“How about some baked goods, son?” The nice lady who asked meant well. But she had no idea who my brother Dave was. Baked goods wouldn’t cut it.
“We have posters of the Three Stooges over here”, she said, pointing at a display of movie memorabilia. “Does the person you’re shopping for like the Three Stooges?”
‘Sure’, I thought. ‘Everyone likes the Three Stooges!’ But that still wasn’t a fitting gift. It was just paper.
“Well, sweetheart” she said, “you don’t have a lot of money there.”
Eighty-nine cents. I had counted it so many times that I could mentally picture the allotment of coins: two quarters, one dime, three nickels, and fourteen pennies – two that were really shiny and new, and the rest a deeper shade of tarnish.
“We have some games here”, she pointed to a box. “They are used, but all the pieces are there. I checked myself. How about Risk?”
As politely as I could I dismissed the lady and her attempts at helping me. She was very nice. But, I was sure there was something… something big… something significant… something that would say ‘You’re the greatest big brother in the world’ and ‘I miss you terribly now that you’ve gone off to college’.
It was the first Christmas since my oldest brother Dave had moved off to school. Gone were the days of his coming home at the end of a day and asking me, “Hey Bubba! What did you do today?” Gone were the times when my Dad would let me ride with him up to the gas station where my big brother worked to deliver supper to him. It was the proudest moment of my week. I’d tell my friends, “My big brother works at the Phillips 66 Station!”
But, he would be coming home for Christmas. There just had to be a special gift somewhere at the Lake Sybelia Elementary School White Elephant Sale. While eighty-nine cents wasn’t a lot of money to grown-ups, it was a lot to me. I had been returning bottles for deposit and picking up around the house to earn every cent.
Every Christmas, Mom would take me to the store and buy gifts for me to give to my brothers and sisters. Hair stuff for the girls. Big whoop. Underwear and socks for the boys. Whatever. Ooh, occasionally a belt. Sure. This year I wanted something more. I wanted to buy my brother Dave a gift with my own money. Something bigger and better than anyone could have imagined.
Then it hit me. Or, should I say, I hit it. I stubbed my toe on it. Big. Heavy. Significant. No stinking baked goods. No crappy poster. No lame board game. It was a bowling ball! A big black marbled one! It was amazing! It looked like a crystal ball. I wondered for a moment if it was. “How much?” I asked the man slumped behind the table. I was scared when the man rose to consider my inquiry. He wore a sweat-stained white tank-top t-shirt. The way he filled that t- philadelphia phillies shirt out, he looked more, to me, like a woman than a man. But, it was a man, no doubt. He had more hair in his armpits and coming out of his nose than he had on top of his head.
“Dollar”, he sort of snorted, and then collapsed back into the folding metal chair, stressing it to the limits of its manufacture.
I pulled my change out. I counted it one more time, even though I was certain of the amount. “Mister. I have eighty-nine cents. Will you…?”
“Dollar kid. I bowled a 300 with that ball. Means a lot to me”, he stuffed his mouth with a big muffin and muttered something else, but I couldn’t make it out.
“Oh, give it to the kid!” a voice from the next booth rang out. “You bowled a 300 game my ass… er… I mean… you never bowled a perfect game. Sell the boy the ball. I’ll give you another muffin. Where’s your Christmas spirit?”
“Eighty-nine cents”, he said looking at me, crumbs from his muffin between his breasts on the t-shirt. “And, another muffin?” his eyes darted to the sweet lady in that next booth. She nodded. “Deal!” he shouted. “Make it a banana-nut.”
I spilled all my money on the man’s table and picked up the ball. “How are you going to get that home, son?” the nice lady asked. “I have my bike”, I replied.
I had underestimated the weight of the ball. I couldn’t ride my bike because as the weight shifted in the basket on my handlebars, the momentum of that ball crashed me left and right as I tried to balance. I wound up walking all the way home, ball in the basket, and the bike strategically leaned against my hip. It was a long and grueling walk. But worth it.
Christmas morning. Dave arrived home from college. There under the tree was my gift for him complete with a cool wrapping job and handwritten card that proclaimed, “To Dave, from Darin. I got this for you with my own money!”
Credit to Dave. By all appearances he treasured that bowling ball more than any other gift he had received. He had never bowled a frame in his life, nor would he. That wasn’t the point. It was a big gift. For a big brother. He understood. He took it to college and displayed it in his dorm room. I saw it there whenever we’d visit the campus. I’ll bet he’s still got it somewhere.
write by Kane