The Gifts of the Almeidas

by Rochelle Almeida

If O. Henry were alive and kicking today, he might have been inspired to create another classic Christmas short story on the lines of his famous one The Gift of the Magi, based on the funny series of incidents that occurred last Christmas in the Almeida household. Since he is not, I am left with no option but to tell the story in own way.

Being immigrants from Bombay in the United States means that the holidays are a particularly poignant time for us. While missing our extended family in India, we try hard to compensate for the loss by celebrating the birth of our Savior amongst ourselves, having integrated American customs and traditions with our own native ones. One of these is the secret buying and wrapping of Christmas gifts that we place under the tree before we go to bed on Christmas Eve so that Christmas morning is punctuated by much hurried ribbon unraveling, frantic wrapper tearing and oohing and aahing as we open our gifts to each other to the accompaniment of camera flashbulbs as we immortalize these delightful moments for posterity.

Christmas morning dawned bright and sunny last year. Attending midnight mass meant that we overslept the following day. As I crept down the stairs, so as not to disturb the rest of my still sleeping household, I noticed that it had snowed in the early hours of the morning. Drifts of snow had mounded over the branches of the pine trees and had blanketed the lawn outside the window. It would be a picture-perfect, white Christmas after all.

In the kitchen, I pre-heated the oven to bake the Seafood Strada that has become a Christmas brunch tradition in our household. As I moved towards the family room to switch on the lights upon our Christmas tree in the corner, I gasped. The previous night, presuming that I was the last one to turn in, I had placed my Christmas gifts to my husband Llewellyn and my daughter Chriselle under the tree. There were few other gifts there then. Apparently, after I fell asleep, other folks placed some more gifts under the tree for as I bent down to turn the twinkling lights on, I noticed, among several others, two more packages that were exactly of the same size and heft as the one that I had left there for my actress daughter.

Of course, I knew that my package contained a DVD player and recorder for her. It was, I thought, an appropriate gift since, as a budding professional actress, she is often required to make CDs of her monologues to mail to agents. Likewise, the “reel” that makes up her commercial spots and “shorts”—films that are no longer than ten minutes—are often presented to her by producers on DVDs. Since we were probably the only family in the United States without a DVD player, she was unable to show her work off to us. In fact, a set of her CDs lay in our entertainment center; but we had been unable to watch them for want of a DVD player. Buying one seemed to me like a thoughtful gift for a daughter whose career I was very eager to support.

Within the next hour, the rest of my household awoke. The strada gave off mouthwatering aromas from the oven, and with the champagne for our mimosas chilling on ice, I was laying the table for our family brunch when my husband and daughter joined me in the kitchen. Llew turned to the stereo to put on some Christmas music while Chriselle threw cedar logs on the hearth to bring the crackle of a roaring fire into the room. The scent of Christmas was in the air, thanks to the pine wreaths that decorated our mantle. As Llew and Chriselle passed by the tree, they too seemed intrigued by the fact that three parcels looking suspiciously alike lay quietly together at the foot of the towering tree like newborn triplets in a nursery.
An hour later, replete with our Christmas brunch and having toasted the holiday with crystal flutes, we turned to the tree to start the ritual opening of gifts. Since the youngest has the privilege of getting the first go, Chriselle made her delighted way to the tree to look for a parcel that literally called her name on the gift tag. It was the gift I had very carefully chosen for her. I placed it in her eager hands and said, “I think you’re going to love this. Its exactly the thing you need most right now”.

As her fingers untied the ribbon and her hands tore at the reindeer-strewn gift wrapping paper, the contents of the package revealed itself.

To my disappointment, she held the gift in her hand, looked dismayed and said, “Well, what do you know? It’s a DVD player!”

“And”, I said, “you don’t look very pleased! Isn’t that just what the doctor ordered? I thought you would find it very useful for watching your DVDs”.

“Quite”, she laughed, then hugged me and said, “Thanks Mom. That was actually exactly what I needed”.

Standing right behind me, my husband began to guffaw loudly. “You’ve got to be joking!” he said. Then, because we both turned to him wonderingly, he hastily added, “Your turn now, Chelle, go for it”. And he handed me a heavy box that he had professionally wrapped in festive french ribbon.

“Boy, this is heavy, isn’t it? I said, as I carefully untied the bow on his gift to me. “What on earth could this be?” All the while, he stood there with a grin on his face wider than the Cheshire Cat’s.

