Posted on January 3rd, 2013
When I was 14, I filled my mother’s Christmas stocking for the first time. It was the first time I had filled any sort of Christmas stocking at all, and I suppose there wasn’t anyone else’s I would have filled. She was a single parent and I was an only child, and I’m guessing this was sort of a first for her, too – the first time anyone had filled her stocking since her own mother had done it. I had likely stumbled upon the idea (unprompted) that I was grown up enough for the task, and went about curating the perfect selection of stocking stuffers with an overstuffed sense of responsibility.
I don’t remember much of what I chose; probably some lilac soap from Crabtree & Evelyn, a couple of magazines, and maybe a scrunchie from The Limited. Those were pretty common mom gifts, at the time. But I do remember the two things important to this story: a bag of individually wrapped Kraft caramels, and a small bottle of Beano.
The caramels were a straightforward choice. I believed then as much as I do now that a person’s favorite candies or other small treats make the best stocking stuffer, whether it’s a bag of Swedish Fish or some fancy handcrafted truffles. Everyone loves getting a treat in their Christmas stocking despite the gastronomic blitzkrieg of the holidays, and it’s especially exciting if correctly chosen as one of the recipient’s favorite things. It is perhaps the easiest gift-giving ever gets. My mother loved those milky, melty, cellophane-wrapped cubes of Kraft caramel, so they were in.
The Beano, however, came from an entirely different part of me. I wasn’t a particularly witty teenager, especially in my early teens, but somewhere inside of me I developed a vision of how hilarious it would be for my mother to unearth a bottle of Beano on Christmas morning.
So it was with the Beano. Fourteen-year-old me was experimenting with being funny, and decided that putting Beano in one’s mother’s Christmas stocking was the funniest thing one might ever do. So determined was I, so utterly committed to this vision I had of my mother unearthing the little green and white bottle from her stocking on Christmas morning, that I went alone to the drugstore by our house, the one where I could be seen by any number of people I knew. I was a nerdy, self-conscious 14-year-old girl buying Beano in the light of day, risking all of the little social clout I had to go buy an over-the-counter anti-flatulence medication. The purchasing act went smoothly enough, though I can still remember my heart beating in my chest and the strength I used to suppress my nervous giggles as I went through the checkout.
By the time I was 14, it easy for me to get the stocking up on the mantle in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve. All pretenses of Santa Claus were gone, my presents had been under the tree since they’d been purchased, and my stocking was hung in front of my eyes when my mother went to bed, long before I did (this being the heady early years of late-night AIM socializing).
Late in the night (or perhaps early in the morning hours) I collected all of the gifts and started by pouring in a bag or two of the caramels. They almost filled the foot of her green and red hand-knit stocking, the same one she’d had as a child. Then I unboxed the bottle of Beano, disappointingly small compared to the size of the box, and nestled it among the caramels. I filled the rest of the stocking with the other items I’d purchased and hung it on the mantle in the living room, nervously noting how long it stretched toward the floor, heavily laden with the caramels and other goodies, and went to bed.
On Christmas morning, I remember waking to the sound of my mother yelling in the living room. I remember cellophane. I remember hundreds of pieces of clear cellophane, spread across the carpet looking like the scales on a fish. I remember strands of red yarn hanging from the toe of my mother’s childhood Christmas stocking, and a few random stocking stuffers lying on the tiled hearth of the fireplace.
I knew the toe of that stocking had been hanging too close to the floor, but I went to bed anyway, and in the night our dog – our short-legged, dawdling, sluggish and normally well-behaved dog – had found his way through threadbare layers of 1960s red yarn and into all those caramels. At least he’d still had the decency not to eat the wrappers, and to lick each and every one clean so they didn’t leave bits of caramel stuck to the carpet.
My mother wasn’t too upset about the stocking, thankfully, and after a quick (and costly) holiday call to the emergency vet we knew not to be too worried about the dog, just to watch him for the rest of the day and note any weird behavior. We set about normalizing our Christmas morning, and I was at the bottom of my own stocking before I realized the Beano was gone. It hadn’t been among the other stocking stuffers on the floor under the frayed open end of the stocking. I assumed (prayed, really) that the dog couldn’t have gotten through the thick, hard plastic of the bottle, and spent the rest of the day hoping he’d just stashed it under a couch or in his basket of toys. I figured we’d find it eventually, and didn’t mention a thing about it to my mother. I quickly realized it was a joke not quite funny enough to be explained verbally without falling like a dud, and in all my infinite teenage-ness I must have thought that if I ignored my failure it would fade away into the ether.
Which it kind of did, actually; we never found the bottle of Beano and still haven’t to this day. My mother has changed the furniture and the floor coverings and almost everything else in that house, but as far as I know she’s never found it (or if she has, she hasn’t called me to tell me so – and now that I think about it, that’d be kind of a weird thing to call to tell me). Perhaps she’ll find it one day, in some forgotten corner of the house, an old green and white bottle of Beano she doesn’t ever remember purchasing. That thought is kind of funny in itself; the closest I can come to salvaging my big Christmas flop.
Each year now I fill my husband’s Christmas stocking, and each year I think about what might be the perfect gag gift to nestle into the bottom. I haven’t found it, yet, but there’s still time.