musings from Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington ... home of The Write Spot

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

sneaky peekers

Temptation. That's the trouble with this time of year. Too many temptations. And it's not just the chocolate and shortbread and all the other delectable holiday goodies on offer. No. I'm talking about surprises. All those hidden gifts, lurking in closets or squirrelled away in somebody's sock drawer. If you think about it, presents are not very good at keeping themselves secret. You can almost hear them whispering as they wait for the Big Day. "Look at me! Look at me!"

Of course, now that I'm a proper grown-up, I use my proper grown-up willpower to avoid closets, sock drawers, and other hidey-holes in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Even so, I'm always relieved when the last gift is bound up in shiny paper, tied with bright ribbon, and nestled safely under the tree. It's so much easier, then, to resist the temptation to peek. Okay, I might try to catch a glimpse of a hand-written tag, or maybe move a few packages around. You know, just to make room for more, not to shake or sniff or weigh a box with my name on it or anything. Ah-hem. Certainly not! It's all about the surprise, right? But…

Once upon a very long time ago, "willpower" was just a word grown-ups used when what they really meant was, "stop having all that fun!"

It was December, 1959, two weeks before Christmas. I was nine and a half years old. Mom was out for the afternoon, Dad was busy in his basement workshop, and I was hearing gift-whispers all over the house. With Cookie the dog as my trusty lookout, I tiptoed from room to room. Like a young Nancy Drew with her Togo, we were hot on the trail of a Christmas mystery. First, we checked the hall closet, rummaging through a box of scarves and mittens, behind the winter coats and under the boot rack – nothing. Upstairs, we rooted through the linen closet, opened Mom's lingerie drawer, and peered under beds – still nothing. My gift had to be somewhere in the house, I could definitely hear it whispering. In fact, by then, I was pretty sure I could hear it singing and giggling, too. "Tee-hee-hee and ho-ho-ho, you won't find me, no matter where you go." Cookie's tail seemed to keep time with a jolly thump-thump-thump on the floor. Whose side was she on, anyway?

Back in the kitchen, I pondered the situation while staring out the window at our snow-covered backyard. Birds fluttered and squabbled at the feeder. A cold wind rattled bare branches against the frosted windowpane. Downstairs, Dad whistled as he swept his workshop floor. Beside me, Cookie yawned and huffed, turning lazy circles before settling onto her mat for a nap. And the whispering gift had grown so quiet I could barely hear it any more. Ah-ha! What do you do when you're hiding and the seeker comes close? Hold your breath. Stay quiet. Don't whisper. I turned to study the kitchen. Where would I hide? Not in the cupboards or cutlery drawers – too much traffic – but what about the junk drawer?

Dry wood squealed a warning as I pulled it open. I froze. Cookie snored. Dad whistled. I held my breath and eased the drawer wide. There, tucked into a corner and poorly camouflaged by a jumble of elastic bands, playing cards, envelopes and postage stamps, was a neatly folded piece of crisp, white paper. The whispering stopped. I reached for the paper, carefully unfolded it, and read. This was it! Not the gift itself, but a receipt dated three days before, for "one transistor radio, pink."

Dad's footsteps sounded on the basement stairs. Cookie scrambled to her feet and ran to meet him at the kitchen door. I must have re-folded the paper and closed the drawer but I don't remember doing so. I managed to forget about the whispers and my afternoon of sleuthing, too. Until, gathered around our tree on Christmas morning, my parents put that perfect little gift in my hands. I looked up at their happy faces, so eager to see my surprise and delight, and all I could think of was "one transistor radio, pink."

Smile, I told myself. Act surprised. Don't let them know. I pulled on the ribbon, peeled back the paper, opened the box… and burst into tears.

I'd like to think that Mom and Dad never suspected I'd peeked, that they believed my tears were tears of happiness, that I hadn't disappointed them. But I have a feeling they both knew exactly why I was crying. I loved that pink transistor radio and made sure they knew it. But my sneaky peeking had, in some small way, spoiled the celebration – not only for me, but for the people who loved me best.

So, take it from me. No matter how many gift whispers you might think you hear this holiday season, don't become a sneaky peeker. Get yourself some proper grown-up willpower and savour the surprise.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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At 9:48 am, Blogger Joanne Guidoccio said...

Enjoyed this peek into your past. I agree that anticipation is an important part of the holiday season. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas.

At 10:14 am, Blogger Sandy Cody said...

Love this,Cheryl. I suspect the real gift that Christmas was the lesson you learned.

At 10:30 am, Blogger Cheryl said...

Thanks for reading Joanne and Sandy. You're absolutely right - it was all about the lesson learned. I've also never forgotten that anticipation of 'the moment' is as important for the giver as the receiver. Cheers!

At 11:27 am, Blogger Heidi said...

Is that the actual one? You still have it? It's darling! My mother always cautioned that if we peeked, it would ruin the surprise and we always believed her. Of course, we believed that Santa brought the gifts on Christmas Eve late at night until after we were 10 (or maybe even 11), so there was really no point in hunting down presents. Fun story!

At 3:59 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved this beautiful Story and I want one of those pink transistor radio's its probably worth a fortune now. We use to raid the cupboards to see what was in there but with nine children we never could guess who was getting what until the day came and yes it did spoil the surprise.

At 10:44 pm, Blogger Cheryl said...

Thanks for reading, Heidi and Kath - sadly, it's not the original radio, but it's a perfect match for the one I remember. I do wish I still had it, though!

At 10:58 am, Blogger Beate Boeker said...

Lovely post, Cherly! I totally got into the spirit of your sleuthing . . .

At 11:23 am, Blogger Cheryl said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Beate! Fröhliche Weihnachten!

At 2:25 pm, Anonymous Susan McNicoll said...

Beautiful story Cheryl. Anticipation is everything. I love the two or three weeks leading up to Christmas more than Christmas day itself. I still do which is why I create a peaceful Christmas atmosphere in my home by early in December. I did not look at presents for me around the house but did look at the presents for me under the tree and imagine what they were. We both have the gift of imagination and translated that into writing.

At 6:54 pm, Blogger Sheila Seabrook said...

LOL! The anticipation, especially when so young, is hard to ignore. When our oldest son was 5 years old, he woke extra early on Christmas morning, and by the time the rest of us were out of bed, he'd unwrapped ALL of the presents under the tree! Hmmm, I'll have to ask him if he remembers that...

At 7:27 pm, Anonymous Victoria M. Johnson said...

Cookie sounds like the perfect accomplice :-) Thank you for sharing your wonderful lesson learned.


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