Sometimes odd memories strike me.
This one was brought on by a combination of the oncoming holidays and a post about stupid gift exchanges written by my friend Andi-Roo, who I have only met once, but it was to much laughter and throwing of glitter. I find her both brutally honest and hilarious. You will probably find her NSFW. Fair warning.
Anyway, this particular memory is about one Christmas season when I was in maybe sixth grade. As per stupid small-town public school tradition (at least where I grew up), we had our yearly “grab bag”. That meant a teacher told us how much we could spend and then we went home and asked our parents to spend it so we could bring some trinket to class for the grab bag.
Each kid anonymously threw something into the bag and then we reached in to pull out whatever we could wrap our grubby twelve-year-old hands around.
The thing I remember about that year was that Smurfs were all the rage.
And I wanted to vicariously buy a Smurf with my parents’ money so that I could put it into the grab bag and then proudly say, “That was mine!” when some other grubby kid pulled it out.
In case you’re wondering, the anonymous part was stupid because you know that the first thing we did as soon as we pulled those gifts out was walk around asking who bought what.
God help the rest of your year if you were the one who put gloves in there.
It’s worth digressing at this point to give you some background on my family.
My mom is entirely practical. If she can buy something for ten cents less at the store across the street, she will walk across the street every time. That woman has saved a lot of dimes in my lifetime.
And it’s a good thing, because for every one she saved, my father spent six. Dad always liked to do things big. If you gave him a $10 shopping limit, he would spend $20. If you gave him $20, he’d spend $50. Sometimes that was – and still is – very good for me.
But in maybe sixth grade during grab bag season, it wasn’t.
See, the problem was, Smurfs were cheap.
Too cheap. Too cheap for dad to condescend to buying for one of my precious, worthy classmates.
And unfortunately for me, dad was in charge of “running out and getting something for the grab bag”. I’m not sure what mom was thinking by allowing it, but it was probably something like, “Oh my God, I’ve got four kids and it’s six days before Christmas and I have to shop and make lasagna and decorate the tree and find the blender and what do you mean it’s snowing, where are the boots?”
So instead of buying the Smurf that I really, really, really wanted, he came home with an art kit, full of gorgeous colored pencils and fun papers.
I hated it.
He probably exceeded the spending limit by 300% but that didn’t change the fact that colored pencils are not Smurfs.
So I took my not-Smurf and went dejectedly to school, wishing I would come down with Bubonic Plague so I could get out of doing the grab bag.
No such luck.
At the designated time I dropped not-Smurf into the bag and the grabbing frenzy began.
What I remember most is dreading the moment when I would have to admit to being the one who put the art kit in there. I remember watching nervously as kid after kid opened their gifts. I don’t remember what those gifts were because I was too worried about the person who would get mine. I ran the apology over and over in my head and waited for my doom.
Oh, in case you’re waiting for the punchline, there is none. Just a really pathetic twelve-year-old and a grown-ass woman with a weird memory.
And this: the gift that I pulled out, want to guess what it was?
Because the universe has a sense of humor.
My joy was only tempered by the fact that someone else wasn’t getting a Smurf. Because of me.
As for the moment when I had to finally admit to being the one who brought the art kit, I remember spewing out the apology as fast as I could before my face turned too red and I choked on my embarrassment.
Unlike me, the recipient was grateful. She thanked me. She told me my father was cool. She said it was a really nice gift, probably really expensive, too. She said she liked it.
I might have had a proud moment, or at least a relieved moment, but all I said was, “I wanted to get a Smurf.”
But at least I wasn’t the one who had to admit to bringing those gloves.