Allison never received the pony she wished for, fervently, and asked Santa for, every year from her sixth birthday until she started middle school. But other than this perennial disappointment, Christmas at her home was pleasant enough.
Her dad would make pancakes for breakfast, asking Allison what shape she wanted: Mickey Mouse or Pac-Man. They all turned out to be large blobs, so Allison would pick the most outrageous option she could think of: a 747 jet, or the Eiffel Tower, or the Beatles. One year she asked her dad to make pancakes in the shape of Dobby the House Elf, which started a running joke that lasted for years.
When she opened her gifts after breakfast, ripping the paper off each one, to the consternation of her father who persisted in trying to persuade her to take the paper off carefully, so it could be saved and reused, she discovered a package of socks her grandmother had sent. Allison tried to hide the pang of disappointment even as she proclaimed to admire the pink and green argyle pattern.
“Oh, the socks arrived!” her dad cheered. “Hooray, hooray!”
Allison stared at him, intrigued. “Dad!” she chided. “Why are you cheering?”
“This is your lucky day, Allison!” he said. “The socks, the socks, the socks are here!”
Nine-year-old Allison, skeptical: “Why, what’s so great about socks for Christmas?”
Allison’s dad, conspiratorial: “You know. What does it mean when you get a pair of socks?”
Nine-year-old Allison, drawn closer to him: “What? What does it mean?”
Allison’s dad, voice low: “Come here, honey, so your mom doesn’t overhear.”
Allison’s mom, exasperated, as usual, with the closeness between them that she felt unable to penetrate: “Oh, for heaven’s sake. I’ll be in the kitchen.”
Nine-year-old Allison, oblivious to her mother’s pain, heartless as only children with their favorite parent on Christmas can be: “Okay, she’s gone. What do socks mean?”
Allison’s dad: “You’re free now, sweetheart. You have socks, you have clothing, you have your freedom.”
Twenty-seven-year-old Allison, remembering that Christmas, and the package of socks under the tree for her every year after that, mailed to her at college, only missing this year because of her dad’s poor health: “Thanks, Dad.”