Mary Beth and I were married in October of 1977. After a brief honeymoon, she moved into the tiny house in Crosby, Minn., that I had purchased just days after she said “yes” to my proposal of marriage.
It needed a lot of tender care, so I gutted it and “fixed it up” with advice from others and very little know-how of my own. In hindsight, it was a shack, but for us at the time, it was a palace.
As our first Christmas together approached, Mary Beth became more and more excited. We purchased a real tree and went shopping for lights and ornaments at the Ben Franklin store in town. She spoke often of Christmases past and her family’s traditions — her mom’s delicious spaghetti and meatballs for Christmas Eve dinner, followed by opening presents; “Santa” leaving a filled stocking for each family member to appreciate on Christmas Day morning, and later in the day, a ham supper with Uncle George and Aunt Marg.
I admitted to her that I had never had a stocking; my family didn’t share in the stocking tradition. I also suggested that a 21-year-old should know by now that her dad probably filled the stocking. That turned out to be a not-so-good way to suggest a new tradition.
“I like to wake up on Christmas morning and open my stocking to see what Santa brought,” she said flatly.
Mary Beth then expounded on the stocking and what it might contain. “I would be perfectly happy with anything,” she lied, “so you can put an orange into it and maybe some candy. And something personal, like bubble bath.” (Another product I’d had little or no history with. I was a Palmolive man to the core.)
Still somewhat bewildered, I looked into Mary Beth’s eyes, nodding from time to time as she continued the litany of potential gift items.
Proud stocking stuffer
I wanted our first Christmas to be special, so I dutifully set about filling her stocking. It was almost big enough to hold a surfboard. I popped in a couple of oranges, assorted chocolate candy, a couple pairs of warm, Christmas-themed socks, a porcelain knickknack and other stuff I can’t recall.
The final gift — the first one she would behold on Christmas morning — was a large container of bubble bath. As I (“Santa”) set it under the tree on Christmas Eve night — just before coming to bed — I gazed once more at my handiwork and congratulated myself. I slept like a log.
We awoke to a brilliant winter morning sun, brightening the snow around our house and casting shadows across the drifts. I was tingling with excitement, eager to see the look on MB’s face when she dove into the treasure trove I’d prepared for her.
We sat by the tree. “Merry Christmas,” I said. “Merry Christmas,” she replied with a smile. “It looks like Santa was here,” I observed, pointing toward the large red stocking with white trim. “Oh!” Mary Beth said, as if she were truly surprised. (The surprise would come soon.)
MB gently picked up her stocking and looked at it from different angles. She smiled at me and gave a tiny nod, then put the stocking on her lap and began reaching inside. Her hand found something solid, which she began to slowly extract. My smile broadened as the head of a sea horse — dull and dark green plastic, with a white plastic cap on top — began to emerge.
MB’s mouth was still half-smiling, but her eyes were beginning to tell a different story. She continued uncovering the seahorse. I informed her with a proud grin, “It’s bubble bath.” “Yes,” she said without turning to face me. I said, “It’s a whole quart.”
She thanked me for being a great stocking stuffer, and said, “I love you.” A few days later, I realized the bubble bath was nowhere to be found. In fact, I hadn’t seen it since Christmas Day.
Good stewards, I pray that your Christmas and New Year’s Days were joyful and memorable, filled with love and laughter. God bless you all year long.