Discovering the gift of giving

By Josi Kilpack

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 18 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from "Christmas Spirit: A Collection of Inspiring, True Christmas Stories."

With eight kids (number nine came a couple years later) and a schoolteacher’s salary, our family’s Christmases were never extravagant. But that year, Dad had taught enough community education classes to put us in a higher tax bracket, and the money Mom had saved each month in the Christmas account at the credit union went to pay the IRS just before Thanksgiving. Happy holidays.

What had been “never extravagant” my whole life suddenly became “shoestring.”

“Dad and I will give you each 10 dollars,” Mom told us after explaining what tax bracket meant. Mostly, we just understood that Dad would have made more money if he’d done less work.

“To keep it fair, even you older girls need to stick to the 10 dollars, OK? You can’t use babysitting money to buy something bigger.”

So, in the name of fairness, we had exactly $10 to spend. We drew names. I got Jeni, my big sister — the oldest — a senior in high school. She was a straight-A student. Sophisticated. Steady. Going to Brigham Young University next fall.

I was 14. I had a sewing class that term in junior high, and I decided I could sew a gift and use it as one of my term projects. Double points.

Mom took me to the fabric store. I picked out white flannel with red hearts on it, along with some glossy red heart buttons, to make pajamas. Even in 1987, $10 didn’t go very far.

I don’t remember where the pattern came from. I cut it out at home and sewed it together in class. I got an A, even though I didn’t have the buttons sewn on yet when school got out for Christmas break. I sewed them on a few days before Christmas all by myself. I didn’t think about actually lining the buttons up with the button holes my teacher had sewn for me.

I found out close to Christmas that Mike had drawn my name. Shoot. Mike was 8. He picked his belly button and sucked his fingers. He was a boy. He wouldn’t have a clue what to get for me, his older, wiser and pathetically self-conscious sister.

My hopes were thin. It would basically be the worst Christmas ever.

Christmas morning arrived. Mom and Dad managed to get a couple of gifts for each of us. Not Atari games. Or Cabbage Patch dolls. Or rollerblades. I can’t remember what the gifts actually were, but I know what they were not. And I know that the eagerness with which we watched each other open our packages — oldest to youngest, one gift at a time — was in anticipation of our siblings’ gifts. But not because we wondered what we would get. No. The eagerness was all about how our gift would be received.

What would our brothers and sisters say about the way we used their $10? I was holding my breath when Jeni opened hers. She smiled.

I could breathe again. She held the pajamas up for everyone to see before leaving and putting them on. That’s when I realized the buttons didn’t line up. I think Mom fixed them later. I was too cool (14, remember) to act relieved that she didn’t hate them, but I was secretly very, very relieved. I was also proud. I’d taken $10 and created a gift my sister liked. I’d done it. Mostly by myself.

I wish I could remember the other gifts, but I can’t. I do remember what Mike gave me, though.

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