Sherry Hill: Best and worst Christmas gift exchanges

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At Highlawn Elementary, in St. Albans, which I attended from the fourth through the sixth grades, there was a Christmas exchange every December.Kids put their names on pieces of paper, and the teacher put those slips of paper in a box. We waited for days (it seemed like months) with bated breath hoping we'd get the name of someone we liked and vice versa.Usually I'd get a name of someone I liked and I would plead with my parents to buy some neat gift. Looking back, I'm certain that a lot of kids' parents couldn't afford a gift and they'd bring something from home or nothing. I felt sorry for them.Of course, this was the 1950s, when school gifts weren't costly, nor were they supposed to be. A gift was bought, carefully wrapped and taken excitedly to school on the day of the Christmas gift exchange.I sat waiting for what seemed like an eternity for the exchange. Oh, I had such high hopes of some glorious gift that my heart was thumping. Then I got my gift: a pair of white socks. Pretty sure the giver was thanked but probably not very much.Who wants socks for a Christmas gift? I didn't -- I was 8 years old! Did other kids want them? Doubt that -- big time.In the fifth grade, again names were exchanged and gifts bought and taken to school for that blessed event of opening up a treasure. I got white socks, of course. Come to think of it, more than half of the class got white socks -- and there were 50 of us!By the sixth grade, I knew for sure as I was sitting in my alphabetical seat (and with a last name of R, I sat way back) that I'd get those blasted white socks again that I really didn't want to open my gift. But when it was given to me by a boy I liked, lo and behold, the gift didn't feel like socks, and there was no way that socks could be in such a small box. Hmm.
It was beautifully wrapped, no doubt by his mother. I shook the box and heard a distinct rattle of metal. Glancing at him with my heart pounding, I ripped open that package to find a beautiful goldlike bracelet with red and turquoiselike stones and pearls. No, none of those jewels were real.My heart soared. I could hardly look at him, but he had to have known that I was beyond thrilled as well as having a crush on him. It was my first jewelry gift ever from anyone -- even family. All through Christmas break, I wore that bracelet; heck, I even slept with it on.After Christmas break, my mom wouldn't let me wear that bracelet to school. "Why, it's just not done!" she screeched at me. I knew that, but oh how I wanted to wear it.By the end of the sixth-grade school year, I liked too many boys and put the bracelet aside in my bedroom, but I still stared at it with lust. He had given it to me and it was the greatest school gift I would ever get as a kid.To this day, I can see his face and that bracelet. I kept it for years and could paint a picture of it exactly how it looked.I am still so grateful for that fabulous gift of a bracelet and not of white socks. I mean, who wants white socks for Christmas?I rest my case.
Sherry Hill, of Charleston, can be emailed at
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