I’ve never been the best at giving gifts. Truth be told, I’m downright terrible at it. I can give you what you need, or what you’ve asked for, but if you are looking for that creative gift that comes out of nowhere that you remember for the rest of your life, you probably aren’t going to get it for me. It’s not that I don’t care; far from it. I’m just not wired that way. I’d much rather spend a couple hours with someone, talking of life and love and Royals’ losses, than be given a gift of equal value.
To date, there are three Christmas gifts I vividly remember receiving; the first was a full-size table tennis table. It is memorable mostly for the fact that we never seemed to use it; It was put up in the basement of the house we were living in at the time, and although I’m sure there were times when it saw its just and proper use, it certainly did not receive the attention commensurate with the expenditure. I mean, this was a heavy-duty setup, not one of those long, plywood contraptions you could slap on top of a card table. This thing was stainless steel and slate, heavy enough to crush a small child had it collapsed (which, surprisingly, did not seem to be a concern to my parents at the time). When we moved a few years later, it was folded and packed away and has not been set up since; it still rests in my parent’s garage, gathering years and dust, waiting for us to find the time.
The second memorable gift, as it was for many other young boys, was a Sony Playstation. What I remember so well about it was that Santa Claus*, the Gift-Bringer, hadn’t even bothered to wrap it. It was nestled on top of the end table displaced by the Christmas tree that had taken its place. This was the winter of 1997, mind you, and to that point my brother and I had subsisted on a steady diet of Nintendo. Not Super, not 64; flip-lid, cartridge-blowing Nintendo. As the world and our friends passed us by with technological advancements that made your eyes glaze over in amazement (64-bit graphics! Realistic 3D polygon models!), we were left in an 8-bit wonderland.
*You know. “Santa Claus“.
Receiving a Playstation was the equivalent of being pulled out of flight school and placed at the controls of a space shuttle. By the end of Christmas day, my brother and I had forgotten about all of our other presents and had logged a good ten hours combined between NFL GameDay 98 and Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back. Although I had logged my fair share of hours on Nintendo’s Pro Wrestling, Hogan’s Alley, Double Dragon II: The Revenge, Airwolf, RBI Baseball, and Super Mario Bros. (1, 2, and 3), it wasn’t until that winter that video games (particularly sports games) became entrenched in my day-to-day.
The third, and most cherished of all, was my first baseball glove. When I was 7, I had already put in a few years of little league. T-ball was a thing of the past, and I was excited to start getting into coach pitch. The thought and thrill of facing live pitching (albeit friendly, elderly pitching designed to assist the hitter) was something I was looking forward to. Alas, I didn’t have my own glove.
Being left-handed, I wasn’t even able to use my brother’s hand-me-downs. I was forced to get by on the stiff, worn, decades-old remnants of my Dad’s. I was happy to do it; More than happy, to be honest. Using his gloves made me feel authentic, genuine, adult. But it wasn’t the same. Everyone else had their own leather; new, formed, padded mitts with the signatures of major league players scrawled across the palm, signatures that hadn’t been faded by years and years of use.I was content to use my dad’s gloves. They were always a little big, but I got by. Playing first base, it was a benefit to have a larger glove anyway.
I hadn’t asked for nor did I expect to receive it. I hadn’t even considered it a want or a need. That’s what makes gifts like this so memorable. When someone knows you well enough, be it your parent or sibling, friend or significant other, to select something so perfect for you without you even realizing it, that you remember it for a lifetime. I haven’t been able to give that to anyone. Maybe I will, one day. But if you’ve experienced it yourself, you know how it feels; the unfettered joy and exuberance of what can only be considered the closest thing to perfection this world has to offer.
And yet, there it was. I unwrapped it with such vigor that I nearly ripped one of the leather fastenings off. A brand new, all-black Rawlings Ken Griffey Jr. glove. Not only was it a new glove, it was my favorite player’s glove. I wore it on my hand that entire Christmas day. I softened the leather and molded the basket as any diligent young boy did. For the next five years, covering the expanse of the rest of my little league career, that was the glove I used. There wasn’t a thing in the world, not a game or an action figure you could have offered to get me to give that glove up. We were a pair, coalesced into a single form by time and experience.
Sadly, that glove is gone now, lost amidst the shuffle of multiple moves and years of inactivity. I’ll never forget that thing, that one special thing that made that Christmas so vibrant and memorable. Hopefully, if you haven’t before, this Christmas will bring that to you. And if it has, hopefully you can pass it along to someone you know: a son, a daughter, a friend, or even a stranger. After all, that’s the reason for the season.
Follow Josh on Twitter @JoshuaKWard