The holidays are a time for family, togetherness, and making memories. But let’s get real. They are also a time for real-life TV sitcom moments.
One of my favorite Christmas memories involves, of all things, a tampon box.
My father often buys my mother some kind of jewelry for Christmas – a ring, a necklace, or a bracelet. Always a procrastinator, he waits until a few days before Christmas to pick out her gift.
Nowadays, he’ll sometimes take my niece, but back when my sister and I were kids he’d just take off for the jewelry store by himself. He’s a fast and furious kind of shopper, so he wouldn’t be gone long before returning with a jewelry box in his pocket. When I was a kid, he’d ask me to wrap the box for him, if he hadn’t gotten the salesclerk to do it already.
A few days before my fifteenth Christmas, I was up in my room blaring Ozzy or some other not-so-Christmasy music when Dad knocked on my door. He pulled a standard-size jewelry box out of his pocket, opened it up and showed me what he’d picked out for Mom that year.
The weird thing is, I can’t remember what the gift was itself. I know it was pretty and sparkly, but I couldn’t tell you now whether it was a ring or a necklace. That’s been overshadowed in my memory by all that happened next.
I oohed and aahed over the gift in its little black velvet box, and told Dad I’d wrap it for him. But that year, he wanted more than that. Wrapped jewelry boxes are pretty predictable. You may not know if there’s a necklace or earrings inside, but you can look at the box and know you’re getting some bling. For years, Mom had been able to look at her gift box from Dad and take a pretty good guess about what was inside.
This year, he wanted to mix it up a little. So he asked me if I had a bigger box I could put the jewelry box in before wrapping it. Since Dad was such a last minute shopper, I had already used all the boxes I had to wrap my own gifts, so we were stuck. We poked around in my room a bit and came up empty. Then, just as we were about to give up, I had an idea.
I opened a dresser drawer and took out a box of tampons. “What about this?” I said.
Dad’s eyes lit up with mischief and he started laughing. “That’ll work.”
So I dumped the remaining tampons into my dresser, plopped the jewelry box inside the tampon box, and stuffed the rest with tissue paper. Then I wrapped it up all pretty with a shiny red bow. Dad put the box under the tree, and every time we looked at it over the next few days we’d share a satisfied grin.
Christmas morning came, and my little sister dragged us out of bed at the crack of dawn. We sat in the living room drinking our coffee and enjoying the twinkling lights on the tree and the pile of wrapped surprises under it. Anticipation is always half the fun, isn’t it?
My grandparents arrived shortly with my great-grandmother in tow. Part of our family tradition has always been to have Grandmom and Grandad with us on Christmas morning. Back then, they were in good health. But my Grandad’s mom, my Great-Grandma Lucille, was declining. She had recently had to leave her house in West Virginia to come live with Grandmom and Grandad.
In they came, Grandmom helping Grandma Lucille walk and Grandad loaded down with packages and the fruit platter Grandmom always made to go with the big breakfast we’d have after the present frenzy. We got Grandma Lucille comfy on the couch with a blanket over her legs and a hot cup of coffee beside her. The rest of us sat around the tree.
My sister tore into her presents first, and then it was my turn. Only when we had turned the floor into a wrapping paper and ribbon maze did the grownups get to open their presents.
I’d been so excited about my own loot that I had all but forgotten Dad’s little surprise. But when he picked up the box and handed it to Mom, I stifled a giggle.
Mom took her time opening the gift, savoring the moment. Then the wrapping paper was gone, and she was sitting by the Christmas tree with a Playtex box in her hand. She stared at it for a moment in disbelief.
Then she chucked it at Dad’s head.
“You asshole,” she said.
Oops. Epic Fail. The one thing we hadn’t considered when we got our brilliant idea was that Mom would think dad actually HAD bought her tampons for Christmas, and not even bother to look inside the box. We should have thought of that. My father certainly has the kind of sense of humor that makes it easy to believe he’d make a PMS joke out of a Christmas gift.
Neither of us knew what to say. We were dumbfounded. Mom picked up the box, stalked into the kitchen, and tossed it in the trash. Dad and I followed her, and when she was out of earshot of the grandparents, she glared at him and hissed “You made me say asshole in front of Grandma Lucille!”
In our family, that was a big deal. None of us are exactly paragons of proper etiquette, and some of our conversations should come with parental warnings. But that’s us – not Grandmom and Grandad, and especially not Grandma Lucille.
My great-grandmother defined “prim and proper.” She believed women should wear dresses every day, wouldn’t start a meal without a prayer, and felt that church every Sunday was as necessary as breathing. Years after the Great Tampon Debacle, I would move in with my boyfriend. When we’d come to visit, Grandma would refer to him as “my husband,” and none of us ever corrected her. Better she think I’d had a wedding and not invited her than that I was living in sin. When she passed away in my mid-20’s, my father owned his first bar. We all traveled to West Virginia for the funeral, and found that his employees had sent a beautiful flower wreath. The card read “from your friends at the Purple Goose Saloon.”
Great Grandma Lucille’s church lady friends wandered about the funeral home reading the cards on all the flowers. They got to that one, and squinted over the small print.
“Its from her friends at the Purple Goose Salon,” one of them said. “That must be where she got her hair done while she lived in Baltimore.” None of us bothered to correct her. We’d always let Great-Grandma Lucy think Dad’s business was a restaurant, not a bar. All that booze would bother her. No need for her church friends to know any differently.
That was my Great Grandma Lucille. And that day, what Dad and I had thought was the perfect mischievous surprise had led to Mom opening a box of tampons and calling him an asshole in front of our prim matriarch.
I guess in retrospect we really didn’t think that one through well enough.
“Um … you might wanna get that out of the trash and look inside the box,” Dad finally said.
Mom did, and suddenly he wasn’t such a big asshole anymore.
We both use in-store gift wrapping a lot more these days, though.