From Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul The Second Round

The Finest Gift

It makes a sweet and pure sound. Metallic, and yet at the same time, almost ceramic. And loud, oh yes, it’s loud. Like a rifle shot, it’ll snap your head around if you haven’t heard it before.

Smack! I watched as my friend Carl lasered another golf ball to the back of the driving range. He held his follow-through as the ball soared higher and higher against a fading afternoon sky.

“You know, ” he said, “buying this club has to be one of the best investments I’ve made all year.” He turned and smiled, looking just a little too cocky.

Knowing Carl’s penchant for tech stocks, I wasn’t going to argue the point. And besides, I was becoming just faintly aware of jealousy’s green tentacles beginning to tighten around my neck. I knew that somehow I had to get my hands on one of those drivers. Carl tried to explain what a scientific marvel it was.

“They call it elastic reticular venting, or ERV. It’s the variable face thickness you know; it works sorta like a trampoline.”

I nodded, but kept my eyes on the gleaming clubhead as Carl addressed another ball. Was this fair? Why should Carl have such a nice golf club, and I don’t? Sensing my lower lip pushing up into a pout, I checked myself, threw back my shoulders and tried to appear indifferent as we both followed his next shot arching higher and higher until the ball nestled into the upper netting at the very back of the range.

“Yes sir, Jacky. You gotta get one of these little beauties.”

“What did it set ya back?” The words sprang from my mouth before I could stop them. I felt my face redden. What did it matter, the cost of so fine an instrument? Would Perlman quibble about the price of a Stradivarius? Would Puck settle for cheap tomatoes? How could one place a price on perfection?

“Bout 290, with tax. I got it down at Reno Bob’s. You know, at the mall.”

Yes, of course I knew. Reno Bob’s was the local discount golf shop where the teenage salesmen casually gossiped about their 220-yard 7-iron shots. I made a mental note to stop by the mall on my way home. But wait, did he say 290!? For one golf club!? My gosh! Hattie would kill me if I even thought about spending that kind of money on one golf club.

“So, you got any plans for the holidays?”

I didn’t pick up on Carl’s question right away. Two hundred and ninety, for just one club? The number echoed in my head.

“No, we’re just planning a quiet Christmas at home this year.”

Now, Carl’s not a big guy. So maybe it was understandable how watching his next ball sail right over the top of the back fence made me feel just a little depressed.

I went straight home. Hattie was making meatloaf and my little five-year-old, Jennifer, was waiting by the back door, all ready to give her daddy the best hug she could. Of course that lifted my spirits. She motioned me to bend down, then whispered in my ear.

“You know—it’s only four more days.”

I could see she was already giddy with excitement.

“Have you been a good girl? You know who’s watching, don’t you?”

Cupping her hands over her mouth, she looked up at me with those big green eyes and whispered, “Santa Claus.”

Hattie saw us and frowned. I knew she was upset with me for stirring up such anticipation in the child. For a week we’d had the same conversation. “Christmas isn’t just about Santa Claus, or receiving presents, ” she kept saying. And she was all business when I gave her a peck on the cheek. She just pointed me at the dining room table. Dinner was great, of course. My Hattie invented meatloaf. She waited until my cheeks were puffed out with food before speaking.

“I need to do some shopping tomorrow. So why don’t you and Jennifer go with me to the mall? I understand there’s going to be someone special there. While I’m busy, maybe you two can get a picture taken.”

I took the hint and hoped that this year’s Santa was a little more convincing. Last year, I spent nearly an hour trying to explain how the jolly old elf could have a Jamaican accent.

The next day, when we arrived at the mall, Hattie took off for parts unknown and I was left to stroll the rows of shops, Jennifer tugging anxiously on my hand. The stores were all decorated with twinkling lights, scarlet, silver and golden ribbons of streaming color. We followed the clatter of children, all laughing, running, skipping in the direction of an enormous snow-covered gingerbread house where occasional flashes told me that a photo opportunity lay just ahead. When we arrived, I was disappointed to see that the procession had stalled. A sign read, “Santa is out feeding the reindeer. Back in five minutes.”

I suggested that we just walk around until Santa came back. But when we turned the corner, I felt my pulse jump. There it was. Right in the front window of Reno Bob’s Discount Golf Shop. There was my ERV driver, glistening, beckoning, calling my name. I felt a sudden weakness in my knees.

“Let’s walk over this way, Jenny.”

My innocent little one obligingly followed. Could she feel the wave of excitement overwhelming me as we stood there in front of the golf shop? Could she imagine that her daddy might be so excited about some inanimate object?

Something so silly as a golf club?

“So there you are!”

Hattie’s voice made me jump.

“Have you seen Santa already?”

“No, ” I stammered. “He’s feeding his reindeer.” I smiled, feeling a little self-conscious.

“Well, I guessed that you’d eventually wind up here.” There was a hint of insinuation in her voice. “It’s your favorite store. Right?”

“Oh, yes—right—my favorite. I mean, it’s one of my favorites. Of course I like the yarn shop, too.”

