He explained he wasn’t real sure how the tradition began, but over the years, while enjoying all the commercial glam of Christmas, he and his sisters took especially great pleasure in giving one mean gift at Christmas. Dianne loathed pork rinds, and Sue’s gag reflex took over at the mere mention of mushrooms. He had a rash-causing aversion to those false turtleneck sweater fronts, known as “dickies.”
These dislikes were known by all. Each had honed his and her ability to leverage them to great effect, going to great lengths to be opportunistically mean gift givers. There was the Christmas Dianne received Li’l Abner Pork Rinds disguised as Eagle Brand Premium chips. Another year, Sue received a stunning pair of dehydrated mushroom earrings presented in a luxurious blue velvet Hartzburg’s jewelry box.
“Why, poppa! Christmas isn’t supposed to be mean!” his little cherub-daughter exclaimed. “Why did you dit a dickie?”
Hearing her question, he was transported back in time . . . .
Charles stood nervously on the edge of the Michigan playground. His dad’s company had moved him from the metropolitan prairies of Shawnee Mission, Kansas – a mid-year move that placed him in a new school setting just before the Christmas holiday break. Trailwood Elementary. Day one. Recess. Clear. Bright sun. Windy. Cold. A game of tag had sprung up, and the primary grade herd stampeded, like so many zebras running from a lion. That lion was J.R. Franks. Big, bad J.R. Franks. The BMSGOC – that’s right, the Biggest, Meanest Sixth-Grader on Campus.
Tag in the Michigan winter, in between snowfalls, when the snow and ice melted enough for the pavement to reappear was J.R.’s specialty. J.R., quite simply, was just not very nice. When he wasn’t limited to merely pelting you with snowballs, he was famous for his speed, agility and vice-grip. In dry conditions, he could catch any one, but he especially targeted schoolmates who wore turtlenecks – Michigan’s de rigueur winter wear and easily accessible even when his victims wore their winter coats. He had four main objectives when in tag-pursuit: Spot a turtleneck. Yank the turtleneck up from behind, then down suddenly over his victim’s head. Smear the hair. And, untuck the shirt’s bottom hem from slacks or skirt.
As the kids scattered, J.R. rocketed toward the Trailwood newbie, and locked onto his royal blue lycra-reinforced rib knit collar. Flat-footed, Charles was no match for J.R.’s intercept speed. Coming from out of the sun with Charles at four o’clock low, J.R. gripped the royal blue lycra-reinforced rib knit collar and yanked. Charles’ head disappeared into the fabric sleeve, and he went down like a steer hooked by a bulldogger.
Still in full stride, J.R. assessed the effect of his blitzkrieg attack. Head and face covered? “Check.” Smeared hair? “High probability.” Shirt untucked? “Negative! I say again, Negative! Wait! What’s this in my hand? Wing Commander, we have a dickie!”
Charles’ mother thought dickies were very practical Michigan winter-wear. But at that moment, as J.R. was joined by a mob of classmate zebras, all gleefully braying, “What the heck? What the heck? Can’t afford a turtleneck?!?” his faith and trust in his mother was severely shaken.
Over the years, he would warily scan the packages under the tree, wondering which of them would reveal the decoyed dickie. He was skilled at locating the soon to offend package. It was always conspicuously light, and silent when shaken. He’d only missed his mark one year, when Sue crocheted a dickie on a ceramic duck ornament hung weeks earlier on the Christmas tree.
As the family members each opened respective gifts, Sue’s mushroom earrings, Dianne’s premium pork rinds, and his camoflaged dickie were inevitably discovered, drawing predictable laughter from all.
The Christmas Charles recived the first dickie, as his stack of opened gifts grew, he slipped the dickie out of sight to be destroyed. Later, when no one was looking, he’d burn it, or toss it in the trash. Given parental mandates in force at that time, concerning the proper use of matches and other incendiaries, burning it wasn’t practical. So, into the trash it went. In fact, it wasn’t buried deeply enough in the trash and so Sue would easily retrieve it. He would receive the same dickie the next year. This time, he’d bury it at the bottom of the trash. Sue would still find it, and he would receive the same dickie again the next year. So, he would hide it in his dresser – back right corner of the sock drawer – never suspecting that his mother was a treasonous double agent. She was, after all, intimately familiar with his dresser drawers, and kept them stocked on laundry day. Next year, same dickie.
The years passed by. Family members aged and passed on. Children were born. Mean-gifting sisters became “beloved Aunties,” and the long-practiced, much refined tradition of mean gift giving seemed to wane.
To this day, however, in anticipation of and at Christmas gatherings, the younger generation still asks for and listens with rapt attention to the pork rind, mushroom and dickie lore secretly hoping at least one package will reveal the famous Christmas Dickie.