EXCHANGING gifts during Christmas parties in elementary school was one of the highlights of my young, carefree life. The only thing that kept me giddier as the big day neared was my concern over what to wear.
Months before December, I would already start scanning department store shelves in search of the ideal present. It was all in vain, of course, as my budget-conscious mother would always end up having her way.
Having lived as young girl through World War II, she had developed a practical mindset, which extended to the kind of gifts she was willing to give.
Her gift of choice: a trusty face towel and a “guest-size” bar of Safeguard. To my dismay and embarrassment, I brought the same exchange gift to school almost every year until I was given some say years later.
By then, I was allowed to choose the gift I wanted to exchange as long as it fell within the teacher’s suggested price range. No more, no less.
Armed with this newfound sense of freedom, I once bought an assortment of candies that ended up exceeding my budget.
Unknown to my mother, I had to dip into my school allowance to make up for the shortfall. Since I wanted my gift to be extra bongga that year, my 11-year-old self didn’t mind spending a bit more.
After all the trouble I went through, you wouldn’t believe what I got in return come revelation time. It was one in a series of revelations I would learn about life before the day was over.
Imagine my shock and disappointment to find a deer figurine made of plaster of Paris peering from the partly opened box. Since I didn’t know “Bambi,” it was only years later when I learned who the animal character was.
It wasn’t because I was too old to appreciate such a gift. What bothered me was one of Bambi’s ears was missing.
I looked inside the box hoping that the missing part was there. If it broke along the way, I could ask my Dad to glue it later. I found nothing.
It only took a split second to dawn on me that the giver, who was, of course, one of my classmates, wrapped Bambi in her disfigured state.
I told my teacher about it, but all she could manage to do was look at me and shake her head in sympathy. By then, the giver had already left the party to probably enjoy his loot.
I was never a crybaby in school, but I was really hurting inside as I dragged myself home that afternoon.
Since my mom was sure to ask me what I got, my biggest problem after that was whether to tell her or not. With my Dad’s knowledge, I decided to “massage” the truth to spare her feelings.
“Oh, I got a box of chocolate,” I said. “But the traffic along España was so bad that my friend and I got hungry. Before we knew it, we’ve already finished the entire box.”
I never mustered the courage to confront my erring classmate when school resumed in January. He never apologized for what he did either. Perhaps, someone chose and wrapped the earless figurine for him. Could it be his mother?
If giving someone the benefit of the doubt is tantamount to forgiveness, then consider him forgiven.
As I grew older, my Bambi experience, as I call it now, didn’t dampen my fervor to attend Christmas parties. Nor did it make me revert back to giving others my mother’s exchange gift of choice. God, no!
But instead of focusing on what I was going to get, I eventually learned to treat such annual Christmas gatherings as a chance for me to enjoy the break, reconnect with old friends and build new friendships, while finding the perfect excuse to wear nice clothes.