It was the annual Dirty Santa game, a family tradition.
I know you’ve played it before. Everyone draws numbers. Number one, unfortunate soul that he is, goes to the tree, picks a gift, opens it, and number two can either steal number one’s treasure or open another gift from the tree. And so it goes, all the way down the line.
It is a game of difficult decisions. Do you settle for swiping one of the gifts that has already been opened? Or do you find out what’s behind Door Number Two? It could be a treasure! Like a wet/dry vacuum for the car! Or insulated hot/cold mugs! But then again, it might be one of those obnoxious singing animatronic animals. Like the turkey we got last year that gyrates with his guitar to “Feliz Navidad.”
Thus, I observed our family members sweating over their decision each time their turn came around. Some consulted with spouses and hatched convoluted, elaborate plots to steal/open/steal again in order to lay claim to the coveted lava lamp that was in circulation. Others bore the weight of the decision on their own shoulders, quietly wrestling in deep contemplation, making the rounds to check out everyone else’s gift – slowly – before finally, finally going to the tree to try their luck there.
One foil-wrapped present under the tree remained an enigma. Time and again, I watched as each player picked it up, shook it, waved it, lifted it, and frowned at it. It was long, flat, and flexible, like a saw, but rectangular. People would scratch their heads and speculate about what it might be, but no one really seemed interested enough to choose it. Or even care. It was too risky. Too strange. Other packages were prettier and brighter and more conventional-looking. The metal flat thing, or MFT, as it came to be called, was the most overlooked gift of Dirty Santa 2011.
As I watched all of this unfold, I remained rather indifferent about the available selection this year. I knew that it would soon be my turn to act. I held in my hand number ELEVEN. The highest, most sought-after number in the hat. I would have my pick of the entire array. But what to do? Steal somebody’s mugs? Or go for the last gift under the tree? The big question mark itself. The MFT.
I stood and looked over my options, the usual candidates – Hickory Farms summer sausages and cheeses, bath salts, Ghiradelli chocolates in a sleigh (quite tempting) – and then I went to check out the MFT myself.
Like everyone before me, I discovered it to be tin-like and wobbly. I really just wanted to put back under the tree and move on to a better-looking package. But there were no better-looking packages. I was number ELEVEN, and therefore, it was the last gift. It was in that moment that I knew I needed to just open it already, to end the game of stealing upon stealing, the game that can go on forever if you let it.
I settled back into my seat…carefully opened it…and behold…it was a Wizard of Oz street sign that said, “Follow Your Yellow Brick Road.”
But then came the important part. On the back of the sign was this handwritten message: “Follow your yellow brick road…to your sour cream pound cake.”
YES! Of course! The pound cake! The one perennial gift that gets fought over every year! A tradition instituted by my great-grandmother when she was alive. How had we forgotten about it? It always makes an appearance, and this year, it happened to be incarnated in the humble, unassuming, overlooked form of the MFT. A treasure to many, a stumbling block to some, and an enigma to the rest.
How very appropriate.
The sweetest gift of all came in a way that no one expected.
Sounds like Christmas to me.