"The Christmas I Remember Best" was not the best Christmas I remember. It was not the year I got a pony or the one I received a new sports car or the trip to Europe, since I never got any of those things anyway, but through the luck of the draw, it did involve a gift that I received.
I was in the seventh grade in Mr. Boden's homeroom math class in Preston, Idaho. The year would have been 1943 right in the middle of World War II. As was the custom then, school classes often drew names and exchanged gifts with classmates. Ours was a math class, so we drew numbers instead of names to enhance the element of surprise and the number thing was more mathematically correct. The cost of the gift was to be 25 cents, a substantial amount in those days. I drew Number 15.
There were not as many choices for gifts at that time as there are today. A number of things were rationed gas, meat, butter, shoes, sugar to name a few, and automobiles were unavailable so all of those were eliminated. This was not going to be a simple task.
Now, in our town there was a club that was kind of a carry-over from the speak-easies of the Prohibition era. Members went to the door and knocked, and the door was opened a small crack. When the patron was recognized, he was admitted. Most of the boys in the community knew the secret knock. Often on the way home from school or town, we would approach the door, give the secret knock and then run like Hades. It was good sport and gave us some exercise as well.
At the time I worked at the local cobbler or shoemaker shop. The owner of the club happened to be one of my shoeshine customers. I guess he took a liking or shine to me because he offered me the privilege of buying candy from his club. It was sort of a sweet, honorary, dry membership. I was given the secret code (which I already knew), and he told me I could come by any time I liked and purchase candy. This was great, for with sugar being rationed, candy was in short supply. In fact, it was downright scarce.
Most kids love candy, so I decided I would spend the 25 cents and buy candy bars for Number 15. What a wonderful thing to do for someone who didn't have speak-easy privileges!
That night after work I stopped at the club and bought five big Powerhouse candy bars. I hurried home and wrapped them and numbered the card, then sat back and waited for the day the presents would be exchanged.
I thought I had the perfect gift for any seventh-grader and could hardly wait till D-Day (distribution day) to hand the package to Number 15 and watch his or her eyes light up when it was opened and the contents discovered. I was sure it must be the best gift anyone in the class had purchased or would receive. If Number 15 were that cute little Geraldine in the second row, I might even get a kiss for a bonus. I went to class each day and as I cast my eyes over the pupils, I couldn't help but wonder which would be the lucky one to receive my wonderful gift. Who was Number 15 that I was going to make the happiest person in the world?
The last day of school before the Christmas vacation finally arrived, and it was time for the gift exchange. My name starting with "W" put me at the back of the class, so Number 15 would have to wait till the very end for this special blessing heightening the suspense even more.
Mr. Boden began calling the roll, and as each student gave his number, the teacher would tell the name assigned to it. Time seemed to really drag through the A's and B's and C's, and as the presents were opened, I was convinced that the one I had bought was the greatest!
I hadn't been paying too much attention to the name-calling process (I don't believe in calling names), but if I had I would have noticed that my name had not come up in the numbers racket. Maybe the student who had my number was absent. When my name was finally called on the roll, and I announced I had Number 15, Mr. Boden said, "Number 15 is Blaine Wilcox."
I cannot describe the disappointment. All my planning and anticipation for the excitement and ecstasy of Number 15 when he or she received what easily could have been the second-greatest gift ever given never happened. I had drawn my own number.
The class all sang, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," and everyone had a good laugh, but that didn't do much to relieve the ultimate suffering I was experiencing. There was no joy in Mudville that day.
Well, the sun rose the next morning, as it has done every day since, and life went on, but each year at this season I reflect on how happy Number 15 could have been and how disappointed Number 15 really was. It should have been the best of times for him, but it was the worst of times for me.
I guess a moral to this story (if there is a moral) would be, "It is more blessed to give to and to receive from someone other than yourself. True happiness and joy come from sharing and giving to others."
Besides, if I had realized I had my own number, I would have bought a different brand of candy bar.
Blaine Wilcox was born in Preston, Idaho. At the age of 14 his parents moved to Hyrum, Utah. He attended Utah State University and graduated from the University of Utah after his military service ended. He has been married to his wife, MarJean, for 48 years. They have six children and 22 grandchildren. Blaine is a retired dentist who enjoys woodworking, woodcarving, working on stained-glass projects, reading and enjoying his family.