When I was eight years old, my brother and I were trying to figure out what we were going to get for our mother for Christmas. I had already made a crude bookmark out of yarn in my second-grade art class, but it wasn’t good enough in my opinion. Gilbert and I thought about it for days, although most of the time we drifted off-topic and started wondering what Santa was going to bring us. Christmas was fast approaching, and we couldn’t find that “perfect” gift for her.
I came up with the notion that we could buy her something. My brother had a whopping five dollars, which was only five dollars more than I had. I had to find a way to earn some money, but people were not hiring little kids in Far Rockaway, New York back then. While walking home from school, I struck upon the idea of collecting Coca Cola bottles and returning them for a nickel each. I hit up every neighbor for their bottles, and when I told them what I was doing it for, they gave me all they had. One nice elderly woman paid me a whole dollar to “help her out by taking those nasty old bottles off of her back porch”.
I made a little over seven dollars this way. This was more money than I had ever had at one time.
On December 23rd, my brother and I walked from our second-floor apartment on Beach 19th Street to Central Avenue, our pockets filled with coins and a couple of dollar bills. We strolled up and down several blocks window shopping, occasionally getting in some additional ideas for ourselves at the toy shops. After over two hours of wandering, we came upon a jewelry store. Not just any jewelry store, mind you, but one of the most expensive ones in the area. I was convinced Mom would love some jewelry!
We went in and started looking at the diamonds. The saleswoman eyed us for a bit, and went in the back to get the owner. He was a kindly old gent, and he treated us like important customers.
“What can I get you two fine gentlemen this afternoon?” he asked with a smile.
“We’re looking to buy our Mommy some jewelry for Christmas,” I replied. Shopping was fun!
“Hmmm,” he mumbled. “What price range are you looking at?”
I pulled the dollar bill and a few handfuls of nickels out of my pocket. My brother pulled out his cash, and we placed all of it on the counter.
“Wow, that is a lot of money,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. The saleswoman and the two older ladies she was helping had stopped their transaction to watch us. The owner poked through my nickels. “I may have just the thing for you two gentlemen. Please wait here while I go to the vault.”
My brother and I started grinning. We were going to buy our Mom some expensive jewelry! We felt so grown up.
The owner came back with two items. One was a large pin with a bunch of red stones, and the other item was a green and gold bracelet. I picked up the “ruby-encrusted” treasure in awe. I was sure Mom would love it. My brother gravitated more towards the bracelet.
“How much, Sir?” I asked. The owner poked through the nickels again, and took exactly three dollars. He charged my brother three as well. The saleswoman and her customers came over and began to ooh and ahh, saying we got a good deal and that they were sure our mother would be pleased. The owner wrapped our gifts in shiny metallic paper with bows and ribbons. We thanked them all for helping us pick out the perfect present.
When Christmas came, we first tore through most of our presents under the tree. We then decided to give Mom her gifts. She was very pleased with my bookmark (“What a wonderful job you did!”). When she opened my ruby pin, however, she began to cry.
I was very confused. “I can take it back if you don’t like it,” I said.
She choked back her tears, and told me that it was the first time we had actually gone out and bought her a gift. When we told her of our shopping adventure, she cried even more.
“I’m crying because this is the sweetest thing you two have ever done,” she finally blurted. She gave us both a big hug.
So that Christmas, I gave her a ruby treasure, and a treasure from my heart she always remembered.
When my mother passed away twenty years later, I found the pin in her jewelry box. She had kept it all those years.
I originally started writing this story as an entry for one of Glimmer Train’s contests. It was one of the toughest ones to finish. My mother never had the chance to read any of my published work, although she used to play Dungeons & Dragons with us when we were still in our teens, so she did get to experience some of the modules I wrote.
When it comes to your work, make sure your loved ones have the opportunity to read it. Don’t force it on them, and don’t ask for feedback unless you’re just looking for the obligatory, “Oh, it’s wonderful, honey.” Should you be lucky enough to have a family member who will give you constructive criticism, consider yourself blessed.