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Tainted Joy


There was no reason for me to set foot in my parents bedroom. They never told me to stay out, I just knew I had no business being in there. I also knew that’s where they hid the Christmas presents.

In 1962 the WWII drama series Combat debuted on ABC. Members  of  an American infantry squad fought their way across France, battling Germans with a realism not typically seen on early 1960s television. Following the heroic feats of Sgt. Chip Saunders and Lt. Gil Hanley was the Tuesday night highlight of every nine year old boy in the neighborhood. We all wanted to get our hands on a M1 Garand rifle, just like the one carried by the American squad—and that rifle was the only thing I wanted for Christmas that year.


It can be hard at times to tell the difference between opportunity and temptation, especially for a nine year old.

With my older siblings out doing whatever it was that they did on Saturday evenings, and Mom and Dad at the shoe store with my little sister—I seized the moment. Knowing they kept our presents hidden in their bedroom closet I beelined straight to it. Quickly scanning the pile of wrapped gifts, I spotted one on the top shelf that looked to be just the right size. I pulled it down and found my name on the gift tag. This almost had to be the rifle, but to be sure I carefully  opened the end of the wrapping.  There it was.

I glanced back at the clock; Mom and Dad probably wouldn’t be back for another half hour.  There was time for a quick peek.  I slowly slipped it out from its wrapper and opened the box. It was a thing of beauty—a perfect replica of the real deal. Holding it in my hands made me feel invincible. I crouched down and scampered through the house, bobbing and weaving my way into the kitchen and out the back door as if I was storming the beach at Normandy.

Then it happened! The door closed behind me with a sharp metallic click. Mom and Dad must have locked it when they left. I could get out, but not back in.

I ran around the outside of the house hoping to find an unlocked window but good old Dad had the place sealed-up like a coffin. With no way in and knowing that they’d be home soon, I began to panic. There seemed to be only two options: I could break one of the small glass panes in the door, reach in to unlock it, and put the rifle away before they returned; or I could do the honorable thing—the thing Mom and Dad would have expected of me. I could wait for them outside with my rifle in hand and fess up to my shameful conduct.

Darting over the broken glass scattered across the linoleum floor, I threw the rifle back into its box. Quickly but carefully I pulled the wrapping over it. I then taped the end flaps closed and repaired the few small tears in the paper. After placing it back on the shelf I took a quick look around the room to be sure I wasn’t leaving any evidence behind. I spotted the gift tag lying on the floor at the same moment Dad’s car came rolling up the driveway. I tucked the tag in the pocket of my blue jeans and ran to meet them at the back door.

There was little time to come up with a proper lie, but I gave it my best shot. They didn’t believe I accidentally broke the glass with the broom handle while sweeping the floor. After all, why would any nine year old boy sweep the floor without being asked? Dad said, “Sweep up this mess and try not to break another window in the process.” He then headed out to his shed to search for a piece of replacement glass.

Although it seemed I had gotten away with it, it felt like I hadn’t. Mom never said a word, but on Christmas morning she looked at me as if she knew. The thrill of unwrapping that rifle was snuffed out by an overshadowing feeling of guilt. I had tainted the joy of Christmas morning.

I also realized that honesty, trust and forgiveness were essential components of a loving relationship. The only one of those I could claim to possess was Mom’s forgiveness.  I needed to work on the other two.

Photo credit: sally_monster / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

18 thoughts on “Tainted Joy

  1. You were a stinker! I got a kick out of the story and respected our parents even more. Weren’t they smart! I’ll have to tell you about the time I had a hang over, dad knew and he made me eat hot dogs. Love, Joanne

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 4 people

  2. Gene, your story made me smile. I pray my boys never read it. 🙂 Well, at least until they’re old enough to not try it. 🙂

    I would imagine most of us have learned a similar lesson where we made a poor choice that led to remorse and disappointment (I know I have!). 🙂

    It sounds like your lesson was well-learned. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Thanks for the chuckle. It is true that children often learn hard lessons without us saying much, if anything. I remember when our daughter was about the same age and I found her crying one afternoon. She confessed that when I was out in the yard one day, she had “found” and unwrapped one of her Christmas gifts. She was so sad then because she knew she had ruined her own surprise. What could I say? She was already learning better than if I had said anything at all. Good post, Gene. Thanks. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  4. On the other hand, I used to know a woman who would purposely hunt down and unwrap the presents her husband had hidden. If it wasn’t what she wanted she would “make” him take it back and get something else! Go figure! lol

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Gene, great story and writing. I have done similar things but often lied my way out. I cannot ever remember saying sorry. and that is one habit that I have carried with me into my adulthood- lying. I wish I had upped and confessed when I was little and been forgiven, so I would be brave these days to avoid lying. Not lying requires a lot of courage, of which I have very little. I think when the choice is between lying (survival) and truth( exposure), I would choose survival every time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Its easy for others to tell you not to lie, but they may not be aware of the circunstances you find yourself in. I guess the thing we should pray for is to be kept from situations where we feel we have to lie to survive.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Gene … awesome! You had me so totally convinced you’d done the right thing. Then I got so tickled … you did exactly what any kid would have done. Your mother … good job. I did the exact opposite. My girls found their bikes one year … and I got so upset. Then Christmas came, and I couldn’t really enjoy giving it to them, not because they’d already found them but because I had acted such a fool. That taught me so much … just let things go … just love. And laugh. And live. You bless me.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Brother ,I am happy to know that I was not the only one that did things and hoped they would not come to light .I remenber trying to tell Mom that I was smoking I wanted to and then backed down .and another day came and I would try again ,but looking in Mom eyes ,I once more backed out of telling her .At last I said today is the day ,I am a man and I need to do the manley thing . So Into the house I went ,walked up to Mom and with my heart beating like crazy ,I said Mom I have to tell you something .She what is it Stanley ? I said I have been smoking ! She looked at me and said I know . I didn’t know what to say . She said I think it has been around 2 years now .How could she know .So I asked Her . She said who do you think washes your clothes ? I have been finding tobacco in your pockets . I loved your story .

    Liked by 1 person

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