Gift Tree

by Debbonnaire Kovacs

Solomon Nassim El-Charif made a face as he looked at a store display brimming with handkerchiefs in fancy boxes, after-shave in fancy bottles, and ties with fancy designs. “For Dad!” the cheerful sign said in big red and green letters.

“Can’t anybody think of something better for dads than this stuff?” Solly asked Susannah. “My father doesn’t use cloth handkerchiefs, he has a hundred bottles of aftershave from other Christmases and will get six more this Christmas, and he hates ties like that. He says if he wanted to wear cartoons around his neck, he’d cut up the Sunday paper.”

Susannah laughed.

“I feel the same way,” Kenya’s dad told them. “Your dad would rather get something special that only you would get him.”

“Yeah, but like what?” Solly demanded, spreading his hands in frustration.

Today was Dads’ Day. On Susannah’s birthday, when the kids had all decided to share their fathers with her family, they had begun a tradition of periodic Dads’ Days, and now the kids all looked forward to them with excitement. This time the dads were taking the kids Christmas shopping. But in order to keep secrets, no dad was with his own child. Mr. El-Charif, Mike, and Matt had their heads together over in the book section. Solly saw Kenya disappear down a side aisle, dragging a grinning Mr. Patterson behind her. He could hear her giggle from where he stood. She probably had something really awesome chosen for her dad. Solly turned hastily away so Mr. Washington wouldn’t look in Kenya’s direction. “Like what, Mr. Washington?” he repeated.

“Well, let’s see now. What kinds of things does your dad like?”

Solly thought before he answered. “He likes his horse, and his car, and, um . . . he likes racquetball . . .”

“Does he need extra balls for racquetball or a visor organizer for his car?” Susannah asked.

Solly shook his head, “He already has that stuff. In fact, he has enough stuff, period! I wish I could think of something special like you did, Susannah!”

Susannah had written and illustrated a whole little book and mailed it to her dad and his new family. He felt jealous of her ability, but to his surprise, she hung her head. “I hope he likes it,” she said.

Mr. Washington put his arm around her shoulders. “He’ll love it, just because you made it! Could you make something for your dad, Solly?”

“I can’t draw, or write, or paint, or anything. And the only time I tried to build something, I practically cut my thumb off!”

Susannah giggled and then put her hand over her mouth. Solly grinned back. “Well, not quite.”

“How about something you could do for him?” Mr. Washington suggested.

Susannah’s eyes lit up. “Yeah! Make a little coupon book for him, and each coupon is something you’ll do. Like groom his horse. You know he never has as much time for that as he’d like.”

“That’s an idea,” Solly agreed thoughtfully. “He likes back rubs, especially when he gets home from work.” He thought another minute, and looked up with a smile, “OK, now for the really hard one! What do I get Sara?”

“Oh, that’s easy!” Susannah declared and proceeded to drag him to the girl aisle with all kinds of pink, glittery stuff everywhere!

Then they had to find toys for all Susannah’s brothers. Which wasn’t that easy, because they had to be strong enough to withstand four boys and inexpensive enough so Susannah could afford them. “I can make stuff for Mom and Dad, but not for the boys!” she cried.

After that, Mr. Washington asked their advice on which sweaters Kenya would like. “Do you think she and her mom would like matching ones?”

“Yeah! Cool!” Susannah assured him.

When they finally finished their shopping, they looked down the aisles on their way to the checkout to be sure neither Solly’s dad, nor Susannah’s brother, nor Kenya was in sight. They paid for everything, and got it all double-bagged so nobody could see what anything was.

It was when they were halfway to the door that Solly noticed the gift tree. In the middle of the large open space by the automatic doors was a Christmas tree decorated mostly with pieces of paper in red, green, gold, or white. A sign standing by the tree said, “Share Your Christmas Blessings!”

Solly went closer. The little pieces of paper had words on them. One said, “Girl, seven, likes dolls and toy trains, size 8.” Another said, “Boy, sixteen months, likes anything that makes noise, size 2.” On the back of each slip of paper was a number.

Puzzled, Solly looked up at Mr. Washington, who explained, “This is a way of sharing Christmas with people who might not have much of a Christmas without help. These children are from families who can’t afford to buy them new clothes or toys. You pick a piece of paper, buy something for the child on it, and turn in the paper and the wrapped present. The number on the paper tells the people which child gets that present.”

“What a great idea!” Solly exclaimed.

Susannah dug in her purse. “Do I have enough left to buy something else?” she said, worried. Two dollar bills came up in her hand, and her face fell.

Solly and Mr. Washington both started to speak at once. With a laugh Solly said, “You first.”

“I’ve been wishing for some help washing my car,” Mr. Washington said. “It would be worth ten dollars to me if you’d help.”

“I’ve been needing to have Sultan’s mane braided again,” Solly added. “I could pay you five dollars.”

Susannah looked from one to the other. “But it would be just you two buying another gift.”

“No, because you’d have worked for it,” Mr. Washington said, “just like I work for my money.”

“Well, that’s true. OK. Thanks!”

Solly and Susannah chose papers from the gift tree and went back to do more shopping. Solly wasn’t sure which made him feel happier—the glow in his heart from buying a present for some child who wouldn’t have one otherwise, or the look on Susannah’s face as she picked out a doll for the little sister she’d never had.

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