A Christmas memory: The craziest gift ever

There was a novelty store near the town where I grew up that specialized in prank, scare and other gag items. Once you crossed the store’s threshold, however, new vistas opened up to you, for inside was a section serving those with more prurient tastes. 

You weren’t supposed to enter the restricted area if you were under 18, but customers were expected to self-police, so it was hardly the Berlin Wall. What spirited adolescent male would content himself with the fly-in-the-ice-cube bit when unmentionables beckoned just one row over?

I realize now that the border was meant to be breached. They wanted adolescents across that wall. They needed adolescents across that wall. But I didn’t know this back in December 1985, when my kid brother Jack, almost 13, ventured into the store to buy our mom a Christmas gift.  

As his slightly older brother, should I have aborted the mission? Of course. But once inside, like Odysseus’ scouts in the land of lotus-eaters, I was lost in my own reverie. 

On Christmas morning dad handed one final gift to mom, announcing my brother as giver. This declaration was unnecessary, as only Jack’s gifts looked like they were wrapped while wearing mittens. Fear seized my heart as I recalled our trip to the mall.

“I’m ready to go, Mike.” The sound of Jack’s voice abruptly brought me back. Flustered, I didn’t even see what he’d purchased.   

On Christmas morning dad handed one final gift to mom, announcing my brother as giver. This declaration was unnecessary, as only Jack’s gifts looked like they were wrapped while wearing mittens. Fear seized my heart as I recalled our trip to the mall.   

“I wonder what it could be?” mom said jauntily as she unwrapped. Her enthusiasm waned when she saw the store’s name on the box. Jack remained oblivious, but my brow furrowed as I considered all that might unfold. 

What’s the best thing my brother could have bought? Nothing good came to mind. And the worst? Like dying in your dream, I couldn’t finish the thought. 

Mom raised the gift so everyone could see. It was a beer mug. She didn’t even drink beer. Still, it could have been much worse. “Thank you, Jack,” she said, through pursed lips. “I’ll use it whenever I, uh, drink beer.”

“Turn it around,” Jack insisted. “You’re missing the best part!” She flipped the mug, and on the glass, in seasonally festive stenciling, were the words: I’d Rather Be Pi**ed Off Than Pi**ed On. Only they didn’t use asterisks. 

This was the precise moment when all Christmas cheer left mom’s heart. She zeroed in on Jack, who somehow still had no idea the trouble he was in. “Sweetie, where did you get this?” she asked. Jack named the store. “We’re going to pay them a visit.” 

I went with them the very next day. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Mom went in guns-hot on the unlucky salesclerk. “Young man, what prompted you to sell this mug to this child?” 

“Is something wrong with the merchandise?” he answered gamely.

 “Something’s wrong with you if you think selling a filthy beer mug to a 12-year-old is appropriate.”

“I’m almost 13,” Jack offered, helping nobody. 

“Would you like to exchange the mug?” the clerk asked. 

Mom’s icy eyes answered the question. “Perhaps a refund would be best.” 

So, as you gather with family this Christmas, remember that when it comes to gifts from your adolescent children, it’s the thought that counts. Except when it isn’t.  

Mike Kerrigan is an attorney in Charlotte, N.C.

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