My dad was a “cradle” Catholic. He was born into a family of practicing Catholics. My mom converted from her Protestant roots to Catholicism about the time they were married. If at all possible, Catholic families were encouraged to not only attend a Catholic church, but send their children to a Catholic school. This was quite a sacrifice for my parents because they had to pay tuition instead of opting for a free public education for their children. So, our family attended St. Clement church, and all five children attended St. Clement Elementary School.
My dad really enjoyed the Christmas season. He got as big a kick out of all the festivities as any one of his five children. Along with my mom, he worked real hard to make each and every Christmas memorable. We weren’t a rich family by any stretch of the imagination, but I don’t remember ever having to do without. When Christmas came around mom and dad would always seem to find a way to ensure we had what we needed, and at least, one thing we really wanted.
It seems that all of our Christmas activities were intermixed with church and school each and every year. The celebration of the coming of God’s only Son was preeminent in our lives from Christmas cards to Midnight Mass. We had our star on top of the tree representing Jesus the Light of the world. There was always a Nativity set in our living room where the baby Jesus was added on Christmas Eve. Our parents wanted us to get more out of Christmas than just a time to open presents.
However, we were children! We tried hard not to squirm too much during what we hoped would be a short homily by Father Fox during Midnight Mass this particular year. My younger brother, Rickey, and I were all excited about the possibility of receiving a particular gift we had asked for from “Santa.” Rickey loved uniforms! He must have had a dozen different kinds of uniforms that he would wear to school and everywhere else during his childhood. My gift was a chemistry set! Not some junky one either. I had asked for the super deluxe job with enough chemicals and reagents that I could experiment like a real scientist. We both could not wait to get home and get to bed!
Rickey was always the early riser of the two of us. In fact, he would usually get up before anyone else in the house. This particular Christmas he woke up before day break. Mom and dad had warned us to not get up too early and awaken our older brother and sisters. So, we crept into the living room in a purely stealth mode. Rickey found his present right off. I couldn’t find mine at first and was getting a little discouraged when Rickey espied it behind a chair.
We knew mom and dad’s rule to wait and open our gifts when all the family could do so together. However, we had to be sure that “Santa” had given us just the right gift. So, we devised a plan to open them, making sure they were the ones we requested. Then, reseal and replace them under the tree. As it turned out, Rickey’s was a pretty easy. Mine, however, was a different story.
I had to take my gift into the bathroom in order to have enough light to open it. I also needed something to cut the tape without damaging the wrapping paper. I really hadn’t thought it through in my excitement, but I quickly found a solution to my problem. I opened my dad’s double edge razor and used the blade to open the package. The blade made quick work of the tape and even some of the paper. When I opened my present I found to my delight that it was indeed the chemistry set I wanted. Now, all I had to do was reseal and put it back where I had found it.
I’m sure that Rickey and I would have given each other a high-five or fist bump if either of those gestures were in vogue at the time. We were quite proud that we had pulled off our stealth operation without being found out by mom and dad. So, we climbed in bed and drifted off for a couple of hours of blissful sleep with the knowledge that we had just the right gift awaiting us when we got up.
I woke up to the sweet aroma of breakfast cooking on the stove. I joined my family in the living room with the exception of dad. He was in the bathroom getting groomed for the day. When he came out of the bathroom he had toilet tissue in spots all over his face. He was very angry. Dad was sure that the blade he had used to shave that morning was only a couple of days old. He had changed the blade knowing that it was his last. How could it have become so dull in such a short amount of time?
Needless to say, when the truth finally came out I was not able to enjoy my chemistry set for a few days. Honoring one’s mother and father is always best. No matter how stealthy we might imagine ourselves to be, the truth will always see the light of day.