Pipe Dreams

There was this Christmas when I knew I was getting an organ. I’d opened the hall closet one day and there was a box that was clearly an organ. This was back in the 1970s before electronic keyboards or digital instruments.

Did I know how to play an organ? Nope. Did I want one that fit in a small cardboard box tucked under coats in a closet? Nope. I dreamed of a giant pipe organ along one wall of the bedroom I shared with my sister.

I’ve never been one who wanted to peek at presents or know ahead of time. I’ve never liked having to give people ideas, or make lists. Being surprised is part of the magic. But husbands, and parents, seem to want a list.

When we were young, that meant the Sears Roebuck Christmas catalog. It was big and heavy and came in the mail with glorious color photos of every toy imaginable. Us kids would pore over the dreams, marking up pages and folding corners.

So there I was, accidentally knowing about the organ ahead of time. I had guilt the weeks leading up to Christmas. I worried that my knowing would ruin the joy for my parents, being able to give me something I’d marked. It’s not like they could often afford the things all us kids dreamed about.

When it came time to open gifts, I ripped into that cardboard box, squealing, jumping up and down, everything I could think of to prove how much I loved it and how little I knew I was getting it. That became a family story for years after. ‘Yes, so and so sure loved their gift, but nothing like how excited Lisa was with that organ!’ No one ever suspected.

Really, it was an awful organ. A little thing that sat on the desk and sounded wheezy and tinny. I found an old book of American folk songs and picked the few easy tunes out. I attempted The Minstrel Boy, Clementine, and Shenandoah over and over. No matter how bad the music sounded, I owed it to my parents to prove to them how much I loved their gift. Mom used to come down the hallway, apologize, and shut my bedroom door.

I remember being relieved when the thing finally wheezed its last note and died.

It took years.

What gift stands out in your memory?