One by one the teacher called each name and presented students with their gifts. There were ooohhs and aahhhs, along with other exclamations of joy, as each child tore away the wrappings to reveal their treasure inside.
When the last name had been called and the final gift passed from the teacher to the eager hands of its recipient, the teacher stood smiling as she surveyed the jubilant scene. Then she noticed the brown-haired girl with hazel eyes sitting quietly at her desk with an awkward smile. The little girl was empty-handed; she had no gift.
Deftly the teacher declared that she had forgotten something and disappeared briefly into her supply closet. She emerged with a gift-wrapped package and called the brown-haired girl's name. "This is for you," the teacher announced as she smiled and proffered the package.
As the little girl accepted the gift, she wondered why her present was sequestered away from the others. But in that moment, it didn't matter. The box she held returned her to the fold of acceptance, her brief stint as a reject having perhaps gone unnoticed, saving her the painful embarrassment of grade-school taunts.
The little girl began at first tentatively, then excitedly, to tear away the paper and ribbons. The wrappings fell away to reveal the smiling face of a doll inside the box. The little girl grasped the gift and began to arrange the doll's hair and straighten its clothes. She looked around the room at her classmates and proudly showed off the doll while examining and commenting on the gifts of her peers.
I'm not sure when I fully came to realize what happened that day. And I will never know whether the child who drew my name forgot my gift, could not afford one or simply didn't like me. What I do know is that sometimes the true gift is not what's in the package. No doubt this social blunder has occurred since the dawn of formal education, and I'm sure most grade-school teachers plan ahead for it. But all these years later, I still remember what that gift meant to me — not the doll itself but how it, in turn, gave me a sense of belonging. To an embarrassed little girl, that's the best gift ever.
To Mrs. Baird, wherever you are — be it on this mortal plane or enjoying your just reward in the hereafter — I wish you a heartfelt Merry Christmas. You will forever be a doll to me.
Do you have a memory of a special Christmas gift? Whether you gave the gift or received it, I hope you'll share your thoughts and memories in the Comments below.