Christmas at our house was a mathematical undertaking. Our mom always made sure that us three girls (us and our sister Lori) had the same number of gifts and the same amount spent down to the dollar for each child. This required cosines and square roots and sliding rulers, but Mom did not shy away from the task at hand.
She kept track of everything on a single sheet of paper. More valuable than credit card numbers or passwords, this sheet of paper was folded and refolded, shoved into her purse and updated daily, or, on a good day, hourly.
And just when Mom thought she had the gift buying done, she would come upon a $50 sweater for a rare and insightful $20. Which meant she had to buy the other two daughters $20 gifts to “keep things even.” (This meant the task of finding each one exactly a $20 gift — not two $10s or four $5s. No, the balance of number and dollar was pertinent.)
This kind of math drove Dad into a rage each year, which Mom settled by buying him another gift as well to “keep things even.” The $30 savings? $80 all told.
As twins, though, we received the same exact presents growing up, which meant we had to open them at the same time or develop tunnel vision, which we did. (Handy for all things but driving).
New blouses? Kandy in green, Kerry in blue. Winter boots? One in black, the other brown. Earrings? Gold hoops for one, silver studs for the other.
But whenever Mom tried this daring departure from exactness, we usually ended up trading with each other, each coveting the other’s. Sometimes Lori would get in on these gift exchanges, tossing in her striped blouse for a solid blue.
Often, post-opening was like a garage sale, each daughter dickering and bartering for this scarf or that shirt, the mound of wrapping paper and ribbons sometimes burying entire unseen and unopened gifts. Mom would sit back and watch this second round of shopping with pride in her eyes while Dad’s bulged from their sockets.
But before opening even one gift, there was the trick of pairing them up, one for each girl so that no one ruined the other’s surprise. This was easier in the younger days of awkwardly wrapped Tonka trucks, when tunnel vision and random deafness was (and still is) a child’s calling card. But as toys gave way to shirt boxes, things got complicated.
For (a true-life, but Kandy doesn’t want to discuss it) example, one of us would open a new coat, scream in excitement (to get everyone’s attention, even the neighbor’s) and try it on, doing a saunter in front of the other one who sat… with an enormous lumpy-in-the-middle flat box in her lap, home to the same coat (different color) or the world’s largest pair of legwarmers.
One year, Mom decided to label the gifts by number so that we could both open “No. 1” at the same time, and so on. But, when she started rounding out into the double digits, alerting Dad to the budget at hand, she quickly switched to the unprecedented Morse code of Christmas. Phones were labeled “Fon,” red turtlenecks “RT” and black pants “BP.”
More exciting than the unwrapping was the cracking of Mom’s Morse Code. We have great memories of sorting out our Morse packages, pairing them up and triumphantly guessing what was in each one.
Mom, still wrapping and coding (and re-coding) in the next room, would deny every guess, looking more and more perplexed (annoyed) at our FBI antics.
Oh, those were the days! Here’s to all of us cracking the code to a happy holiday season.