64: The Best Present

64: The Best Present

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Christmas

The Best Present

Good judgment comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgment.

~Rita Mae Brown

My seven-year-old eyes gleamed with envy when I saw my friend’s new Disney watch. Hour and minute hands slowly marked time as Cinderella’s face peeked from behind them. A soft pink leather band encircled my friend’s arm. It was perfect.

That’s what I wanted for Christmas.

“You’re not old enough for a watch yet.” My mother’s voice brooked no argument. “What else would you like for Christmas?”

I hung my head. “Nothing.” I dragged my feet as I walked away. Looking back, I realize my parents had no money to waste on something I would likely lose. The market wasn’t flooded then with cheap disposable trinkets as it is now. A watch was something we kept for years. Still, I wanted that watch.

When presents began materializing under the tree, none matched the size and shape of a jewelry box that might contain a watch. However, one with my name on it did pique my curiosity. About six inches tall, it had irregular contours — no straight edges or boxy corners. Mama had wrapped it well with thick paper, and the few times I could sneak to the back of the tree to check it out failed to give me any clues about its identity. My curiosity grew. Christmas seemed so far away.

One day, I could no longer stand it. While Mama cooked dinner, I pulled my four-year-old sister Shelly into the living room and pointed to the mystery gift. “Do you know what that is?”

Shelly nodded.

“What is it?”

“Mama told me not to tell you,” she said.

I put my arm around her and used my best conspiratorial voice. “Let’s make a deal. I’ll tell you what I got you for Christmas if you tell me what’s in that present.”

Shelly brightened. “Okay. Watch.”

I watched her. Nothing happened. “So what’s in the present?”

“Watch.”

I frowned for a moment and then comprehension dawned. “You mean a watch? They got me a watch for Christmas?”

She smiled and nodded.

I stared at the gift. It wasn’t the right size or shape for a watch, and Mama had already said I couldn’t have one yet. Shelly must have gotten mixed up. Or could they have changed their minds? Maybe…

Shelly stomped her foot. “I told you. Now you tell me. What did you get me for Christmas?”

I continued to study the present. “A coloring book,” I said absently.

Shelly wandered off as I pondered the possibilities. Finally, I decided she was wrong. It couldn’t be a watch. Whatever was under the bright wrappings would have to remain a secret until Christmas morning.

The big day came, and I headed straight for that gift. When I tore off the paper, I found a ceramic Cinderella figurine on a pedestal. In front of her, sat a beautiful Cinderella watch with a pink band. I squealed. “You got me the watch! Shelly told me you had, but I didn’t believe her.” Then I gasped and looked up.

The room suddenly became silent.

“Shelly,” Mama said, “come here.”

I froze, too horrified to speak.

“Why did you tell Tracy about her watch?” Mama asked.

Shelly, of course, spilled the entire story and received a lecture on keeping secrets. In turn, I got a well-deserved scolding for my deception. What hurt more was the disappointment in my parents’ eyes. Not only had I ruined their surprise, but I had conned my little sister into doing something she wasn’t supposed to do. I couldn’t have felt any worse.

Mama and Daddy let me keep the watch. I wore it, but Cinderella’s pretty face no longer held the same charm for me. Instead, she served as a daily reminder that I had violated my parents’ trust.

Years later, I realized how much that reminder helped me stay on the straight and narrow. I never wanted to disappoint my parents like that again, but more importantly, it wasn’t the kind of person I wanted to be, one who would use deceit and trickery to get what she wanted. The scolding, not the watch, was the best present I could ever have received.

~Tracy Crump

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