A few moments later, my jaw dropped. Nestled securely between the cocooning depths of bubble wrap was a second DVD player. “Oh no,” I said, “this gives new meaning to the phrase you shouldn’t have!”

Chriselle joined in the laughter as Llew explained that he bought me the DVD player knowing what a huge movie buff I am and because I often complained that there were several new releases I could not get out of the our local public library because they were being carried only in DVD format.

“You said that video tapes are old hat, didn’t you?” he reminded me. “I got you a DVD player so you could watch all the films in the world without being restricted by format”.

“That was a lovely thought”, I said, as I laughed and got up to thank and kiss him for the gift. “Its just so strange that we duplicated a gift in the same household”.

Looking strangely uncomfortable, Chriselle shrugged and said, “What can I say? I guess great minds think alike”.

Still chuckling, she handed a parcel to Llew. It was another heavy box. “OK, Dad”, she said, “its your turn to go. This is my gift to both you guys”.

Llew weighed the parcel in his hands, took one look at her face and said, “Chrissie, don’t tell me you’re thinking that this is what I’m thinking this is”.  “My lips”, she said, “are sealed”. I had, by then, caught on. In fact, we all anticipated Llew’s opening of the parcel, knowing full well what it contained. Recovering her composure somewhat to focus on the essential humor of the situation, Chriselle said to both of us, “All I’m saying is that I thought this would be the biggest surprise of the season. And, I guess, in a way, it still will be”.

Llew moved to the sofa to place the rectangular parcel on his knees. He went through the elaborate charade of attempting to save the giftwrap, much to our impatient cries. “Go on, just rip it”, I yelled while Chriselle said, “Rip it and get it over with, Dad”.

Need I explain how startled we were when Llew extracted a DVD player out of the box, so carefully purchased, gift wrapped and concealed in the weeks prior to Christmas?

“You’re kidding me”, he said, as he laughed out loud and got up to hug Chriselle.

“Now you really shouldn’t, I mean really shouldn’t, have!”

“I thought this was exactly what you both needed”, she laughed. “Since we didn’t have a DVD player and all my CDs are lying there, unseen by the two of you, I thought this would be the perfect choice”

Unable to quite believe my eyes, I said, “What are the odds of this happening, people? Three DVD players in a family of three on the very same Christmas day! This has got to be something of a record.”
“Let’s try to get this into Ripley’s Believe It Or Not”, said Chriselle, getting into the spirit of the coincidence.

Later, while nursing cups of foamy hot chocolate in our hands, we discussed the manner in which we went about buying our gifts, each one of us believing that a DVD player was exactly what the other needed and would most enjoy receiving. As for me, having neither the luxury of time that would allow me to research the sagacity of my purchase nor being the kind of impulse buyer who purchases big-ticket items right off the shelf, I settled for a bid on e-bay, putting my trust into an online company that has become America’s favorite shopping store. I was, apparently, the first one to leave my gift to Chriselle under the tree.

Our daughter, on the other hand, being an impulsive shopper, had walked right into Sears, she said, and had purchased the electronic item straight off the shelf. Being somewhat more limited in her budget, she had settled for a DVD player that didn’t include a recorder. She had hidden it under the bed in her room and had wrapped it only after I had fallen asleep the previous night, at which time she had crept down the stairs and placed it at the foot of the tree, a little taken aback to find its twin already in repose.

Ever the astute consumer, my husband Llew had combed through the Consumer Reports at the library, weeks in advance, then surfed the Web to find the best possible deal on a superior quality DVD player that was also a recorder. Intent on making my movie viewing experience as pleasurable as possible, he had included all the bells and whistles. He took pains to tell the manufacturers to mail the parcel to his office so as to prevent my receiving advance notice of his intentions. The night before Christmas, he had brought the parcel home via the garage where it had lain in concealment until after he was certain that Chriselle and I had fallen asleep—at which point, on placing it under the tree, he thought he was seeing things on finding three identically sized parcels staring up at him from beneath the tree.

The Gifts of the Almeidas didn’t quite end the way O. Henry’s story did. Unlike the loving couple who were never able to use the gifts they had bought each other, we derived immense enjoyment from ours. Indeed we had a surfeit of DVDs in our household that Christmas morning. From possibly being the only family in America with no DVD player, we probably became the family with the largest number of DVD players in the country!
They made for a very mirthful Christmas indeed!