From Chicken Soup for the Child's Soul

The Best Present

The excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than in its value.

Charles Dudley Warner

“Katie Kingston is having a birthday party,” I told my family. “And I’m invited!”

“Can I go, too?” my younger sister, Lynn, asked.

“Yes! Katie told me that both my sisters are invited. The party is at her house next Tuesday at one o’clock.”

“That’ll be fun for all of you,” my mother said.

“Oh, I know it will be!” I replied. “Katie has so many things to play with—Barbie dolls and board games, dress-up clothes and jewelry. I remember going over to her house last Christmas. When I saw all her presents, I was sure that Santa Claus thought more than one kid lived there.”

“Maybe he got Katie’s house mixed up with ours,” my other sister, Sidney, said.

Lynn frowned. “What can we give Katie for her birthday? She already has everything.”

“It sounds like she doesn’t need any more toys,” my mother said. She looked at the knickknack shelf over the couch and reached for a ceramic statue of a little girl.

“You can wrap this statue for her,” she said, holding it out for us to see.

“No!” I cried. “I don’t want to give Katie that old statue!”

The statue had been sitting on the living-room shelf for years. The blonde-haired girl was wearing a red dress, and she was bent forward, her hands behind her back. Her eyes were closed, and her lips were puckered into a kiss. A little boy statue had once stood next to her. His lips had been puckered into a kiss, too. But one day the statue of the little boy fell and broke into pieces.

“I want to get Katie a real present!” I said. “Something new!”

“It will be new to her,” my mother said. “I’m sorry, but we can’t afford to buy her anything at the store.”

My excitement about the party disappeared. It would be embarrassing to give Katie the statue of the little girl. But I wanted to go to the party so much that I agreed.

My mother put the statue in a shoe box with tissue paper. If that wasn’t bad enough, she wanted me to wrap the box in the wrapping paper from Sidney’s last birthday. My mother always saved wrapping paper after birthdays and Christmas. She’d carefully peel off the tape and smooth out the paper. She saved ribbons and bows, too, if they were in good shape.

Grumbling, I taped a used pink bow on Katie’s present.

“No one will know the difference,” my mother said.

We didn’t even buy a card. My sisters and I each folded a sheet of construction paper and drew a picture on the front with crayons. I drew a rose, Lynn drew a clown, and Sidney drew a doll. Inside we printed “Happy Seventh Birthday!” in our best handwriting.

On Tuesday afternoon, we walked across our country road under the hot summer sun and climbed the front steps of Katie’s brick house. Sidney rang the doorbell, and Katie’s mother led us into the quiet living room. Twisted crepe paper and pink balloons hung from the ceiling. Katie showed us the Barbie house she got from her parents that morning. The present in my hand felt lousy in comparison. I worried that it wasn’t enough.

There were just the four of us. We played musical chairs, with Katie’s mother turning the music on and off in the kitchen. I was the fastest to sit down and the last one left. Sidney pinned her tail on the donkey without even lifting her blindfold.

Afterward, we sat around a big table with pink paper plates and napkins. At each place was a small cup of candies and a tiny parasol that opened and closed. We put on hats and blew noisemakers that uncurled and squealed. It was so much fun.

Next, Lynn, Sidney, and I sang “Happy Birthday,” and Katie blew out her candles. The cake was chocolate, and so was the icing.

Katie read each of the handmade cards. Then she looked over at our present with the pink bow. “Can I open my gift now?” she begged while her mother scooped vanilla ice cream onto our plates.

Her mother nodded, and my heart stood still. Katie picked up our present. She ripped the paper off the shoe box. “Shoes?” she asked.

“No,” I said, feeling my heart thump. “Look inside.”

Katie dug through the tissue paper and brought out the statue of the little girl. She had a puzzled look on her face, as if she was expecting a toy. I didn’t feel like eating my cake anymore.

“Oh, isn’t that sweet, Katie?” her mother said. “A little figurine. I think you’re old enough now to have something breakable. You can put it on the shelf in your bedroom.”

Katie smiled at us. “Thank you,” she said.

“You’re welcome,” we answered and smiled back.

My mother had been right. The statue was new to Katie.

As my sisters and I said good-bye, Katie asked, “When can you come again?” She looked so lonely standing in the doorway and waving. I thought of how quiet it would be at her house after we were gone.

I knew then why she asked me over on Christmas, and why she invited my sisters and me to her birthday party. Katie didn’t have everything after all. She had a lot of toys, but she had no one to play with. The statue was nice, but our best present to Katie that day was our friendship. We helped celebrate her birthday and make it special. Her mother couldn’t have bought that in a store for all the money in the world.

Mary Laufer

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