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The Best Worst Presents Ever

Dr. Ken Beatty By Dr. Ken Beatty Published on January 5, 2016

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My wife and I helplessly looked down at the wooden assemblage. Three two-by-two inch posts, each a foot or so high, wobbled precariously from the sheet of plywood to which they’d been nailed. The joyful looks of eager expectation in our then pre-teen sons’ eyes were unmistakable and yet we had not the slightest idea what it was that they had made.

For the past few days, we had heard our sons working fervently in the basement operating various power tools, cutting and hammering but warning us off with a “Top Secret Project” sign that kept us from interfering unless serious medical attention was required. It was the lead-up to Christmas and, in our family, we have a tradition of the kids making cards and presents during each season’s holidays as well as for birthdays.

The tradition doubtlessly comes from my own disillusioned youth when my three wicked teenage sisters took my five year-old self shopping for Christmas gifts. They had a list and had pretty well filled it with whatever money they’d been given but consulting it one last time and counting their change they realized that I’d not bought anything for my father. A gleam of excitement came over them. “Kenny can get him some cigarettes!”

My father was then a heavy smoker but even I knew a pack of cigarettes wasn’t a proper holiday gift, a fact confirmed on Christmas morning with his genuine surprise and then chuckling thanks. As I had thought at the time, it was really about my sisters wanting to operate the cigarette machine, the glorious and adult insertion the coins and the pulling of a lever to retrieve and release the little box. It wasn’t a memorable gift; literally one that would go up in smoke.

Much later, when I was certainly old enough to know better, I gave my father an expensive silk tie for his birthday.

“You do remember I’m retired and don’t go to my office anymore,” he laughed, but then covered sweetly saying he’d wear it to my wedding, “If that blessed event ever transpires,” he winked.

So, when my own sons were old enough to think that they should be giving us gifts for birthdays and Christmas, we helped them make them and, in time, they took on the responsibility of making the gifts themselves. Sometimes it was gifts of cookies with the kitchen left looking like a warzone. Other times it was pieces of art or inventions, such as a hat re-engineered from something seen online with holders for drinks and a line of connected straws (I was drenched with the first drink).

There are always branches and logs on our property and one year, they fashioned some into a fanciful deer that stood majestically in the garden until, we think, one of the real deer that drift through our yard each night knocked it over. Two years ago, the boys discovered empty clear glass Christmas tree ornaments and filled them with moss and twigs: miniature terrariums. With no other attention, they continue to thrive on a kitchen windowsill.

But this year, besides a rustic candle-holder for my wife, the boys presented me with a book.

Only ten pages long, it is a hand-written and illustrated ode to the culinary dishes I make that are most favored by our sons. Each description sounds like something that would not be amiss on a literary restaurant menu:

“Scones: The soft crunch of the supple texture breaks as you bite into it. Scones appear in the varying shapes and sizes, molded carefully to perfectly balance the taste and weight of the savory breakfast item. Scones of the highest quality can be enjoyed with either jam or the most whipped of cream. A delicacy that truly starts the morning right.”

Lovely. And so much better than a pack of cigarettes.

But what about that three-posted piece of plywood?

“Do you like it?” the younger asked. “It’s for holding your cookbooks on the kitchen counter.”

My relieved wife and I hugged them both in unison, crying out, “We love it!”

And we really did.

Author of 130 books in the areas of language teaching and learning and computer-assisted language learning, Ken has lectured in 25 countries giving more than 400 presentations to teachers from ... Show More

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