Merry Christmas! It's starting to feel more like the holidays around here. In our slice of Alaska, it is always a white Christmas, but with family in town it is starting to really feel like the holiday season. Our tree will soon disappear behind a mountain of presents. Each August we discuss how we are going to cut back on presents this year and every December we forget what we talked about in August. I understand that this situation isn't limited to just our family.
Presents are a huge part of the holiday but, personally, I am past the receiving part. I am lucky. I have all I need and a good portion of what I want. I get the most satisfaction from watching my family get presents. I also enjoy watching people give presents. Sometimes the right present given by a specific person to the perfect recipient can be magical. On one occasion, it was the highlight of my Christmas.
My oldest son, Parker, is a hockey nut. He has played since he was five and loved the game since I took him to his first University of Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks game when he was almost three. The lessons he learned playing hockey, on the ice and as a teammate, are a big part of who he is. As he got older sports in general, and hockey, specifically, became an avenue for communication between us and a way to maintain a connection. It was what we had in common when he was a teenager.
Fifteen is an awkward age for a kid at Christmas. You start getting more clothes and less toys as you come closer to adulthood, but you don't really have the earning power to buy presents on your own. We told him we would help, but he was still struggling with what to get his family for Christmas, especially my wife's mother; his "Granny." Charlie was just a baby, and my wife and I were pretty easy to buy for, but his grandmother was a challenge. You never know what a teenager is thinking and I had no idea what direction he should go with her gift. I told him that any gift can be appropriate if the thought is there. I wasn't sure he knew what I meant. I underestimated him.
A few weeks before Christmas we were in a local hockey store. I don't think we had any reason to be there other than the fact that it was a hockey store. You don't need a reason to go to a hockey store. It's cool to just go and look around and absorb hockey vibes. Try it. Really.
I looked around for Parker and found him in the stick section. He loves hockey sticks. Even now that he is older his eyes light up as he thinks about his old hockey sticks the way some guys eyes light up when they reminisce about old girlfriends. He can talk about sticks all day. I walked up behind him and found that he was looking at a rack of Easton fiberglass sticks. I looked again. The sticks were pink.
The sports equipment company TPS put out a special series of sticks in honor of "Hockey Moms." These particular sticks were pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness. They were very pink and had the trademark pink breast cancer awareness ribbon painted on them. I watched as he hefted the stick. He tested the stiffness. He looked closely at the blade. He put the stick back. He seemed to be thinking for a long time. We paid for the tape or whatever it was we bought as a token reason for going to the hockey store and left. On the way home he was quiet. He turned to me and said, "I have an idea."
My mother-in-law is a strong woman. She has had to be in order to beat breast cancer multiple times. Those fights have left her scarred but not beaten. She carries the scars with a pride and a sense of humor that inspire all of us. Those qualities were not lost on Parker.
"Dad," he said. "I would like to get a hockey stick for Granny for Christmas."
"A hockey stick?" I asked. "Really? Maybe you can teach her a wrist shot." That made me laugh.
"Yeah, the Breast Cancer stick. The pink one," he answered.
"I think she'd like that," I said. "That will look funny under the tree."
"Well," he smiled, "I was thinking that I could play a game with it then give it to her."
I looked at him. "I guess we could get her to a game and she could watch you play with it."
He nodded then smiled again. "The Christmas tournament would work," he said. "That way Chip and Lacy would be here too." My wife's sister Lacy and her brother, Chip, would be flying in for Christmas. With luck there would be a game after they got here but before Christmas. He sat back and smiled again. A plan was coming together.
We got home and checked the schedule. Sure enough there was a game that would work. Parker looked at me.
"I'm going to need some help with the stick," he said.
I assured him I would get the stick for him. I told my wife about the plan.
"Parker thought of this?" she asked. She didn't mean anything by the question. Parker was, and is, a very thoughtful and sweet person. However, at the time he was a teenager. He was sometimes less than communicative and a thought and sentiment like this coming from anybody was noteworthy.
The next day Parker approached me. He had been thinking and he wanted to know if I could get him some pink ribbon emblems. His plan was to wear one on his jersey for the game and pass them out to his teammates. His plan was to explain his plan to them and see if they would wear them also.
I went to the hockey store to get the stick. I selected one and headed to the counter.
"You have a daughter playing?" the clerk, a man about 10 years older than me, asked.
"No," I answered. "A son actually."
He looked at me over his glasses.
I explained the plan to him. He smiled and gave me a 10 percent discount on the stick. "That's a pretty amazing present," he said. "Tell your son I said well done and Merry Christmas."
Christmas got closer. Our family members arrived. I got the stick-on pink ribbons. The day before the game I gave Parker the stick and ribbons. I told him I was proud of him. He just smiled. He gave me a sealed card with instructions to give it to his grandmother just before the game started.
The game was on December 23rd. We bundled the whole group up and drove two cars to the arena for the game. We found our seats and Parker's team took to the ice for warm ups. He had his pink stick.
Mom was sitting in front of me. I leaned over and handed her the card. "Parker wanted me to give this to you Mom," I said. She looked out at Parker. He had skated closer to the glass and was watching. I could see a pink ribbon on his chest. Several other boys were wearing them as well.
"What is that on his chest?" Mom asked.
"Just read mom," my wife said.
She opened the card. I didn't read all of it, but I did read this:
"Granny, this is my Christmas present to you. For this game I am using a pink hockey stick in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness. I am also wearing a pink Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon. After the game, I will give you the stick and you can keep it . . ." he went on to tell her that he loved her and that he was proud of her. He also explained that several of his teammates were also wearing pink ribbons. She looked up and Parker waved at her and skated to his bench.
I love Mom dearly. She is a wonderful, loving woman, however she doesn't always have a pretty cry face. She tried her best as she watched Parker skate away. She read the card again and we looked for the boys who were wearing the ribbons. Almost all of them were.
The game started and about seven minutes in Parker got the puck to the goal tender's right and scored on a wrist shot. He was mobbed by his teammates as is the custom. After their congratulations she skated to the bench. He turned slightly and came to the glass, pointed at his Granny and touched his chest. More cry face.
His team won the game. He scored two goals and had a couple of assists. We all gathered outside the locker room to wait for the boys to change. By now the story was spreading about the kid with the pink hockey stick and what he would do with it. There was a sense of anticipation outside the locker room. Mom was watching the Zamboni clear the ice when Parker came out. He walked up to her and touched her shoulder. She turned and he gave her his stick.
I looked around. Mom isn't the only one with bad cry face.
Gifts are wonderful things, but without thought and sentiment they are just objects. Ever see a department store Christmas tree display with fake presents? When I see them I am almost uncomfortable. The packages are sterile and cold. The don't have any warmth because they weren't placed with love. There was no thought behind them. They are just empty boxes. Love makes an object a gift. Love once made a pink hockey stick the perfect present.
Happy Holidays to your family from ours. Check out the blog at http://www.thissideofthediaper.com