by- Posted on Dec 22, 2014
This is a story about my dad, my daughter and a dream present. Literally.
That Christmas morning, I spotted Dad walking up our pathway, his little Santa hat bobbing up and down, his arms laden with gifts. My daughter, Megan, rushed to open the door. “Merry Christmas, Big Ralphie!” she exclaimed. She hadn’t seen him since she’d left for college that fall.
“You too, Little Ralphie!” he said, giving her a peck on the cheek.
My dad and Megan were as close as could be. Whenever she stayed over at Dad’s house, they’d get up before anyone else and chat over peanut butter on toast at the kitchen table. She even took up fishing to spend more time with him. That’s why we’d nicknamed her Little Ralphie. Dad joked that he’d always wanted a grandkid named after him.
Dad set his packages down by the tree. Megan’s bulky present stood out. I’d helped him wrap it and top it with a big candy-striped bow. I’d never seen him so excited about giving a gift before. Especially one that I knew Megan didn’t need.
Dad had decided to get Megan a backpack—even though she’d just gotten a stylish bag with a single shoulder strap as a high school graduation gift. She used it all the time to lug her books around campus. She was never without it. But Dad was insistent. I knew better than to argue. In the last two years, Dad had been through a lot—surviving colon cancer, a heart attack and the death of my mother. Whatever gift he gave, I knew Megan would be gracious. She’d never want to hurt her grandpa’s feelings.
But still…Mom had always been in charge of the Christmas gifts. As a kid, I searched her handbag for a piece of gum and found her holiday list tucked inside a pocket—two months before Christmas. Gifts and names were paired, written in perfect script on her good stationery, with little price notations on each line. Since she died, Dad had shouldered the responsibility. He’d shown me his list this year—scribbled on the back of an envelope. “Your mom visits me in dreams,” he said. “She told me it’s important to make a list.” I looked at him, startled, then I smiled. Of course, Mom couldn’t really be visiting, but if the thought comforted him, so be it.
I hung up Dad’s coat and put out some snacks. We all sat around the tree, passing out the presents. Soon the floor was a mess of bows and torn gift wrap. Megan opened Dad’s present, digging through the layers of tissue paper. I held my breath. She pulled the backpack out by one of its straps. Her eyes grew wide.
“Oh my goodness!” she said. “I love it, I love it! Grandpa, thank you so much!”
She put the backpack on and even did a little twirl. Did she actually like it? Was she just being kind?
Megan fell back into her chair. “I had the weirdest dream a few weeks ago,” she said. “I was walking across campus with my bag hanging on one shoulder. All of a sudden Grandma was there. She scolded me, ‘Megan, you’re going to ruin your back. You need a backpack with two straps to balance the weight!’”
Megan laughed at the memory. “I woke up, and I realized that’s why my back’s been aching lately. But, Grandpa, how did you know?”
Dad laughed and hugged Megan. He refused to reveal his secret. At least not right then. I had a feeling it would come out, though, possibly over some peanut butter and toast.