Happy Holidays

The Best Gift of All
By Helene Auclair
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They say that some gifts are inspired. This one certainly was! The idea came to me a few months before the Christmas of 1984.

I was 23 years old, fresh out of university, and living in my first apartment in downtown Montreal. It wasn't much. My parents had donated some old furniture and although I eventually moved out when the cockroaches moved in, I didn't mind the place or my first waitressing job. Ah! The flexibility of youth!

That morning, I awoke to the oddest thought: "send your parents on an all-expenses paid beach vacation". I can tell you one thing: it didn't come from me!

I had only begun building my "rainy day" nest egg and it simply wasn't logical to consider spending the bulk of my meager savings in this way.

My semi-conscious brain, however, was not operating on logic.Instead, it was remembering how much my parents loved getting away from our harsh winters, yet rarely treated themselves to their single greatest pleasure.

Growing up, they had always placed my brother and two sisters before their own material desires and had worked very hard to send us to private school. Education, they said, was the only luxury they could ever give us. Materially, that may have been true, but they had given us so much more.

When we were little, Santa always seemed to know what gifts we most wanted. What they couldn't have known is that what impressed me most weren't the gifts but the butterflies in my stomach on Christmas Eve and the warmth I felt as my family gathered around the tree the next morning. Life worries were suspended. Attention was paid. To decorations. To meals. To us. Our happiness was all that mattered to our parents on that special day. The same feelings would arise in me on those rare occasions when we took family beach vacations in the summertime. Once again, life worries were suspended. Attention was paid. To excursion plans. To which seafood meals we would eat for dinner. Our happiness made our parents happy, and their joy, in turn, made us feel happy and secure.

Now that I was "all grown up", I reasoned, what could be more fun than to give my parents a small taste of my most cherished childhood memories: a magical Christmas culminating in a magical beach vacation!

Just as they had been my anonymous Santa, so too could I be theirs! It would add intrigue to the day, not take away from the gifts of others, or draw undue attention to myself.

And perhaps there lay another motive behind the gift and its anonymity. Perhaps I was hoping to repair the feelings of rejection my teenage rebelliousness had caused my parents without making a spectacle of the fact that indeed, I did love them that much!

The decision was made before I even leapt out of bed and I spent the following weeks giddily planning the details. Instead of wrapping up my gift in an envelope, I would create a treasure hunt, scattering clues, airline tickets, hotel reservations, and spending money at my grandmotherís house, where our extended family gathered for Christmas dinner.That way, it would be virtually impossible for my parents to know who "Santa" was.

When the big moment finally arrived, I could hardly contain myself.

"To Louise and Hank from Santa,"

one of my uncles called out, handing my mother a card. The treasure hunt was on and my mother was opening the first of a dozen clues. Along with directions to the next location, Mom found pictures of sand, surf, and sun. Oddly enough, my parents had no idea where it was all leading, but they were certainly enjoying the ride along with my intrigued relatives.

When the heart of the gift was finally revealed - airline tickets to the Dominion Republic and beach-side hotel reservations - my mother screamed with shock and my father smiled with amazement. The room was awash with excitement.

"What is this? Who did this?," Mom asked my extended family members, who genuinely had no idea. "Look, there's another clue!," someone said. "What?," my parents replied. "There's more?!" Unwrapping the clue they had missed inside the reservations, they followed instructions to a new envelope, which contained an American hundred dollar bill. My mother began to cry, then numbly moved onto the next clue where she found another $100 bill. Sobbing, she stopped in her tracks, unable to continue. Everyone was silent as Mom told Dad to go on. Somberly, he obeyed, uncovering several more $100 bills.

"Who did this?!," Mom demanded through her tears. "We don't know," those gathered earnestly replied. Mom went up to all the possible suspects, starting with my jet-setting uncle. No, he insisted, he didn't do it. She approached other relatives, who also shook their heads. She went up to my immediate family, starting with my older brother. It wasn't him, he said. My two sisters also shook their heads. When Mom approached me, I put on my best poker face and insisted I was not behind the gift. She believed me.

Undaunted, Mom began circling the troupes all over again and like a radar detector, zeroed in on my immediate family. By then, most of us were quietly crying, along with many others. After a second round of denials, she stared into my eyes and screamed "It was you!!! It was you!!!" I adamantly shook my head and cried "No, it wasn't, it wasn't!", but for some reason, she didn't believe me this time. The gig was up. Mom saw through my lie. "Why did you do that? You're just a girl! You have no money!," she screamed, clutching me in a bear hug. "Yes, I do! I saved some this summer. It was no big deal!," I replied and meant it.

As my stunned father quietly came over and kissed me on the cheek to thank me, a hush fell over the room as all eyes focused on my parents and me. It was my Aunt Dot, whose web site you are now visiting, who finally broke the silence. "Now that's love," she said. "Of course it's love!," the unsentimental teen in me inwardly cringed, "but can't we keep it quiet?" The child in me, however, was also happy and relieved. Now Mom and Dad really knew I loved them. Heck, everybody knew! I was getting embarrassed again!

When people ask what I gave my parents on Christmas in 1984, I reply:"a trip, spending money, and something that couldn't be wrapped up, but constantly gets recycled." And what's that?, they ask.

"Love: the gift that keeps on giving."

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Helene Auclair; an inspiring young author, who lives in St. Lambert, Quebec, lost Hank, her father July, 1994. She misses him very much. Helene can be contacted by email

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