I read the story over lunch a few days before Christmas of 2016. Alone, I laughed aloud, as it brought to colourful life in my imagination, a hilarious scenario played out in black on white.
A day or so later, I was talking to my son, and I said, "Pete, there's a gift I'd love from you this Christmas."
"Oh?" he said, surprised, I suppose, at my unusual boldness in asking. "What is it?"
"It's a story," I said, "And the gift would be that you would read it for the rest of the family and me when we all get together for Christmas."
He agreed, on condition he might get the story ahead of time to practice.
Life being busy, he didn't pick up the story ahead of time. But I had not forgotten, and on Boxing Day, when we all assembled to celebrate what was for some family members, "Christmas--version # 3, at Omi and Grandad's," I kept the bright-yellow-covered book with its coffee-stained pages near at hand.
The house was fragrant with the aromas of Christmas dinner: roasting turkey, with a stuffing of bread, celery, onion and sage--and colourful winter vegetables: carrots, turnips and Brussels sprouts. The feast was waiting, with equally delicious options for the vegan members of the family.
But first, all eyes were on the coffee table, piled with gifts wrapped lovingly into the night, in brightly covered tissue, with sparkly bows and decorations.
We tried to open the gifts one by one so that each could be admired and
acknowledged, but like a train leaving a station, the gifting, opening and
thanking gathered speed, fed by a seemingly unstoppable force. Finally, the
flurry of flying paper, exclamations and laughter reached a sort of grand
The careful wrappings of just moments ago were gathered into clear plastic garbage bags when I surprised everyone by announcing, "I have asked for a gift from Pete."
I had everyone's attention, so I continued, "The gift is a story I have asked him to read out loud. So your part in the gift would be to listen to it with me. But I'm not sure when would be a good time."
"How about after we finish our meal?" suggested someone, and to general assent, the tidying resumed.
The meal was everything I had hoped it would be, and it seemed to be enjoyed to the full. No one had room for another bite. Now it was time for the gift I had been looking forward to for days.
Two long tables had been pushed together so that all 13 of us
could sit together for the meal. I handed Pete my book, open to the story.
Our youngest grandson, Josh, left the table to work on his new Lego project, promising he'd be listening, and Pete began to read.
Josh returned to his seat within the first lines, his eyes dancing with humour as they locked on his dad's in rapt attention. Pete's deep voice broke into chuckles at several points, and I looked down the table at the faces of our family laughing out loud with him, not an earbud to be seen. And I received my precious gift: a moment of shared laughter from words on a page, a present best when shared.