I think I was fifteen. It was the day before Christmas and I was getting ready to go to the fabric store so I could make some last minute adjustments to the slippers I was making for my older brother.  My little brother sees that I’m about to leave and asks,

“You’re leaving? Perfect. Now I can start your present.”

Great. For the third year in a row, one of my little brothers has drawn my name for Christmas. The year before, Daniel had used a brown paper bag and three different crayons to make me a seventeen-piece jigsaw puzzle.

With nine kids in our family, I think that drawing names was a device intended to get us to give one good gift instead of buying eight cheap gifts. And then I think it was the year after I drew Matthew’s name and bought him a box of After 8 dinner mints and a $1.99 bottle of Brute cologne that Mom and Dad decided to institute the “homemade gifts only” rule.

It’s hard to know exactly where they got the idea, but the tradition likely had its roots in the book shelf that Matthew made for Dad in 1983.  Matthew had lovingly taped two Washington Apple cardboard boxes together, wrapped them in a full roll of wrapping paper, and felt intense pride that he was giving the biggest gift under the tree. And then of course, he was destroyed Christmas afternoon when he came downstairs and saw Dad in front of the fireplace, burning the bookshelf along with the other Christmas wrappings.

I couldn’t have been in the fabric store for more than half an hour, and then it took me about seven minutes to walk to and from. I got home and Michael came rushing in, red faced and out of breath, and declared, “You’re home? Phew, just finished.” My heart sank.  It’s just that you want it to take more than forty-four minutes for the creation of your Christmas gift.

The next morning the whole family watched as it was my turn to open my gift. The excitement on Michael’s seven-year old face was palpable, “you’re going to love this after basketball games,” he says. I nervously pull back the wrapping paper and reveal: a stick. “Thank yo-ou,” I say with a voice full of uncertainty. No one in the room is sure what it is.  I mean, we know that it’s a hacked up tree branch, but we don’t know what it is.  “Becca,” he explains, slightly put-out, “it’s a foot-roller.”  He jumps up from his seat on the floor, places the stick under the arch of his foot, and vigorously rolls his foot back and forth.

And so it is. This “foot roller” is about six inches long and has a one-inch diameter. The bark has been lovingly stripped and one end has been sawed off with all the precision of a seven-year old with a hacksaw blade.  The other end is jagged and looks the same way it did when Michael tore it from a branch in my mother’s scrub oak patch. Apparently, after realizing how difficult it is to cut through an inch of wood, he decided the unfinished edge gave the “foot roller” a unique aesthetic appeal.  You know, something decidedly post PoMo, combining haphazard precision on one end and primitive anxiety and rawness on the other. And then to top it off, he has written my name across the surface in all-caps, R-E-B-E-C-C-A. If you look closely, you can see that the R was actually carved into the surface, but again, his initial plans proved too much effort so to finish the name, he settled for the more accessible, more versatile, black ball-point pen.

The rest of the family exploded in laughter. Michael’s creation got passed from person to person, with everyone trying it out, possibly getting a splinter or two, and telling Michael what a good job he did. I glared at Matthew. Of course he thinks it’s funny, he’s the proud owner of a new pair of homemade Hugh Hefner-like slippers. Those guys were serious hot glue-gun/heavy duty scissors quality: cardboard soles, ruby-red lip cord, and faux fur of the electrocuted Peppy Le Peu variety.

Matthew has a Christmas gift to be proud of. But me? You get a stick for Christmas and inevitably your thoughts turn to the lunch table conversation on the first day of school after Winter Break.

“What’d you get for Christmas?”

“Clothes, money, a stereo” Brooke said.

“Instead of gifts my family went to the Caribbean,” Anna said.

“I know I’m not sixteen yet, but my parents wanted me to learn how to drive on my own car,” Lacy said.

“A stick,” I answered. “But it had my name on it.”