I also had fantasies of buying a necklace for Ann or a model car for Tommy. I had a crush on Tommy.
When the teacher announced that we would draw names to see who each of us would buy a twenty-five cent gift for, I felt absolutely certain I would draw one of my friends. I just knew that my fingers would attract the names of my friends to me.
The universe didn’t know about my expectations. I pulled a piece of paper out of the cloth bag that hid all the names. I opened it up making certain nobody could see the name on my paper. I looked at the name. “Walter Long.”
Tears welled up in my eyes, and I tried not to look at the unfortunate Walter Long. Nobody looked at Walter because he had snot on his face. He wore clothes that were too big for him, and he still didn’t know the alphabet. He actually fell asleep during naptime.
I felt so embarrassed because I still felt certain that the universe would deliver to me the person I wanted to buy a gift for, and I didn’t want my friends to think I wanted to buy a gift for Walter Long. As each student took their paper to the teacher’s desk, she read the name to them and wrote down who was buying for whom. I blushed and almost cried when it was my turn to show the teacher my piece of paper. She didn’t snicker or laugh when she wrote down Walter’s name, which kept me from crying with shame.
Aunt Charlotte picked me up from school. I waited until I was in her car before I hid myself on the floor and howled out my shame and embarrassment.
Aunt Charlotte looked down at me and said, “Really Rosemary, nothing is that bad.”
I nodded and hiccoughed.
She let me sit on the floor and howl.
Once we arrived home, Aunt Charlotte walked me all the way to my room before she told me to sit beside her and tell her what my problem was. I removed the offending paper from my pocket and explained about Christmas and Walter and how my friends would laugh and think I was stupid.
Aunt Charlotte sighed. “Walter must come from a poor family. I remember being a little girl. The other kids can be mean to someone they see as inferior.” Aunt Charlotte sat silently beside me.
I appreciated that Aunt Charlotte understood my problem. I began to hope that she would go to school with me and tell my teacher that I couldn’t possibly buy a gift for Walter. She had other ideas.
“Rosemary, who Walter is does not make you any different. Yes, I know the other students might laugh and be cruel. You need to give your gift in such a way that the other students will respect you.”
“How do I do that?” I had visions of taking my gift to school and telling the teacher I had a tummy ache and skipping school until after Christmas vacation. Pretending to be sick would mean that I couldn’t go to the Christmas program, and I wanted to be in the Christmas program because I got to wear wings and dance with the Christmas Angels. The wings looked suspiciously like the butterfly wings used in the May festival, but I didn’t care. I wanted to wear wings and dance.
Aunt Charlotte interrupted my internal debate about skipping Christmas all together, “Let me think about this. Tomorrow, we’ll go to the dime store and you can do your shopping.”
We didn’t go the dime store immediately after school. We waited until Devon got out of school. Aunt Charlotte insisted that he could pick out a better gift for a boy. Devon did pick out a gift. I thought it was okay. He told me the model F-86 Saber was cool. I nodded and paid for the small gift. Next, we went to the room behind the dime store and the clerk helped us pick out boxes. Each box needed to be bigger than the last. When we got home, the whole family sat down after dinner and helped me wrap Walter’s gift. Even Devon told me the whole gift was cool.
I didn’t know how I would carry my big box with the gift to the school, but Aunt Charlotte told me she would take it in her car. She left really early to take it, so when I got there from the bus, the big box already sat in the corner at the front of the room.
Finally, the mothers started arriving to set up for the party. Everybody talked about the great big box and wondered who it was for and what was in it. Both my mom and Aunt Charlotte came. Most of the mothers came. I noticed that Walter’s mother didn’t come.
When the gift exchange started, the teacher called us in alphabetical order to come get the gift we brought and give it to the person we bought for. Every time somebody started to walk to the front of the room, the students whispered, “Is it the big box? What is in the big box?”
Finally, I walked to the front of the room and picked up the big box. Everybody cheered. Joey jumped up and declared, “If she can lift it, it can’t be heavy.”
I heard Esau whispering, “Me, me, me.”
I set the box in front of Walter and returned to my seat while everybody urged him to open it.
Walter opened the box to find a smaller box with a prettier bow. The room grew deathly still with only Esau whispering, “Open it.”
Walter opened the next box and pulled out a smaller box with an even more elaborate bow. Walter paused and looked around the room.
“Open it.” Several students hissed.
The next smallest box had some beads on the ribbons and the next smallest had a couple feathers our rooster had left in the garden tucked into the bow. Still, Walter opened the next.
Tommy exclaimed, “The bows are getting bigger than the packages.”
With the next box, Mrs, White, our teacher exclaimed, “Oh how beautiful.” When she saw a box mom had taken special care with.
Just as Walter opened the next to the last box, his mother in her student nurse’s uniformed rushed in apologizing for being late. “Walter, is that for you?”
He looked a little stunned as he looked at his mom and asked, “Can we decorate our tree with all these bows?”
Mrs. Long knelt down beside her son and helped him with the next box so he wouldn’t break the bow.
Finally, Walter held the box with the model plane in it. Ann nudged me and whispered, “What did you get him?”
I just shook my head and worried that he’d think the plane was dumb after all the boxes and pretty bows.
Both Walter and his mother got very still as they opened the box and looked at the small airplane inside. She started to cry and Walter picked the plane gently from the box and kissed it.
Tommy shouted, “A Saber. Wow! Cool.”
Walter spoke, “My Daddy flew a Saber. He was shot down in Korea.”
I don’t remember much of the rest of the party. Mrs. Long hugged me and told me that the plane was a perfect gift. Mrs. White hugged me. Mom and Aunt Charlotte cried. I remembered to give Devon credit for helping me pick out the gift and the rest of the family for helping me with the wrapping. Tommy hugged me. I don’t remember what I got from my classmate that year, but I still remember Tommy hugging me.