The Christmas Sled
This year for Christmas things were a little tight. I warned my kids ahead of time. We agreed to only gift each other homemade things and a shift or two ringing the bell for the Salvation Army kettle.
The week before Christmas my youngest daughter disappeared into her bedroom. She was gone an awfully long time, and eventually I called to her, asking what she was doing. “Making your present!” she said. There was some banging, then a pause. “Do we have a hammer?”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. We did, in fact, have a hammer, but I felt a notable reluctance to tell my daughter. It’s not like we have a convenient pile of scrap wood and nails simultaneously lying around, so what she wanted to hammer both boggled and worried my mind. Finally, and with a regrettable lack of enthusiasm, I suggested she look in the tool box. She did, and shortly the hammering from her room began in earnest.
Later, on the phone, I told a friend that my daughter had made me something for Christmas. “It involved hammering,” I said. “I’m very concerned.” The package under the tree was flat-ish and poorly wrapped. I envisioned a broken picture frame. Smashed glass. Two bits of seashells glued together. “Do you think I should secretly open it before Christmas,” I asked my friend, “so that I can prepare my face for when I open it in front of her?”
I didn’t open it ahead of time. Instead the package lurked under the tree, where it eventually disappeared amongst the stacks of other presents gifted to us from friends and family, surprise piles of gifts spoiling us this year.
On Christmas morning, my daughter rummaged amongst the packages until she found her present to me, its wrinkly white paper, thickly taped edges.
“Merry Christmas, Mum,” she said. She clapped her hands with excitement as I began to open it. I smiled at her. I love her love for me, and I prepared myself to get really enthusiastic about whatever was in the package, whatever she could have made with a hammer and something from her room — a tack and a Justin Bieber poster? I had no idea.
This summer my daughters went to New York City with their Dad. They came home with a World’s Number One keychain for me and one of those tourist license plates with New York written across it in DMV lettering which my youngest hung on her wall as her treasure from her vacation.
When I opened my Christmas present, I saw her New York license plate, curved in on one end.
“It’s a sled!” she said, clapping with delight. “I made you a sled! Because it’s Christmas! And because it’s from New York, and people go sledding in Central Park!”
I looked at my daughter, holding the Christmas sled in my hands. “This,” I tried to say, choked-up, tearing-up, “this is the best Christmas present I have ever been given in all my life. Thirty-eight years old. This is the best.” No broken glass, glued-edged, orange macaroni ashtray, this.
She clapped her hands again and threw her arms around my neck.
We have a friend who works with wood. I asked him if he could bolt the sled to a piece of plywood or something so that it wouldn’t bend too much over the years. My daughter jumped up and clapped her hands in excitement. “I was thinking you could make it go downhill!” she said. I elbowed her out of the way as one does when adults are talking, worried she was asking for something that might take actual work on the part of our friend. “Something flat, you know, like a piece of scrap, if you’ve got something like that. Couple of screws. It’ll be super,” I said.
Today our friend gave me the Christmas sled back. “That’s second-growth Cedar; tree from our yard,” he said.
I held the Christmas sled in my hands. I remembered sitting in the living room listening to my daughter hammer in her bedroom upstairs. I remembered the garbage I expected her to make me. I remembered the face I thought I was going to have to pretend to make, the mustered-up enthusiasm. And instead this is what I got, on this Christmas I thought would be so … dry, so all about the Salvation Army kettle and about how little we had to offer each other.
You could never find this in a store. Nothing you could buy could ever be worth as much as an eight-year-old hammering her souveneir into a Christmas sled for her mother, a smooth and polished slope for it made to measure by a friend.