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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?

A Smurf.

Because the universe has a sense of humor.

Papa SmurfMy 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.


  • Uncle Chris says:

    Great memory. Very typical of your Dad and one of the many reasons I love him like a brother.

  • Mayura says:

    Hey Carol,

    Congratulations on your personal blog dear 🙂 Well, the cupcake was delicious!

    A moment of surprise! Gosh… I’m really glad you pulled out the right gift at the right moment. Else this post would have titled “I wanted a Smurf”, eh? 😉

    After learning cheap is not cheap at all, now your perspectives are much broader than your father I guess. BTW It’s nice to know about your family too 🙂

    All the best for your new journey and you have a lovely weekend dear!


    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Hi Mayura, thanks for stopping by and reading my story! Yes, it’s amazing how your perspective can change. Of course, it took me years and years before I could appreciate that, but better late than never, right?

  • WOW! First off, thanks for the generous link. You’re too kind, by far.

    Second? I’m so glad you started a personal bloggy-blog! You’re such a funny lady, I’m eager to read more of your inner workings. And yes, although we only met in person the one time, it was splendiforous! Definitely needs to happen again, though! Next time over lots of drinks! ;p

    Finally — my mom would find out what I wanted, and instead of buying it for me, she’d get it for the exchange. I’ll never forget the last gift-exchange event. Sixth grade, on the cusp of middle school. I wanted this particular locket on display at the Base Exchange. Mom bought it, wrapped it up, and {yep} it went into the gift exchange even with my tears and protests. Know who wound up with it? Liz Hammond, the Base Commander’s daughter. As if she couldn’t have gone out and bought five of the damn things with her allowance! Still bitter with envy after all this time, but more angry my mom was such a doof.

    On the bright side, I ended up with a Care Bear mug from either Terri or Sherri Zimmerman {identical twins; my memory combines them now in my “old” age}, which I own to this day. It sits on my desk and holds my pens because CARE BEARS. I think I won???

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Whoa, Andi…. so first of all how did I miss this comment? Second of all, what? Your mom is… well… I don’t know her so I’ll just stop there 🙂 That was what, about a million years ago? It’s funny how you can remember the exact name of the person who pulled your gift. I actually do, too. Care Bears were a whole other year for me but I don’t think I actually ever owned one! There’s something vaguely communist about that.If we can amuse ourselves in the end, it’s always a win!

  • Hi Carol,

    Love this blog and especially this story! I remember those grab bags and hated the fact that someone would know I was the kid who put the gloves in there. Yep, my mom was like your dad but she would buy expensive gloves.

    What kid wants something like that? I used to cringe and never had the nerve to admit I was the kid that gave the gloves. brought me back. But as Karma would have it, You got the smurf and the kid who got the art set loved it.

    Guess it is all a matter of perception!


    • Carol Lynn says:

      Donna, that’s hilarious! I feel for 12-year-old you 🙂 I don’t remember a single other grab bag except that one. I have to ask my dad if he does. It’s the plight of parents to torture their kids, I suppose. And yet we turned out ok! Thank you so much for stopping by and reading.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Aw, so YOU were the one 🙂 I seriously think someone invented the grab bag just to torment kids. Giving gifts should be fun and yet look how much stress we all gave ourselves! These days I’ll take a nice pair of gloves, though 🙂

      • I’m waiting for your post about elementary school and the exchange of Valentine’s Day cards. Painful, painful moments in time. 😉

        You’re right. Someone invented the grab bag just to torment kids. I’m with ya on the coming down with the Bubonic Plague thing. Hell, death would have been even better.

        The grab bag marches on. When my daughters were in school, I had to fork out $20 x 4 kids for those stupidly expensive grab bag items. They’ve been out of school for a long time so I imagine, by now, the spending limit is $100. 🙁