I have mixed feelings about handmade Christmas gifts. When I was eleven, I made two identical magazine racks in shop class.
Christmas morning I gave one to my Dad. He praised it and said I was becoming a fine craftsman. He was amazed (or said he was, anyway), at how many magazines it held and how it cleverly leaned back to display them.
Later that day we drove to “have Christmas” with my grandmother. She suffered from dementia and lived with a bachelor uncle. I gave her the other magazine rack.
I was unaware of her deteriorating mental faculties. When unwrapped, she could not figure out what it was. I explained, “A magazine rack”.
She tried to stand it in a vertical position on the floor. Designed to lean at an angle, it fell over.
She was incredulous at my stupidity and said, “Why Terry, it won’t even stay upright.”
Her disappointment crushed me.
Years later, my own kids suffered disappointment at my hands because of a present I would not make for them. When my oldest son was ten or eleven, he wanted desperately for me to build a rocket silo, attached to the side of the house. He said he didn’t want anything else for Christmas and pointed out, we had extra lumber from another project stored in our barn. He didn’t need help with the actual rocket, which was based on the size and scale of the Apollo program missiles. He just needed me to make the silo from which to launch it.
From a young age, he had an intellect for electronics and computers. I had visions of him actually completing the rocket and destroying both silo and house at lift off. He was wounded when I wouldn’t even consider the rough blueprints he sketched for the project. He argued when I said it would probably violate several ordinances, firing a rocket of that size from a private residence.
He may have thought I was being unfair, after all, both boys’ made gifts for me over the years, and I was unwilling to make this one, the one they really wanted.
I still have all of their handy works. One of them made a simple plywood toolbox for me with a rope handle.
I have a tin coffee can with heavy red yarn wrapped tightly all around it. My first name is written with blue yarn in cursive over the red. The whole thing is covered in shiny shellac. I’ve stored small items in it for decades.
I have one large lifelike, worn looking, ceramic sneaker complete with laces. It sits on my bedside table, a catchall when I empty my pockets at the end of the day.
I have a long necktie carved from oak. I learned it doesn’t bend when you sit, almost broke my windpipe.
I have a ¾-inch thick by eight-inch long pointed stick, with several designs and “Dad” carved into it. It resides now in a dresser drawer, a touchstone when I’m down to that last tee shirt at the bottom of the drawer. It has remained through the most drastic of spring cleanings.
The very best part of all these presents was the wide-eyed look on my boys’ faces, Christmas morning. The look wasn’t just for the gifts they were to receive. They also wanted to know, would Dad like the presents made for him. The easiest things, I gave in return, praise, an enthusiastic ‘thanks’ and a happy smile.
The good intention that accompanied their gifts was the finest present I ever received.
My boys live in two different states now; none of the gifts we give or gather are handmade anymore.
In hindsight, that rocket silo doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.
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