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"Would You Like It Gift Wrapped?"

by Louise Barnett Cox


As I fingered the lovely pure white silk scarf I had purchased, the sales clerk asked, "Would you like it gift wrapped?"

Suddenly, I was a child again, remembering more vividly than ever a childhood memory ~ it seemed only yesterday that ~

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Each time I looked at the gaily bedecked Christmas tree standing in the far corner of the classroom, I could see only one thing ~ the only unwrapped gift on the tree. The one with my name on it!

Today was the last day of school before the holidays and the excitement in Miss O'Conner's first grade room was bubbling just like bubble bath in the tub. Today the presents would be given out.

Earlier, Miss O'Conner had said it would be more fun if we didn't know until we opened our gifts who had drawn our name. But when all the presents were put on the tree yesterday, I knew; in fact, everybody knew who had drawn my name and they laughed about it just as they always laugh at Y ~ VON ~ EE.

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That's her name. She spells it just like Yvonne Crawford, but she calls it Y ~ VON ~ EE. She said her mother read the name in a love story magazine. She's only been here about a month.

There was my gift, resting on a branch almost halfway up the great tree, for everyone to see. It was just a threadbare scrap of supposed to be white, silky material, with skinny strings dripping from its raveling edges. I guess it had been a scarf, but now it was just a dingy string ~ a mass of wrinkled nothingness. It wasn't even wrapped, just tied with an even dirtier piece of twine. And a scrap of paper, crudely printed with pencil told its story to the world,

It looked just awful there among the sparkling tinsel, glittering red, gold and green ornaments and the other presents wrapped in bright colored paper and tied with pretty bows. But that stupid little gift didn't seem embarrassed! It didn't even try to hide behind the thick pine brances of the tree. I tried to push it back a little when no one was looking, but it popped right back out. It was more than I could bear.

The shame of it! To have my name on that gift so everybody could see. All the other kids kept looking, pointing and laughing. Everybody but Y ~ VON ~ EE, that is.

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I know first graders are not supposed to cry ~ we're too big, but I just couldn't help it. I had bawled yesterday when I tried to tell Mother about the present and Y ~ VON ~ EE. Between sobs, I tried to explain, "Y ~ VON ~ EE! Boy! What a kid she is. Skinny, dirty, and with real stringy hair. She wears funny clothes. She's kinda like that dumb present ~ skinny, ragged, and she doesn't look clean. She looks like somebody nobody wants. Y ~ VON ~ EE isn't like the rest of us, and I'm not even going to speak to her after this."

I remember my mother was always such a comfortable person. She was always so clean ~ from her brown curly hair down to her pretty blue dress ~ and she's soft-like, so it's easy to snuggle up to her. She put her arms around me, pulled me close and said, "Maybe Y ~ VON ~ EE doesn't have a clean comfortable home and a mother and daddy who love her. Maybe her mother doesn't wash and iron her clothes and prepare good meals for her. Perhaps you and I should have a little talk about gifts and this business of giving."

"Now there's nothing wrong with giving gifts," she continued, "but it shouldn't be done only at a special season or just to a special few. Giving shouldn't always be "exchanging" ~ sometimes you will want to give to someone who will never know you gave. When you give a gift, or get one, it should not be the gift that is important. It is the wanting to give it."

"But," I defended myself, missing the point entirely, "it's not even wrapped up."

"Perhaps," Mother said softly, "it's wrapped in love, which is the most expensive wrapping of all."

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The next day as I thought about our conversation, I almost cried again, especially when Miss O'Conner stood up wearing that pretty red dress and smiled so big when she said Y ~ VON ~ EE could help her give out the gifts.

When all the gifts were given out, Miss O'Conner said we could open them. I opened the book Miss O'Conner had given me ~ she gave one to everyone in the class. I was glad I had something to open. Before I could look at the book, here came
Y ~ VON ~ EE, pushing her skinny little body into the seat beside me. She hadn't even opened her presents, but her eyes were so bright I thought of the star on the top of the tree.

She picked up the dirty little white scrap and said, "Do you like it? Huh, do you? It's the onliest purty thang I had at home." She stroked it lovingly. "It feels so soft-like. I've had it sich a long time. I found it. But there just weren't nuthin' else purty at home to give you. You are the onliest one that ever speaks to me, and I wanted to give you something you'd like."

Suddenly, she put her skinny arms around me and I could feel her sharp little bones sticking into me. Her words came tumbling out, "I wish I wuz you. You are so purty and you smell so good and don't nobody hate you. Do you like your present? Do you? Huh?"

There was a big lump in my throat that I couldn't swallow past. Right there in front of the whole first grade class, I put my arm around Y ~ VON ~ EE and said, "Sure, sure I like it. It's real nice. Now hurry and open your package. I think it's paper doll cutouts."

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"Would you like it gift wrapped?", the salesclerk asked again and suddenly I was out of that first grade classoom and into a modern department store more than 50 years later. I wiped a tear from my eye as I smiled and said, "No, thank you, I plan to wrap it in love."

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"The Little Drummer Boy"

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