When I was nine years old, I got the best gift of my 39 Christmases to date . It was a balmy Southern California Christmas, as was the norm. We all gathered round the tree with friends and family to gleefully rip apart the hours of work mom spent beautifully wrapping our gifts. There were t-shirts and albums and toys galore, piled up on the floor near the lucky recipients. Being nine, I naturally noticed that my pile was a little bit on the light side. Also, quite naturally for a nine year old, I proceeded to issue a suitably raucous protest.
It fell on deaf ears.
I pouted and fussed, doing a dam good impression of a spoiled brat (not that I was, or anything. ahem). The jolly frenzy of gift giving wound down right around the time that my fit hit it’s crescendo. No one really seemed to notice. Which should have been my first clue that something was up, but I was giving my all to my performance. Someone, I can’t recall who, looked out the window and said something along the lines of, “What it is that out on the lawn? It has a bow around it. Did someone forget at gift?”.
I took a minor pause in my conniption to try and figure out what was going on, as the room cleared out onto the lawn. I sniffled and stomped my way to the head of the fray and took in the site of MY gift, a little Paint Horse (technically it was a pony by half a hand on the horse measurement scale, but I never cared) in a giant red bow. Her name was Pepsi -I wanted to rename her Comanche, but she was stuck in her ways and only responded to the name she came with- and she was the Best. Gift. Ever.
She taught me to love, to care for another living thing more than myself, what it meant to be responsible for a breathing -sometimes biting- creature (not unlike children) and would eventually teach me to deal with loss and how to mourn. Far greater a prize than dozens of ribbons we won as a team competing in gymkhanas or the broken bones I could one day brag about having survived, or even the guilty glee I would get when she’d bite one of my little brothers, she was my first best friend.
As an adult I would learn of the sacrifices my parents made to buy her for me, keep her boarded, fed and the two of us in matching tack. That too would become part of the gift. To know that my wants were something my parents would put above their own, would ready me for my own days as a parent.
As the holidays loom this year, and my kids wish lists grow, I wonder if I’ll ever be blessed enough to give them a gift like Pepsi. Sure they get bikes, gaming systems, guitars and more, but those things are forgotten nearly as fast as the tree comes down. Will there ever be a gift they can truly call, the best gift ever. Or are things like that left behind in simpler times, were things moved slower, people were truly connected and children didn’t grow up quite as fast.