“Oh yeah, the yarn shop. One of your favorites, too.”

Clearly whatever I was selling, Hattie wasn’t buying.

“Wow, look at that!” She pointed at the shop window. “Look at that golf club.”

I nodded. “Yeah, she’s a beauty, isn’t she?” I was amazed. I never knew Hattie appreciated the finer lines of a good driver. And my ERV was just poised there, looking like a work of art.

“No, no. I mean, look at the price of that thing.”

I realized that her finger was pointing at the bright red sales tag dangling from the grip of the club. Her mouth was gaping. She finally composed herself enough to say, “Can you imagine anyone spending that kind of money for a single golf club!? My lord!”

I smiled, but not showing my teeth. It occurred to me that it might be possible to marshal the facts—perhaps compile a list of the essential attributes of a highly advanced ball-striking device like this one. And, of course, I could argue that it’s made out of titanium—the stuff of supersonic jet planes. But, I bit my lower lip instead and just stared at the shop window.

“Well, ” I finally said. “My friend Carl has one, and it’s really quite a remarkable golf club, and several of the better players are getting them, and you know, if you really love golf it might almost be worth. . . .”

I stopped. Hattie was giving me her “you must be nuts!” look. I could see that there was no point, so I suggested that we head back to the gingerbread house.

Hattie and I were always quite rational about Christmas. We agreed that neither of us would spend more than $150 on each other’s present. She argued, and I agreed, that all the attention should be on Jennifer. It made perfect sense to me. Still, I remembered how as a child I persisted in imagining that my parents were going to give me that one gift I really wanted each Christmas. One year it was a bike. One year it was a BB gun. And when I was sixteen, I really thought my folks were going to give me a little red sports car. Christmas proved to be one disappointment after another. No bike, no BB gun and certainly no little red sports car.

“And I heard him exclaim as he rode out of sight, merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.” I snapped the book closed and looked at my beaming child. The embers in our fireplace cast a warm glow about the room, and the sparkling white lights on our tree reflected in my little girl’s eyes. The kitchen door pushed open and Hattie emerged carrying a tray of cookies and two glasses of milk.

“Here’s one for our girl, and one for Santa, ” she said. I feigned a frown of disapproval. I knew that at heart, Hattie loved Christmas—decorating the tree, making cookies, putting up the stockings. Like me, she was just a grownup kid.

“Daddy, don’t you think we should put out the fire so Santa doesn’t burn his bum?”

I nodded thoughtfully, and snatched a cookie from the tray. Then I promised that I’d take care of everything and gathered her up in my arms.

“You know, ” I said. “Santa won’t come until you’re fast asleep.”

Hattie and I tucked Jennifer in, and pulled her bedroom door closed. Standing in the hall I gave my wife a long kiss.

“You know, dear, ” I said. “Santa really won’t come until we’re fast asleep.”

She looked at me enticingly.

“That’s right, babe. So Santa better get to work on that bike. And don’t forget the tassels and training wheels.”

It was a chilly morning and I stepped spritely across our hardwood floor to the thermostat and cranked up the heat. I inspected the scab forming over my raw knuckle—a mark which I undoubtedly shared with thousands of bicycle-assembling fathers. Then I looked in on Jennifer. She was snoozing peacefully, so I brewed some coffee and roused Hattie. At last, when our little girl came careening dreamily into the living room, one hand brushing the sleepy-dust from her eyes, Hattie and I were sitting together on the sofa, spectators to the best show in town.

At that moment, seeing the teary eyes of my child as she pranced on tip-toes with delight, I was reminded of the real meaning of Christmas. In Christmas we find hope, coming first to us out of a mystical story about a babe born in a lowly manger, and then upon a gilded sleigh drawn by eight wondrous reindeer through a cold and quiet eve. And in that hope we hear an endless prayer that all the children of the world might share in the joy of a new and brighter age. A child was born, and after all, Christmas is really about the children.

It was a beautiful argyle vest, and I knew Hattie had paid more than our agreed-upon limit. I was very happy with it. In fact, I wore it to the club the next Saturday. And there on the driving range I saw my friend Carl. I guessed that he had an early tee-time because he was just finishing his warm-up session when I arrived. I watched as he hit a few 3-wood shots.

“Hey, Carl. How ya hittin’ ’em?”

“Don’t ask, Jacky. Don’t ask.”

I could see my friend was under a gray cloud. I watched quietly as he hit a few more shots. Then he tucked his 3-wood back in his bag.

“Hey, aren’t you gonna hit that big stick?” I asked.

“What big stick?”

“Carl? You know, that ERV driver of yours. Your big stick.”

“Oh that. I busted it.”

“You what?”

“Yeah. On the 10th tee yesterday, I hit one right on the screws, but the face caved in. I guess they haven’t perfected it yet. You can only hit it a few dozen times before it caves in. Wish I’d known that before I bought it.”

I watched with an open mouth as Carl picked up his bag and started walking glumly off the practice tee. But then he turned and, looking me up and down, said, “Hey Jacky, that’s a nice lookin’ argyle.”

J. G. Nursall

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