Keeping secrets at Christmas is hard for a five-year-old, but I had some of my very own. Two treasures lay hidden deep inside a dresser drawer. I found marble for my brother Elmer – a bright yellow tiger eye. It was a beauty! I had a pretty good pencil that I hadn’t used very much to give to Mom. But, there was nothing for Daddy. Our family was dirt poor back then. So, for days I rummaged around, hoping to find something worthy. I haunted closets and drawers when no one was looking, but nothing seemed quite right. The kitchen yielded no treasures either since everything in there belonged to Mom. Everything in Daddy’s workshop was already his.
Gingerbread men in the oven smelled promising. But, no, one of those wouldn’t really be from me because I didn’t make (or find) it myself. Daddy’s gift had to be just as special as the ones for Mom and my brother. And, it had to be a secret.
At last a search behind the garage produced an old rusty horseshoe. It didn’t look like much but it had potential. A piece of aluminum foil wrapped as tightly and neatly as a five-year-old can manage made it gleam like silver, and I proudly placed it under the tree, along with the other two secret gifts. Daddy pretended he couldn’t guess what it was, and his enthusiasm thrilled me to no end! He would pick it up, shake it to see if it rattled, and ponder over what it could possibly be. Mom and Elmer enjoyed helping him try to guess. They would have me laughing to the point of tears with questions like, “Is it something to eat? Could I wear it on my head?” Nobody ever said, “It’s just a horseshoe wrapped in tinfoil.”
On Christmas morning, Elmer unwrapped the marble and graciously exclaimed, “Wow, a tiger eye!” My heart swelled with joy. His only other gift was a pocketknife. I got a little rubber dolly, about six inches tall. She even had an extra outfit. Her blonde hair was soft and silky, tied with a dainty pink ribbon. Oh, but she was the prettiest thing in the whole world at that moment, and I named her Mary, after Mom. Fifty-three years later, she is still with me.
Mom carefully removed the scrap of wrapping paper tied around the pencil, and she made a big deal of it, saying, “Well, that’s just what I wanted! I needed a good pencil to write my letters. How did you know?” She thanked me with a big hug.
Daddy was last. The suspense was about to kill me because they all played along with the mystery of what his gift might be. He oh so carefully pulled back a piece of the foil and exclaimed in great surprise and delight that it was a horseshoe – a lucky horseshoe. Everybody gathered around to see, saying what a wonderful gift it was and how I sure had them fooled.
Then, Daddy did something that puzzled me. He pressed the piece of foil back in place and said, “It’s so beautiful this way. I have an idea.” He dashed out to his workshop and returned with a hammer and a nail. He drove the nail above the front door in the living room and hung the horseshoe on it. For days he never failed to point it out to visitors as the best gift he ever received. When we moved to a bigger house about three years later, one of the first things Daddy did was to hang that horseshoe over the front door in the living room where it stayed for many years. I passed under that horseshoe on my way to and from school every day, until I went away to college. Dad and Mom eventually sold the house and moved to Florida. Later, they moved to North Carolina to live near my brother.
The years marched on. I graduated from Concord College, married, had two daughters, and began a teaching career. I had long forgotten all about the horseshoe.
Of course as while growing up, I eventually realized that everyone knew what the gift had been. However, Daddy lead the others in letting me have those moments of Christmas magic on a long-ago morning when the magic meant so much to a five-year-old. Like Mom and Elmer, he had accepted his gift for what it was: the very best gift I had to give. That, in turn, was the best gift they each had to give to me at that time.
After my parents died some 35 years later, the task of final disbursement of my parents’ belongings fell to me. It was a daunting task at times and a tear-filled, sentimental task at other times. One day, I fell speechless upon opening a small suitcase that held items Daddy had taken to the nursing home when Alzheimer’s took its cruel toll on his mind and body. There was his electric razor and a portable cassette player and an odd assortment of banjo tuning pegs and small tools. Then I discovered the horseshoe, still wrapped in the original aluminum foil. The gift was still from him to me, even after all those years. That was Daddy’s secret. I shall hold onto that dear secret as long as I live, still wrapped in tinfoil.