The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Gift of the Magi

By Carl Perrin © 1991

Issue: December, 1991

It was Christmas Eve, and Eben still didn't have a present for Flora. The pulp mill had been on strike since September, and every time Eben got a few dollars together, something else went wrong with his pickup truck, and he had to spend the money on repairs.

They did have some presents for the close friends and relatives. Flora had some of the special jams and jellies that she made, and since Thanksgiving she had been busy at her sewing machine making aprons and place mats and Eben didn't know what else.

Eben counted out his money. He had three dollars and forty-three cents, and the pickup was low on gas. He didn't know what he could get for Flora. After supper Eben pulled out his pocket watch and looked at it. "We better get going," he said. "Ezra and Noreen will be expecting us."

"Yes," Flora answered, and she began to gather together the things she was going to take with them.

When they went into Ezra's house, Eben wished everyone a Merry Christmas.

"What's so merry about it?" Ezra asked. "The pulp mill's been on strike since September and nobody ain't got no money."

"Well, anyway," Flora said, "it's Christmas."

"Christmas! That's the silliest holiday of the whole year. People going around spending money they ain't got to buy presents for people they don't like, and most of the time the people who get the presents ain't got no use for them anyway."

"Well that don't matter," Flora said. "It ain't the present, it's the thought that counts. That's the spirit of Christmas."

"Ah, it's all foolishness," Ezra insisted.

Then Ezra's daughter, Elvira, and her husband, Junior Larrabee arrived. Junior had some news that should have cheered up even Ezra, but it didn't.

"The strike is over," he said. "Management and the Union leadership have been meeting since last night, and they finally worked everything out and came to an agreement this afternoon."

"It don't make no difference," Ezra said. "The rank and file has to ratify it, and they won't go along. They didn't before."

"But they will this time," Junior insisted. "Management gave us just about everything we was asking for in the beginning."

"Well," said Flora, "that's just about the nicest Christmas present a person could have."

"What do you mean, 'Christmas present?"' Ezra asked. "It's too late to do any good for Christmas."

Then Noreen's sister Harriet and her daughter Beulah arrived, and it was time to open the presents.

The first present was from Ezra and Noreen to Eben and Flora. "It ain't much," Noreen said, "but we wanted to give you a little something."

"Well for Pete' s sake," Flora said as she opened the present, "we don't expect nothing. Anyway, it's the thought that counts."

The package really held two presents. One was a little salt and pepper shaker in the form of Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus.

"Ain't they cute," Elvira said. "They look just like Uncle Eben and Aunt Flora."

The other present in the package was a plate that said "God bless Flora's kitchen."

"That's beautiful," Flora said. "It was just what I wanted. How did you know?"

But Ezra wasn't stopping for idle talk. He kept passing the presents out from under the tree as though it was an unpleasant chore that he wanted to finish as quickly as possible, grumbling when people took too long to unwrap them. "Come on," he would say, "we ain't got all night."

Elvira got a tube-shaped present from Beulah. When she unwrapped it, they could see that it was a picture all rolled up. She unrolled the picture and beheld the face of Elvis Presley.

"It glows in the dark," Beulah said. She wanted to put out all the lights so they could see Elvis Presley's face glowing in the dark, but Ezra wouldn't stand for it. "We ain't got time for that," he said. "We've got to get these presents passed out to everyone."

"I have a picture just like it in my room at home," Beulah said. "When I have the lights out, it's kind of like Elvis' spirit is there in the room with me. Last summer when I had romantic fever, I asked Elvis to cure me, an within three days, I was completely cured."

After the presents had been opened, everyone had some of Noreen's Christmas cookies with coffee, and soon everyone was heading home.

On the way home, Eben drove his rusty old pickup extra carefully, slowing before he came to any bumps in the road.

"Warn't that present we got from Harriet a pretty thing," he said. He was referring to the ceramic object almost a foot high. The thing rose to a spire and it was covered with little bumps in various shapes. Some of them looked a little bit like wings, but Eben wasn't sure whether that was what they were supposed to be. The object was light blue and sprinkled over with a silvery dust. There was an electric cord that came from the base, but when they plugged it in, it didn't do anything that they could see.

"Don't you remember that thing?" Flora asked.

"Well, now that you mention it, it does look a mite familiar," he admitted.

"Eustasia gave it to me three years ago at Christmas. I couldn't figure out what it was supposed to do, and I gave it to Noreen last year. She must have given it to Harriet, and now I've got it back again."

"Well, anyway, it's real pretty," Eben said.

After they got home, Eben told Flora that he had to do some things out in the barn. As he had watched people unwrap the aprons and place mats that Flora had made for them, he thought of what he could get for Flora for Christmas. She had used her sewing machine so much in the last month that he was surprised he hadn't thought of it before. For the past year she had been saying that she needed a little table to put her sewing machine on. She had been setting the machine on the kitchen table, but it was a bother because she had to move everything out of the way for every meal.

Eben found enough pieces of board and plywood left over from various projects that he was able to make a little table for Flora's sewing machine. Eben wasn't much of a carpenter, and the lumber scraps didn't match. It was a funny-looking table, but was sturdy enough, and Eben thought that Flora would be pleased finally to have a place other than the kitchen table to put the machine. It was late when Eben finished, but he crawled into bed feeling tired but happy.

On Christmas morning Flora made a hearty breakfast of pancakes, sausages and eggs. After they had eaten, they took their coffee into the living room and opened the last of the presents.

Flora pushed a package toward Eben. "I hope you like it," she said. "It's something I made for you."

Eben unwrapped the bulky gift and found something made of leopard print fabric.

"It's seat covers," Flora explained. "The seat covers in your truck was so worn and ripped that I made new ones."

"Them's the prettiest seat covers I ever seen in my life. Thank you, Flora." He leaned over and kissed his wife on the cheek.

"The only thing is," he said, "I'm not going to be able to keep that truck. When I took it to Burt Tilley to get an inspection sticker last month, Burt said he couldn't give me no sticker. I didn't tell you before because I didn't want to worry you. Burt said the frame is rusted out so bad that the engine could fall out at any time. He said the engine ain't none too good neither."

Flora's face seemed to drop, and Eben went on, "Anyway, now that the strike is over, I'm going to have to go see John Trembley and see if he has a second-hand truck I can buy. Whatever I get, though, I bet them seat covers will look real pretty in it."

Then he went out to the barn and brought in the table he had made for Flora's sewing machine. When she saw it, Flora began to cry. Eben looked at the table. He could see in the morning light that it wasn't level, and it looked pretty rough.

"What's wrong, Flora?" he asked. "I know it ain't much to look at, but I ain't really finished. I'm going to sand it down and put a coat of stain on it."

"It ain't that, Eben," she said as she dried her tears. "I ain't crying cause I'm sad. I'm crying cause I'm happy. That's the sweetest thing you ever done."

She paused then for a moment and then went on, "The only thing is, I ain't going to need a table for that sewing machine. It broke down completely. Henry Crabtree said it couldn't be fixed. I had to finish sewing your seat covers by hand."

Then she started crying again. "Oh, Eben." she said, "I ain't never been so happy in my life."

Eben just kind of shook his head and said to himself, women, they cry when they're happy. I'll never understand them.

Then he felt a tear welling up in his own eye, and he turned aside so that Flora wouldn't see him brush it away.