A small boy’s eyes opened by the strangest gift

Southern Cross: People Matter

People Matter was a regular column by Phillip Jensen in Southern Cross, the monthly magazine of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.

Originally Published:
Jensen, P 'A small boy's eyes opened by the strangest gift'. Southern Cross, October 2001.

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It was when my grandmother's eyes twinkled with delight that I knew she had finally lost the plot completely.

I was only a small boy when I came to that judgement. It was Christmas day and I had just opened my grandmother's present in front of the rest of the family. Our tradition was to open the presents one at a time for everybody to see and share in the pleasure of giving and receiving.

When the time had come for her present to me. I undertook the usual little boy activity of shaking the unopened package. I heard a rattle that gave the portent of pleasure but no great insight into its contents. Upon opening it I delivered the customary response taught to all polite young boys:

“Thank you Nan, it was just what I wanted.”

Her face beamed, and it was then—at that precise moment—that I saw the twinkle in her eye which confirmed my judgement: she had lost the plot completely.

For some time I had suspected that my grandmother was not the full two shillings. Her cheating at cribbage generally relied upon a failure to remember the rules—not that the rules of cribbage are hard to remember. Her hours in front of the newspaper completely asleep seemed to be developing into a permanent posture. Her inability to engage me in conversation about the important matters of life—like Keith Miller and Typhoon Tyson—was growing apace. She was the relative with the least grasp on the reality of life!

And then I saw the twinkle in her eye and knew she really had altogether lost the plot. The family were all laughing and did not know how to help her further embarrassment. I figured that the obligatory grandson kiss on the cheek would not go astray. So I performed the required service with mixed emotions of pleasure—for she was a loving old woman—and pity, tinged with confusion, for I really did not know what to say or do.

What do you say or do when your grandmother has delivered to you as your Christmas present a small plastic container of her laxatives!?

The place was in pandemonium. Christmas was full of hilarity at the best of time and surrounded by presents, wrapping paper, food, drink and relatives on all sides—the jocularity seemed overwhelming.

“Open it,” she whispered to me.

And with embarrassed hands I undid the top to look at the dreaded tablets rattling inside the packet. The profusion of three-penny pieces that tumbled out all over my little fingers created a strange range of emotions. Relief that it was not laxatives, enjoyment at being tricked, pleasure that she had given me so much money, embarrassment that the family was laughing at me not her, understanding of those twinkling eyes—that she had outwitted me.

My well-mannered reception of her gift had masked an arrogant disdain for the giver. I did not appreciate the value of what I had been given, I did not respect or trust the person who gave it to me, I was too full of my own prejudicial pride to bother carefully examining the gift.

It is more blessed to give than to receive, but it takes more humility to receive than to give. How often people treat God's great gift of Jesus with my childish prejudicial pride, making the offensively polite responses, while despising the giver.