Often times in our lives, we have unexpected surprises come our way, whether it be in the form of an unexpected guest, phone call or especially hidden surprises in the mail. And while these little surprises are at times, a hair less than welcome, we still need to address the “opportunity” and go on with our lives. At Christmas time, these little surprises may end up wrapped in pretty paper and topped with a bow; later to be re-gifted to another, unsuspecting receiver of good things. So was the case one year with my wife.
Jenny, had been diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) soon after her thirtieth birthday and wanting to be as informed as possible, we decided to contact the Dayton chapter of the Lupus foundation for information and support. A couple of years after becoming members in this chapter, we decided to participate in their annual holiday gathering that included a gift exchange. Jenny had selected a rather nice gift that she confidently wrapped and we headed off to the event with the gift in tow. The evening was pleasant enough until we got to the gift exchange. All of the gifts were numbered and when Jenny’s number was called, she claim her prize and proceeded to unwrap it. As she pulled her new treasure from the box, we both were a little caught off guard by her new gift. Jenny had received a new neck scarf about 14 inch square. In the middle was a fall hunting scene with a hopeful hunter, holding his trusty rifle in his arms and two very startled pheasants fleeing the scene in the forefront. Around the entire scarf was a broad border with mallard ducks, falling and dying in every position imaginable. The ride home was more than a little quiet as Jenny fumed over getting a “white elephant” type of gift instead of a legitimate one like she had taken.
The Wilson side of the family that lived in Ohio always got together before Christmas and part of the fun was drawing names for a gift exchange with children under a certain age excluded, as they would get a gift from everyone. I just so happened to have my sister, Jennifer’s name and being the dutiful brother that I was, always tried to make her experience very “eventful”. The prospects of bestowing Jennifer with this new “special accessory” was overwhelming so I schemed to hide away her legitimate gift in another room and tucked this beauty under the tree.
The time came for the great unveiling of everyone’s treasures and going from the youngest to the oldest, it was eventually Jennifer’s turn. Jennifer loved Christmas and unwrapping gifts and she was in a particularly festive mood that Sunday afternoon. She picked up the gift from me and proceeded to carefully unwrap it. It was more than I could do to keep a straight face while she opened the box lid. Her face transitioned from pleasure to confusion to pain and back to confusion as her countenance plainly read, “Oh Go….”, while at the same time, a guttural growl matured into more of a nervous giggle as the sound rose up out of her esophagus. I have to give her credit; Jennifer was trying so hard not to be disrespectful of the ugliest scarf she had ever seen. She finally uttered, “Uh, how nice?!” After a very pregnant pause, the room erupted in laughter and Jennifer was left off the hook as the story of the scarf was told and her “real” gift was presented.
Thus was the beginning of a wonderful family tradition; the passing of the ugly Christmas scarf. Each year, everyone would second guess who had the scarf to pass on to another unsuspecting family member and we would have to be very imaginative on how we would hide the “Old Maid card” of a trickster gift with the real present. Even the out of state loved ones would get in on the act and inquire of who got the scarf.
One year, either Jenny or I had received the scarf and had it safely stored away until the next Christmas. As we walked through Hobby Lobby one day, we came upon a bust of a black Labrador Retriever with a dead Mallard duck in its’ jaws. We both knew we had to buy it to add a little more to the “special” gift. We tied the scarf around the dog’s neck and presented it. From that moment on, everyone would be very suspect of a larger present, thinking they were doomed to acquire the unwanted “gem”.
It has been over twenty five years since my sister was first presented with the ugly Christmas scarf that has, down through the years, become a real blessing and a cherished tradition in our family. Many changes have occurred during this time; the loss of loved ones, the relocation of others, and the maturing of the children into adults with their own traditions. But one thing will always remain; the love we have for one another and our strong family bonds. And I bet, somewhere in Ohio, perhaps even the Belpre area, there lies in the back of a dark closet or maybe in a musty basement, the proud black lab with the forever dead duck in its’ mouth and a particularly ugly scarf tied around its’ neck, just waiting to be presented once again to an unsuspecting family member at the Christmas gathering…