When it came to Christmas gifts, Dad was all about practicality. I know I must have received some toys or other impractical gifts when I was very young, but from age 9 or 10, and forward, the gifts were always things I needed; coats, shoes, shirts, jeans, etc. There was never money to waste on unnecessary items.

But, my father certainly held no double-standard when it came to gifts for himself.

My mother, my sisters, or I, would be seriously chastised if we gifted him a present other than something he could use in his everyday work around the farm. And, it was impossible to package or wrap his present in any way that would prevent him from guessing what it was before he opened it on Christmas morning. One of my sisters had even given up on trying to surprise him and had fallen into the rut of simply giving him the same present year after year – a giant can of his favorite pipe tobacco, until that one year…

My sister and her family had arrived a couple of days before Christmas and brought in all the gifts to place around the tree. Like a big kid, Dad had found his – a large, brightly wrapped box – that was the biggest present of the bunch. He picked it up, shook it vigorously, and surmised, “Well, it’s too light to be tools and too heavy to be clothes. Is it something I need?”

My sister answered that she thought he did, in fact, need the present.

“Will I use it every day?” Dad asked, as if he was starting the ‘twenty questions’ game.

“You’ll use it every day of the week, but one,” she replied.

Seemingly stumped for the first time ever, Dad added, “Do I have one already?”


A bit perturbed, Dad stated, “Well, if I have one already, and I don’t use it every day, it seems a little foolish to have bought it.”

Knowing how my dad’s brain worked, Sis just smiled and said, “Just wait until Christmas morning, Dad.”

When the magical morning arrived, everyone in the family was more excited to see Dad open the big present than their own, because, for the first time anyone could remember, he hadn’t guessed what was inside. And, it wasn’t for lack of trying, because each of us had caught him, at one time or another, feeling and shaking the big box in an attempt to uncloak the mystery gift. Finally, the time had come.

When the unwrapping began, Dad didn’t even wait for the little kids to begin as he began to gently peel away the colored paper (a gift that size would yield enough paper to wrap several presents the next year). As everyone watched, wide-eyed, Dad opened the box to unveil a brand-new… mailbox.

“Well, I’ll be danged,” he proclaimed with both shocked surprise and a tinge of disappointment. We all knew Dad was genuinely surprised, but we also knew he thought the old, rusty mailbox we had would receive letters and packages just fine for several more years.

Then he opened the mailbox, removing packing paper on the inside, when a bigger smile radiated across his face as he found the giant can of pipe tobacco hidden inside.

“That’s more like it,” he sighed.

To quote Mick Jagger, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.”


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