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Oregon Family Magazine

The Christmas-Gift Quandary

12/03/2018 ● By Sandy Kauten
“So, Dad, what would you like for Christmas?” I would ask that question every year from the time I was 8 years old.

And he’d say, “White cotton handkerchiefs and chocolate.” He had no hobbies or vices to supply. He had interests, but if you got him a book, he never read it. Worse yet, his birthday was December 22. One year I led him to believe he was getting chocolate on his birthday, and then astonished him with HANKIES! Three days later, there was really no way to make the chocolate a surprise.

Of course, when I was a kid, everyone already knew what I wanted for Christmas. A pony! It was part of my career plan. Once I had the pony, I would learn to ride and rope and shoot. Eventually I would go into the cattle business or possibly law-enforcement. I was flexible – but only up to a point. I would NEVER become a hired gun for a greedy cattle baron.

Meanwhile, I was being sent to the wrong kind of school. The curriculum was full of math, science and literature, when I needed to be studying bronco busting, tracking and Indian sign language. Back when George W. Bush was fretting over No Child Left Behind, he should have been talking about No Child Taught a Bunch of Baloney He Doesn’t Want to Know. I could have testified in Congress.

Year after year, Christmas would come and go, leaving me pony-less. Even though every year Dad got exactly what HE wanted, it never made me bitter.

By age 18, I needed a full-sized horse, but was mature enough to realize I’d never get one. I also realized that Dad’s lackluster hankies-and-chocolate wish list was that of a man without dreams. My brothers and I felt bad for him.

That year, after Thanksgiving dinner, we asked Dad the annual question, and he astounded us by saying, “I want a crystal ball.”


“I want to see into the future,” Dad said. He couldn’t have meant it. Dad was already a fortune-teller. He used cards. Not tarot cards – report cards. And mine indicated that I was failing at the useless studies that were being forced upon me and that someday soon I’d be not arresting hombres and roping cattle, but “digging ditches.” (And whose fault would THAT be?!) Dad relied on observation and experience to divine other elements of my future. At various times he predicted for me a shotgun wedding, alcoholism, crippling injury, scandal and imprisonment.

No, Dad didn’t need a crystal ball; he just wanted to send his three sons on a special mission. It was pre-internet, so we took a train into the city and examined the Yellow Pages and made some phone calls and managed to find a magicians’ supply shop. Unfortunately the crystal balls in stock were big, showy, tacky things that lit up, spun around and turned colors. Dad would have hated them.

But at a gift shop that carried leaded crystal, we found something more tasteful – a sphere the size of a plum that would look classy on his desk. When you looked through it, everything was upside-down.

Dad was pleased; he’d set us on a quest and we’d come through for him. Our success made that Christmas stand out in our memories.

Fast-forward a few decades, and now I’m the dad who’s impossible to gift. I do have hobbies, but ironing and napping don’t require a lot of accessories. Worse yet, I don’t trust myself around chocolate and I’ve inherited one-third of the largest hanky collection in America. (At funerals I bring extras and give one to anyone who looks the least bit sad.)

Mine is really a silly problem. You can sympathize with someone who can’t get what he wants, but not with someone who is whining because he doesn’t want anything. I only bring it up because of the frustration it causes my dear daughters.

They must envy the children of cowboys for whom there is no end of gift possibilities – spurs, guns, bullets, holsters, long underwear, sombreros, lariats, knives, branding irons, chaps, guitars, bedrolls, chewing tobacco, whiskey, bandanas and all sorts of saddles and other strappy leather goods for their horses.

Not to point the finger at my late, non-pony-buying father, but isn’t it sad how an ancestor’s non-performance can cause unhappy ripples across a generation and even into a new century?

Rick can be reached at [email protected].