I'm a child of the 80's which means I've had the dubious distinction of having several 'techie' Christmases. There was Atari Christmas - you know, the year the Atari first came out? My older brother and I fought for game time, let me tell you. Half way through Christmas morning we were both banned from the game. A few years later the first Nintendo came out and, yeah, it was under the tree, too. Another banning from a gaming system and I was in my room - where I spent most of my time as a kid - reading one book or another that came in my stocking.
I can't remember my exact age, but I was definitely a pre-teen. Probably 11ish and we were going to Kansas City to see my great-aunt. I didn't mindgoing to see an aging relative where I wouldn't be allowed to watch TV and where mostly I'd be expected to sit and be quiet. I didn't mind because I had my secret weapon in my backpack - a fresh book to read.
She kept watching my older brother and I closely over lunch and while we were cleaning up the kitchen afterward and then, just when we figured it was Sofa City Time, she grabbed her purse and our jackets and pushed us out the door to the car. No parents. No younger siblings. We had no idea where we were going but then she pulled into the largest parking lot I'd ever seen in my life. She marched us up to the door and said she was not going to be the relative who bought us uncool underwear or socks. And then said we had the run of the store - we could pick out one thing. Anything we wanted. And that was our gift from her.
Children's Palace was a rambling monstrosity of a store - not as big as the supercenters of today but ginormous to a little country girl. I wandered aisles filled with every Barbie accessory you can imagine. Puzzles, chemistry sets. Aisle upon aisle of board games. And then I saw it, the most perfect space in the store - shelves and shelves of books. And chairs to sit, cozy up in and read. I was in heaven. I must have wandered the book aisles for a half hour before I found the perfect gift, but I was certain it was too expensive so I started looking for a second choice.
My aunt found me a little while later, holding a single, skinny edition of some pre-teen drama-laden book. I wanted it, but it wasn't what I really wanted. She poked and prodded but I wouldn't tell her about my dream gift.
We got back to the house a while later and I cozied up with my new read, just to prove that really was all I wanted. When it was time to go she sent me into the guest room to retrieve our coats and there, on the bed, was the gift I'd salivated over in the store. A collection of The Chronicles of Narnia - they were paperback but came in the coolest box I'd ever seen and a red ribbon was tied around them. But I was sure they weren't for me. After all, how could she have known? I sat down on the bed and petted that box of books. I pulled one book out, looked at the cover and caressed the spine. Then repeated that action for the rest of them. I stayed there, looking at those books for a long time, knowing that I'd done the right thing because a whole set of books had to be EXPENSIVE. Long enough that she came in after me, smiled and told me the books were for me. Just me. No sharing. No hand-me-down, no scribbles in crayon because I could put these books away where only I could reach them. My hands would dog-ear the first pages. My reading would put creases in the spines.
I cried a little and hugged her so tight she couldn't breathe. I think I forgot to say thank you, but I remember hearing her say you're welcome. And I love you.
I read and re-read those books for years until the spines broke and I had to use tape to keep them together. A lot of us grew up on the Narnia books, but for me, these were the first books that made me think, 'I want to do that'. I wanted to create a world where readers could get lost in the imagery and storytelling. Where things ended happily. And I'm blessed today to do exactly that...thanks to a little gift from a great-aunt who seemed like the perfect Santa on my favorite childhood Christmas.