(NOTE: This latest entry in the weekly "Spohn Challenge" project is yet another Christmas-themed story. Hope everyone's holiday season has been a healthy and happy one!)

It’s a true story. I don’t expect everybody will believe that, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Tommy Harper was only five years old that particular Christmas morning, and he was afraid he might just bust. Because under the tree, with his name on it, was the prettiest red-and-blue striped Christmas gift he’d ever seen. The box wasn’t really all that big, you understand, but it had been wrapped with such care that it obviously a very special gift.

And so, being a relatively typical five-year-old on Christmas morning, Tommy couldn’t wait to rip into that pretty paper and find out just what it was.

Mom and Dad had always been great ones for prolonging the suspense, but on this particular Christmas they
outdid themselves. First there was that nice, long, leisurely breakfast - the family never ate breakfast together, not even before church on Sundays. Then there was the obligatory wait for Grandma and Grandpa and assorted other family members to show up.

But finally the time came to open the presents - and, naturally, the one Tommy wanted to open the most was the last one Mom and Dad let him get his hands on. The box was heavy for as small as it was, and it made a funny jingling sound when he shook it.

It could have been any one of a hundred different wonderful toys he had asked for, and he scanned the list he had made in his mind as he tore the paper away. No matter what it turned out to be, though, Tommy knew it was going to be great.

Then again…

It was a bank. Just a dumb metal bank, shaped like a duck and painted orange and yellow and black. It didn’t take much for the boy to act surprised, although enthusiasm would have been a bit more of a stretch…

Tommy glanced around at his other presents - the sweaters and the shoes and the blue jeans, and that little cap gun Uncle Louie had bought over the protestations of just about everybody else in the family. Uncle Louie firmly believed that no little boy who grew up without a cap gun to play with could ever be expected to grow up to be a decent American.

Tommy looked at all these things, and then he looked back at the bank he still held in his hands. This was his big gift for the year? “This can’t be right,” he thought - but within minutes the relatives began heading for the door, most of them not to be seen again until next Christmas, and Tommy realized that the gift-giving was over for another year.

“Isn’t that a wonderful present your father bought you?” Mom asked, referring to the duck. 

“Yeah,” Tommy muttered. Dad bought this thing? Geez, wasn’t he ever a kid once? “It’s great. Thanks, Dad.”

He tried hard to appreciate the gift, especially after his father had explained the thinking that had gone into its purchase. Every week, Dad planned to place a small sum of cash in this stupid little bank, in the hopes of one day building for his son a substantial account. It was a nice thought, Tommy conceded after awhile, but he couldn’t help but wish that Dad would keep his money and put it to somewhat better use - better presents for his son, for instance.

And so every Friday when he got home from work, Dad walked into Tommy’s room and put a little bit of money in the bank. And he always made a big production out of keeping the exact amount he was giving a secret, which got pretty tiresome after a few weeks.

By the time the next holiday season had rolled around, Tommy had made a decision. If Mom and Dad weren’t going to go out and buy him the sort of present he really wanted, he’d just go out and buy it for himself. After all, he had money of his own this year.

But he made the mistake of trying to pry the bottom off on the same day Dad came to make another deposit, and he got caught. His parents didn’t take the situation very well, either.

“But it’s my money,” Tommy protested. “What’s the use of even having the dumb thing if I can’t use it?”

Suddenly his father seemed more hurt than angry, and he left the room without saying a word. Mom muttered something about not having any respect for his father’s thoughtfulness and took the bank away. 

Tommy supposed she hid it in her room someplace, but he never tried to look for it. He’d probably never see any of that money, anyway. In a few years, the bank was forgotten…

A few weeks ago I got a call from Tommy. It was the first time I’d heard from him in years.

He told me that his father had passed away recently. I offered my condolences and promised to do whatever I could to help the family out, knowing full well that the distance between us now would likely keep him from actually anything of me. Then he told me a story that brought a lump to my throat, even though I’ve never been much of a “lump in the throat” sort of guy.

It seems Tommy was helping his mother go through some of his father’s belongings when he found it. There, stashed away in the back of the old man’s sock drawer. That dumb looking metal bank in the shape of a duck.

It was a lot heavier than he remembered, and with good reason. Even though Tommy had long since given up caring about the bank, his father never did. And he had continued to put away a little bit in it each week, for no other reason than he simply loved his son.

Suddenly a tear came to Tommy’s eye, and he found he couldn’t speak. So he just picked up that wonderful little bank and hugged it tight. Money may be the root of all evil, but all he could feel at that moment was love.

Not for the money, not even for the bank itself, but for this wonderful man who never quit wanting the best for a son who never seemed to appreciate it.

Tommy told me that the bank is sitting on a desk in his bedroom. He has a son of his own now; next year he’ll be the same age Tommy was that Christmas so long ago, and Tommy plans on passing the greatest gift his father ever gave him.

Not the just the bank itself, but also the value of patience and respect. Tommy hopes his son will accept that
gift more graciously than he did.

(Copyright 2013 by J.A. Small)