By Tim Hayes

Deep in the recesses of my wallet, back where the kids’ old middle school pictures and expired AAA cards dwell, you’ll find a little sheet of paper from a small spiral notebook – the kind you could hold in the palm of your hand.

In blue and red marker, with letters of different heights, traveling up and down imaginary slopes despite the thin blue parallel lines on the page, and with a couple of letters facing the wrong way here and there, a simple message from a little girl to her Dad on his birthday can be read.

It took a lot of effort to create that teensy note.  A lot of thinking.  A lot of love.  That’s why I “laminated” it myself with a lot of Scotch tape and tucked into my wallet.  And there it’s been for the past 23 years.  Every now and then, I’ll discover it and it reminds me of that time in our lives when the kids were small and every day had an energy and a sizzle and all of it covered in a toasty caramel-colored blanket of warmth and family.

It’s those gifts that take a little more time, effort, thought, and sweetness that somehow mean the most.

A couple of Father’s Days ago, my wife asked me to go into the basement and get a bottle of water out of the spare refrigerator down there.  I did, grabbed the water, came back upstairs, and handed it to her.  She just stood there, looking at me with the strangest expression on her face.

“You okay?” I asked.  “Yeah,” she replied.  “Umm, I think I left the light on in the laundry.  Would you mind going downstairs again and checking it for me?”

Again the dutiful husband, I descended the stairs, poked my head around the corner, came back up and reported that no, the laundry light had indeed been turned off.

Now, she sounded downright incredulous.  “Listen, go downstairs again and take a good look.”  “I’m telling you, the light is off.”  “Just go take another look – a lonnng look.”

This time, when I got to the bottom of the steps, I saw – for the first time, even though it had been there all along – a brand new set of drums!  I hadn’t played the drums since high school, but always missed it.  For 35 years!  And now I had a beautiful, brand-new set that I could play whenever I wanted.

She had gone to a local music store months before, and over several visits and consultations with an expert on drums – and several payments, to boot – bought the set, brought it to the house, and had our daughter and her boyfriend assemble it while we were out for a Father’s Day lunch.

It was incredibly inconvenient for her to go through all that.  But I don’t know that I’ve ever appreciated the effort and love behind a gift any more than I did that day.  She knew how much joy it would bring me, and she went above and beyond to make it happen.

Back in college, I earned barely more than pizza money at the school newspaper.  Funds remained low during those years, but one Christmas I decided that no matter what it cost or how long or hard the search, I was going to find and give my girlfriend a really unique gift – the soundtrack of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” her favorite holiday TV special.  This being the late ‘70s, the only version came in the form of a vinyl album.  How ironic that vinyl has today become “cool” again.  But I digress.

By some miracle, a record store in the little town where we went to college actually had one remaining copy of the Rudolph album.  Problem was, I didn’t have quite enough dough to buy it the day I made this discovery.  I asked if they would hold it for me, but they wouldn’t, which was nuts, because nobody seemed to be clamoring for this record.  I found it completely by accident in a far-off dusty corner of the store.  I’ll bet they didn’t even know they had it.

Now it became a race against time.  Finals were in full swing, and the semester break loomed at the end of the week.  Don’t ask me how or where I found enough money to buy that album (because I don’t remember anyway), but I do recall trudging back up to town in a driving snowstorm, plunking down the cash, and walking back to my dorm with that treasure under my arm.

It’s too easy today.  You can grab an iTunes gift card from a convenience store rack on your way to paying the guy for the gas you just pumped, give it to somebody for Christmas or their birthday, and they can go online and download the whole Rudolph album themselves.  The entire transaction takes a combined total of five minutes.

Where’s the love in that?  Where’s the unspoken, yet very clearly heard, message that tells the person receiving the gift, “Hey, I wanted to do something really special, just for you, because you mean that much to me.”

The smile that lit up her face when she unwrapped that album, all those years ago?  Unforgettable.  Irreplaceable.  Yeah, it’s worth thinking about this Christmas and all year long.  The best gifts?  They’re the ones that were a little inconvenient, but totally worth it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, we’re going to play our Rudolph album.

Copyright 2016 Timothy P. Hayes