked, looking at the immense pile of plastic on the table. “You can’t even match up your own socks.”

“We can do it!” I said, grinning at my brother. I grabbed the tube of glue that Santa had been nice enough to include and had Larry read me the instructions from the manual.

Half a day later, all we had was a bunch of sticky pieces, some that were glued to the table, some to the instruction manual, and some to my brother and me. There was no sign of two ferocious, mighty dinosaurs.

And so, my brother and I did what any dynamic duo would do when stymied by an impossible project: we began to cry. Larry and I cried our eyes out over the mess we had made and the pile of plastic sitting before us. Our mom dried our tears and handed us other presents to distract us, but we kept looking back at the pile of dinosaur parts and our eyes would well up again.

That Christmas night I felt as if a wonderful dream had turned into a nightmare. I don’t know how long I lay there in my bed, dozing on and off, but somewhere in the middle of the night I heard a series of clicking sounds. I got up from bed and wandered into the living room, and this is what I saw: my mom was at the kitchen table, sorting through all the dozens of pieces, wiping off the old glue with a washcloth, and slowly gluing them together.

I stood and watched her patiently work, our secret elf who would make Christmas magic again. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, and a part of me wondered if it was a dream. I wandered back to bed not knowing.

In the morning Larry and I sadly stumbled into the living room. We were prepared to toss the plastic mess in the trash and call it a failed experiment. We walked up to the kitchen table, looked for those heaps of sticky plastic parts, and we gasped. There, standing before us, was the most magnificent pair of model dinosaurs we had ever seen. My Stegosaurus and Larry’s Tyrannosaurus Rex stood whole and proud and awesomely ferocious.

“Santa must have come back last night and fixed them for us!” Larry shouted, picking up his dinosaur and hugging it.

“That must have been what happened,” Mom said, coming into the living room looking a little tired, but very happy.

I looked at my mom, and noticed that there was a small piece of plastic stuck to her pajamas. I ran up to her and hugged her tight, knowing that she had given us a truly wonderful gift: the gift of her time, her patience, and her boundless love. It was the best Christmas gift of all.

~John P. Buentello

More stories from our partners