I can see the Christmas tree. Its decked boughs rise eight feet towards our vaulted ceiling. Twinkling lights of blue, red, green and amber are caught in the reflection of shiny bulbs as they dance around the room. I was five years old. I sat under the tree and gazed at those mesmerizing lights sick with anticipation. We didn’t do Christmas morning in our house. My mom was a immigrant from Germanic stock, so Christmas happened the night of the 24th. My dad grew up dirt poor. Him and his brother started working with their mom when they were four and five years old, picking blueberries on the Skokomish Reservation in Washington state so they could eat. They lost their dad to alcoholism early, and it was just the three of them against the world. He was just excited to have Christmas at all.
Under the tree that year there was a square box. It was 1-foot x 1-foot x 1-foot of green and red paper. I can still feel the weight of the cube. It was heavier than the other presents. It rattled intriguingly when I shook it. There was something big in there. What was in the box?
Christmas Eve arrived. I had to wait all day for my dad to get off work at six that evening. It was torture. I sat in our living room window waiting for his old Dodge pick-up to rumble down the gravel road. Finally, he’d burst into the house ho-ho-ho-ing with his yearly Christmas gift from the boss: a huge fruit basket. Then we had Christmas dinner. I shoveled in mashed potatoes and turkey as fast as my little arms could shovel. Then there was pie. Pie?! Never has dessert seemed more cruel. The Christmas tree loomed behind me. Taunting me with it’s pile of un-opened gifts. And I was being served pie.
Eventually, my parents relented. I darted to the tree and started sniffing around like a prized truffle hog under his first Oak of the season. My dad popped on the Santa hat and we got down to business. Socks. Comic books. A new Sega Master System game. My dad caught me eye-balling the big green and red cube at the back. He acquiesced. I tore into the mystery cube. Shorn paper flew like ticker tape for a returning astronaut. I opened the box. Inside was a brand new kid-sized official NFL helmet of my dad’s favorite team, The Washington Redskins.