My brother and I never had a reason to be in my parents’ bedroom when they were not there. The room was upstairs in a ‘newer’ wing of the hundred-some year-old farmhouse where we grew up. We gained access to the bedroom by going through the bathroom that replaced one of the three tiny bedrooms of the original story-and-a-half cabin. (You might say that it became the ‘Master Suite’ except that there was only one ‘inside’ bathroom in that house, and everyone used it when it worked, which was only part of the time.) Obviously my parents were not at home when we went into their bedroom. My older brother, David, must have been about thirteen, and me, eight, when this event occurred. We felt safe in sneaking in.
David thought he knew where the Christmas gifts must be kept—in the little closet at the far end of the bedroom. He opened the door and rummaged through the clothing and shoes to get to the hidden part of the closet, and he said that—sure enough—there were packages back there. Did I want to see what I was getting?
Of course, I wanted to see. What was I doing in that room with him if I didn’t want to see what I was getting for Christmas? What eight year old boy wouldn’t want to know ahead of time? At that moment something told me not to look and not to ask and not to let him tell me. I shrank from knowing ahead of the time how my parents wanted to surprise me.
My brother became a generous man. Perhaps it was an early manifestation of his generosity that he was sharing with me this escapade into sneakerdom. He certainly didn’t have to include his bothersome little brother in this opportunity. He didn’t need me as an accomplice either. It is not clear in my memory that my mother discovered this intrusion into the back corners of her closet, but she was observant and she probably did, and my brother probably paid for the infraction of unwritten Christmas rules with the humiliating insight that he could not be trusted in that day’s responsibility.
Among the many gifts coming from my parents that I do remember from those childhood years, I do not remember what I received on that particular Christmas, except the knowledge that I could be tempted, and that finally I could resist the temptation of knowing what I wasn’t supposed to know ahead of time. I could wait and be patient and learn in due time. That, and what my brother learned, were the most important and memorable gifts from that Christmas.