Jack Daniels had plenty of money.
His parents, by giving him that inappropriate name, had also given him the opportunity to learn to laugh at himself. He made a good living, first writing comedy routines for others, then giving them himself. Perhaps you've seen his TV show?
Gifts for the cast and crew were easy. His agent took care of the crew (Jack signed each card personally) and Jack enjoyed buying gifts for his co-stars. A thousand-dollar trinket for Melinda and a case of fine wine for Gerry did the trick.
But what about his parents, brother, and sister? The eternal problem.
Dad took early retirement from the Post Office after 20 years (and after Jack's success) and spent his time watching TV and traveling around the country campaigning for the latest quick-fix politician. Mom still taught seventh grade and worked for the League of Women Voters.
Bo was an attorney in South Dakota, defending water rights or something. Sis kept busy raising her adopted daughter and working at a K-Mart. She said it kept her off the streets at night.
The first year after his success, Jack gave each member of the family $10,000 for Christmas. They were appreciative, of course, but it wasn't much fun opening that one envelope. Jack envied the oohs and ahs as each person exclaimed over a game or video tape. Even a tie. Tangible things were a lot easier to appreciate than a check.
The next year, he overdid it in a different way, getting Dad and Mom a new camper and his siblings new cars. They were appreciative again, but it just wasn't right.
Last year, he tried a different tack. He bought all four of them gifts by the truck load. Two hundred gifts among them. Christmas morning dragged on as they opened gifts from the seemingly endless pile, trying to find new ways to show their appreciation. Bo drifted into the living room before it was done, and Jack found him watching football on TV.
"Sit down, Jack. Dallas is winning."
Jack took his chair and threw a leg over the armrest. "That wasn't right, was it."
Bo kept watching the TV. After a moment he said, "Nope. Maybe next year."
So now it was next year. What to do?
So many choices. And so few. He could donate money to their favorite causes. The League of Women Voters was good, but he couldn't stomach helping finance Dad's politician du jour. Besides, that wouldn't be any more fun than a check.
He had chosen each of those 200 presents personally (although his agent had found someone to wrap them), but that hadn't done it. It felt the closest, though.
What if he got each of them only 10 or 20 things? Would that work? But they deserved so much more!
A trip? Would they like to go around the world together? Probably. But everything would have to be arranged, and it would take months to work it out. It wouldn't be for Christmas. (He filed the idea away. Maybe they'd like to spend a month in Europe this summer. Yeah, that would work. But not for Christmas.)
He asked Melinda what she did for her parents.
"I just write them a larger check than usual. Why, what's your problem?"
Jack described it. Melinda was unimpressed. "Sounds good to me. Tell you what, let's trade. You take my philandering father and drunken mother and I'll take your Ozzie-and-Harriet family. OK?"
His agent was no help. "Look, Jack, I do lots for you and get you the big bucks. But this isn't business related. It's personal. You know?"
Personal. Personal. Maybe that was it. Personal.
Christmas morning, they all got up at seven as they had for decades.
The tree and its gifts looked as it had five years ago, with exactly the right number of gifts. Maybe a few too many. Jack had gotten seven carefully selected gifts for each person, and wrapped them himself. Each card had a brief childhood memory inscribed on it.
As long as Jack could remember, there was always a big gift from Dad and Mom. After everything was opened, one of them would lead each lucky child to another room. "Oh, look at this. Santa couldn't fit it under the tree!" And there would be a bicycle, a large stuffed animal, or some other treasure worth shouting and squealing about. The last few years, Jack had provided the big final present.
After everything was opened and they were munching on their coffee cake, they looked at him expectantly. He smiled at each of them and took his place in the middle of the room.
"Mom, Dad, Bo, Sis. Merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas!" they chorused back at him. Sis giggled. "And to all a good night." Bo threw a pillow at her.
"Ahem!" They ignored him as Bo and Sis flung ribbons, wrapping paper, and unbreakable presents at each other.
Jack waited until they calmed down, like waiting for a drunk in the audience to shush. "As I was saying, this has been a great Christmas!" ("That's not what you said," Bo commented.) "Yeah, but I would have if you children would behave!" Jack scooped up a piece of paper and tossed it at him. Bo batted it back at him, grinning.
Jack smiled at his parents. "Mom, Dad. Merry Christmas! I want to tell you that you are the best parents I've ever had. I wouldn't trade you for anything, even at close-out prices and no payments until February. I love you."
He turned to Bo. "Brothers are a dime a dozen, you know? But with a dozen I wouldn't have had any place to sleep. I'm glad Dad and Mom spent less than a cent and just got you. I love you."
Sis was sitting on the couch, feet tucked under her, long green robe hanging to the floor, a bow dangling precariously from her zipper pull. "You know, someday I'll get a sister who doesn't have a generic name. 'Sis.' What kind of a name is that for a grown person? Still, it's easy to spell, even with dyslexia. I love you."
Jack bowed from the waist and they clapped, stopping only to pick up bits of bow and wrapping to toss at him.
He sat back in his seat, picked up what was left of his coffee cake, turned to Mom. "Any more? I'm still hungry."
"You're always hungry, dear. I'll get you some."
"That's it?" Bo was leaning toward him. "That's all?"
Jack nodded. "Isn't it enough? I wrote those myself, not my writers. That's my gift."
Bo leaned back. "Well, cool! You did well, Jack."
Mom came back with a piece of coffee cake and an envelope. "Look what I found out there! Santa must have stopped to have a piece of cake and forgot to bring it in here!" She peered at it. "It says it's to you, Jack."
She handed Jack his plate, then the envelope. He looked at it. A plain #10 envelope with his name on it in Santa's handwriting that looked so much like his mother's.
Sis scrunched nearer him. "Well, open it!"
Jack ripped the edge off, blew into it and pulled out a piece of typing paper. He read aloud what was written on it.
"Your family tells me that you are a really good person and pretty funny. I've seen your TV show, so I don't know about the funny part, but I agree that you are nice, not naughty.
"What with inflation and all (and Congress making all those cuts), I can't get you anything you can't afford to get yourself, even after taxes. But I can tell you this.
"Your Dad and Mom love you. Your brother Bo loves you. Your sister Sis loves you. And they always will, whether you do Christmas or anything else right or wrong. (Of course if you mess up the TV show, you're dead meat, but that's another subject.)
"So, Merry Christmas to you!
"Santa, Mom, Dad, Bo, Sis"
Jack looked up at his parents, over at his brother and sister. All of them, including him, had shining eyes. Tears were running down Sis's nose, where he knew they would gather in a shimmering drop.
"Thank you all." He looked upward. "And thank you, Santa!"
They all laughed. It was a good Christmas. Maybe even a great Christmas.