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  • jrblackburnsmith

I don't sing and I don't dance...



I don't since and I don't dance, which means when the annual Christmas concert rolls around at church, all I can do is emcee, and share an occasional Christmas memory. This is one of the favorites. I apologize in advance - it is a little spicy for Christmas, but as a storyteller I feel beholden to the truth, and this is a true story.


It all begins in 1976 when I was fifteen. Two important things happened in 1976: my older brother, Andy, went off to college and the world's sensibilities were rocked by the publication of an illustrated sex manual, The Joy of Sex. It was a phenomenon --the book, not Andy going to college-- and even genteel adults bought a copy to see what all the fuss was about. I wasn't genteel, nor an adult, but I still had heard about this book.


Anyway, Andy went of the The Ohio State University and didn't come home for a visit until Thanksgiving. Mom had taped a sheet of paper to the kitchen wall and asked all of us (I'm the 2nd of 4 boys) to write down what we wanted for Christmas. When Andy left to go back to college, I saw that he had only written down one thing on the list. He's a runner and he wanted a new pair of running shoes. Being the caring brother that I was, I added something to his list. A that time I could copy his handwriting as if it were my own, so when I added The Joy of Sex to his list, it looked like an authentic request.


What I expected was that Mom would see the list and call Andy up and chew him out for trying to be funny. I was very comfortable with a delayed satisfaction prank, and I promptly forgot the whole thing. What I never expected to happen was that Mom would give the list to Grandma without ever looking at it herself!


Now let me tell you a little about my Grandma Dorothy. Dorothy was the sweetest, most loving, and gentle person I have ever met. She was also in the beginning stages of dementia, and while she was very well off, she really struggled to understand her financial situation. Although she always had a $20 in her purse to buy ice cream, she thought she was poor. She used to steal the magazines out of her apartment laundry because she didn't think she could afford to buy her own copies. She never knew that my parents bought the magazines and put them in the laundry just so she could take them.


Anyway, I forgot the whole prank, and Mom passed the list on to Grandma. So, one afternoon when Grandma called to ask some questions about Christmas, I didn't remember what I had done. Dorothy wanted to know about the running shoes. "Your mother says they are not regular sneakers," Grandma said. "How much do they cost?" I told her I thought they were probably $75 to $100 for the pair he wanted. "That much?" she asked. I assured her that was about right and she thanked me and hung up.


Now let me tell you about Christmas at my house. We always opened presents later in the day. My dad often had work to do on Christmas morning --another story for another day-- we had to pick up Grandma from her apartment in town, everyone needed another cup of coffee, etc., etc. and it was often noon or one o'clock before we got to opening presents. The other weird thing was that my parents made us open gifts in order, from the youngest to the oldest, while everyone watched. When it was your turn, you would open all your presents one after another and everyone could see what you got. I think it was a way to force boys to say thank you, but it became a family tradition.


Now to be perfectly honest, I don't remember anything I got for Christmas that year. I don't remember any gifts anyone got, except for one. It was Andy's turn, and he had opened all of his gifts but one. It was a large, flat package, looking a lot like an oversized Far Side collection, or some such. It was from Grandma, and it clearly wasn't a pair of running shoes. I think Andy was a little disappointed when he picked up that last package, and the way it bent a little confirmed it had to be a big book. Andy, sitting cross legged on one side of the room, tore a hole in the wrapping paper and froze. His face turned red --traffic light red-- and he quickly set aside the package and mumbled his thanks.


"What is it?" Mom asked. "You have to show us" Andy kind of pointed to the book but didn't say anything. "Show us," Mom repeated. Andy shook his head. "It's just a book," he said. "Thanks, Grandma." Now Mom was getting irritated. "Show us what you got," she ordered, a little edge in her voice. Andy picked up the book and tore the rest of the wrapping paper off. By now I had figured out what had happened and was laughing uncontrollably on my side of the room.


Andy sheepishly held up an oversized copy of The Joy of Sex for everyone to see. The room was silent, except for me, laughing so hard I was crying. It was the perfect moment. "Mother!" my mom called out. "Why would you buy that?" Grandma smiled softly. "The running shoes were more than I could afford," she said. "The book was more affordable."


And that's how I got Grandma to buy my brother The Joy of Sex for Christmas!


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