In our house, this was always a very special time for our family. The tree always stood in the same corner every year for as long as I can remember. My mother would prepare months in advance, baking and cooking and planning. The house was always spit-shined! Not one nook or cranny would go untouched. My father would haul out the toughest dirt removers, vacuums and rags to make sure there was not one spot or piece of dust or dirt anywhere in our house.
We always celebrated with friends and family Christmas Eve, and then everyone was welcome after midnight mass. Food and drinks were served until all hours of the morning, as guests, friends and family chatted and sang and enjoyed the festivities.
I was 16, the youngest, and was waiting hopelessly for the party to end this particular Christmas Eve, knowing that Christmas morning would soon arrive. I was hoping I would find what I had asked for under the tree. Often, Christmas mornings would turn into afternoons, as the majority of the household would be still recovering from the night before. So more often than not I had to wait patiently! In the early hours of Christmas morning my dad would always be cleaning and getting ready for the next onslaught of visitors. I decided to join him this morning, and we chatted as I helped him carry dishes to the sink, all the while wondering what was waiting for me under the tree.
Well, when gifts were finally being opened this particular Christmas, I came across a huge box under the tree for me. All I could think of was that maybe my parents bought me the stereo I had been dreaming about! I opened the box and discovered it was far from a stereo. What was in that big box? A suitcase. They bought me a suitcase?? I thought in disbelief. I stood over the horrible orange suitcase and wondered if perhaps it was some sort of joke and my real gift was inside the case. So I quickly popped open the bag, only to find it empty. I guess this is it, Martha, I thought to myself. I looked at my parents, who were busy talking to my brothers, and said thank you to them. I must have had a very strange and quizzical look on my face because my Dad started to laugh.
“Do you like your gift, Martha?” he asked.
“Very nice Dad, thanks. Is this some sort of a hint??” I responded jokingly.
My brother John looked on, smirking at what I got under the tree. I would have preferred underwear or socks.
“Martha, we thought that might come in handy for you sometime down the road,” my mother said while smoking her cigarette and rubbing her eyes from lack of sleep.
“Well, thanks Mom, should I start packing today??”
Both of my brothers laughed. I’m sure they would have been happy to get rid of their little sister – the sooner the better.
“Don’t be silly,” Mom said. “We just saw it on sale and figured why not get that for Martha. We know how you like to go and visit Lebby and, well, you know your father and I when we see a deal. We can’t pass it up.”
“I know Mom, I was just kind of hoping you might have seen a stereo on sale somewhere.”
I’m not really sure what got into my parents that Christmas, but a bright orange suitcase was one of the worst gifts I think I have ever received. To top it all off, in all the years I had that suitcase, I never used it. Not once. Today, my daughter’s Barbies are stored in it. I suppose, as my Mom told me, they were just being practical. But in my opinion, there’s practical and then there’s just plain crazy. At sixteen, a suitcase was really not at the top of my wish list.
After receiving the gaudy orange suitcase, gift opening on Christmas mornings thereafter was always done with trepidation. What could possibly be under the tree next, waiting for me? Yes, my parents were always thinking on the practical side. And I have to admit, gift opening was never dull on Christmas morning, even if it meant unwrapping the occasional suitcase. At least we were always surprised!
Photos courtesy of Martha Farley – all rights reserved