From the Relief Society Magazine, 1956 –
by Shirley Sargent
“What do you want for Christmas?” Neal Hendrickson asked casually on the morning of December eighth, as he watched his wife brush her dark hair. He prided himself on being thoughtful, and last year this foresightedness had paid off in the form of a mink stole Nan had admired extravagantly.
Her reply so disconcerted him that he dropped a cuff link. “Me? You mean you want me to troop downstairs Christmas morning and have the children discover me in a stocking?”
“That’s about the size of it.” Nan’s voice was low, grave, and definitely unamused.
“Size is right.” He tried to recapture the light touch for which he was noted. “Exactly five feet and eleven inches of it and all me. You don’t want much.”
She turned, and her brown eyes were as grave as her tone. “Seemingly too much to ask.”
“As for the moon, my lady, and …” he hesitated. “You want me for Christmas?”
“Something like that, Neal, but you figure it out.”
At lunch time he tried to do just that. What had Nan meant? He recalled other years’ gifts – the mink stole, matching luggage, golf clubs, jewelry, a painting – things he’d bought since the business was successful. Nan was talking nonsense. He could take her away. A week’s cruise perhaps? Then he remembered that last season he had arranged for the children to go to his parents while he and Nan had attended a house party.
“Never again,” she had said on their return.
“But those people were important, influential to business.”
“Your children are more important to me than any position or salary in the world.” She hadn’t been so sober then; she had sounded angry and impatient.
“At least we weren’t routed out of bed at five, but, back to the barbarians!” He hadn’t meant it to sound that way when he had said it. They had two sons, Neal Jr., eleven, and Howard, eight. They were both good boys, but Neal was too busy to see much of them.
The remark of Nan’s that morning was as imperative as the buzzer that rang on Neal’s desk. Was that what Nan wanted, he wondered, later in the day, more of his time? He dictated some letters, then dismissed his secretary. How long had it been since he’d helped the boys with homework or joined them in their home workshop? Neal didn’t like the conclusions his thoughts led up to – neglect. But business was for the family. Before, too? And Nan, how often had he done anything with her that wasn’t social lately? Not many quiet evenings, nor Saturdays in the yard, his work had swallowed such time.
“You figure it out,” she had said and, now that he had, he was ashamed that he hadn’t realized what he was letting business do to him – to them.
It was just two-thirty when he stalked out of the office. Although it was December, the day was warm – even for California. He was parked in front of the boys’ school when Howard came out. “Taxi?”
“Gosh, you sick, Dad?”
Suddenly he did feel a little sick. This wasn’t going to be easy. His gesture had been impulsive, but his son was obviously disconcerted. Why, why had he neglected being a father for so long? He tried to sound casual.
“No, son, just thought I’d knock off early. Ready?”
“Well … No. I mean, we were going across to the playground and play ball. You … you wouldn’t want to, would you?”
Neal’s answer was heartfelt. “I sure would.”
Two hours later, Neal, minus coat, hat, and cuff links, led a raid on the kitchen.
“Two cookies apiece,” Nan said, “and milk. Nothing else, it’s too near – Neal, where? Why, you’re all dirty.”
“That’s because he stole third,” Neal Jr. explained proudly. “I saw Dad slide in when I came out of school. He was terrific.”
Nan regarded her husband steadily, but there was a light in her eyes that dispelled the gravity.
“Dad helped me with pitching.” Howard was aglow with excitement. “Hey, Dad, would you coach Little League next spring?”
“I’ll sure try,” Neal promised happily. He’d get someone else in the office so he’d have his evenings free.
“How’s my batting average?” he questioned when the boys cleared out.
“Sensational,” she smiled, “but watch out for that midseason slump.”
He nodded gravely and took her in his arms. The light touch was gone. “I believe in early Christmas presents, darling – the lasting kind.”