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Reindeer Games

My mom Franny was a fun-loving free spirit who enjoyed decorating for Christmas. In fact, in addition to her multiple trees (each artfully decked out with a specific theme and color-scheme), she’d had my stepdad Bob construct special storage shelves in their garage to house the large containers of ornaments, lights, etc. in the ‘off-season’.

One Saturday afternoon in early November, I receive a call from Franny. “I’m on my way to your house,” she informs me. “Get your shoes on. We’re going on a quick adventure.”

No stranger to my mother’s impulsive side, I can’t help but smile laugh. “How do you know I’m not busy right now?”

“I know that your boys and James are taking naps and you’re probably just sitting around reading,” she knowingly replies. Then I hear her sigh and her tone becomes wounded. “Okay, if you don’t want to go on an adventure, I guess I’ll go by myself.”

“Don’t be silly,” I tell her. “I’m already putting on my shoes and leaving a note for the guys. How long will we be gone?”

“Thirty minutes, max!” she answers, the happy back in her voice.

As we pull into the Home Depot parking lot, I shoot her a dubious look. “This is your adventure?”

“Hold on! Don’t look all disappointed,” she scolds. “I saw something in here the other day that you’re going to want!”

Once we’re inside, Franny grabs me by the arm and leads me to the seasonal section of the store. I’m immediately sucked into the wonder that is Christmas as I survey the impressive collection of light up yard art. I stare childlike at trees, sleighs, nativity scenes, intrigued by the thousands of twinkling lights, the music—all of it. I’m so enjoying the displays that I haven’t realized Franny has slipped from my side. I find her nearby, studying the tall metal shelves against the wall where Home Depot stores the large boxes of these unassembled treasures.

Seeing her troubled expression, I know something’s wrong. “What’s going on?” I ask. “Is this part of the adventure?”

Mom frowns but before she can tell me what’s got her so distraught, an employee happens along. Franny quicky greets him, then says, “I’m looking for the big reindeer you had on display yesterday. There were two of them—one that looked like he was about to start flying and the other was grazing. He was moving his neck up and down, like this.”

The young man and I chuckle as Franny lowers then lifts her neck to illustrate the motion of the grazing deer. He then explains that the objects of her search have been sold to another customer. “They bought the two we had on the display floor along with what we had left on the shelves,” he explains. “It was for some large commercial project they were doing. I’m actually the one who helped them when they came in.”

Not one to throw in the towel so easily, Franny asks if he can check another Home Depot to see if they have the items in stock.

I can’t resist smirking at my mom as she stands on her tiptoes so she can see the monitor which shows the nearby locations. She motions to the second Home Depot on the list which is showing they have one of each style left. “Can you please call that location and ask them to hold them both for me?” she asks, her tone urgent. “Tell them my name is Franny and we’re on our way now to get them!”

“Hold on a minute!” the employee says, raising up his hand to stop my determined mother before we dash out the door. He points to the screen and gives her the bad news. “It’s showing that those items are already being held for another customer. I’m really sorry, but it looks like the closest store that actually has any of these is down near Houston.”

“Houston!” Franny cries in alarm. “Are you sure about that? We can’t drive to Houston for a couple of light up reindeer!”

“It’s okay, Mom,” I tell her gently, linking my arm through hers and pulling her away from the service desk. “I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.” I see the bleak look in her eyes and further console her. “I still had fun spending time with you.”

She shakes her head woefully, “You don’t understand. These weren’t just any reindeer; they were magical reindeer.”

Despite her disappointment, I quip, “Well, that must be true since they’re flying off the shelves so fast!”

During the short drive back to my house I know Franny is still kicking herself for not purchasing the reindeer when she initially spotted them. “It’s really all right, Mom. Please don’t sulk about this. James and I are on a limited budget anyway and although these might be the best light-up reindeer ever created, I promise you, Christmas yard art is not on our list.”

“I’m not sulking,” she fibs dejectedly. “It’s just that I had this all worked out. I told Bob I’d stick to a budget too. I was thinking that we’d each get a reindeer. You’d pick out which one you liked the best, the flying one or the grazing one, and I was going to take the other one.”

Franny sees that I’m still not seeing her strategy. She gives an exasperated sigh and enlightens me. “You’re going to buy me a Christmas present, right?” She sees my nod and continues, “And, I’m going to buy you a present, right?”

This is when I figure out what she’s been up to. “Ah . . . Okay, I get it now. You were thinking that I could buy a deer for you, and you’d buy a deer for me?”

“Bingo!” Franny declares triumphantly. “This would have been so much better than some boring gift you’d have to wait until Christmas morning to open. This was the gift that would have kept on giving, year after year!”

I give this some thought. “So, you think all the gifts I’ve given you in the past have been boring?” I tease, hoping for a smile.

She doesn’t even attempt to look apologetic. “There’s nothing like the gift of a magical reindeer,” she deadpans. “But I suppose if we each had just one deer then we’d probably would’ve always wished we had the set.”

Later that afternoon, I share the story with James. I’m not surprised when my husband rolls his eyes at me. “And you really expected me to believe that you two were going to stick with the ‘no buying any other gifts for each other’ thing?” he asks doubtfully.

He's made a legitimate point, so I agree that it would have been difficult to stick Franny’s thwarted plan in the long run.

A few weeks later, James and I along with our two young sons are driving back spending Thanksgiving in Oklahoma with his side of the family. It's dark when we pull into our subdivision, many of our neighbors’ homes are already festively lit and several have inflatable decorations and other Christmas displays in their yards. The boys are admiring them from the backseat, giggling together excitedly and pointing out their favorites. As we near our home, James slows the car and turns to me with a look of surprise and amusement.

What are those?” he asks motioning to the magnificent brightly lit creatures adorning our front lawn.

Taken aback by the splendor of the pair of reindeer, I’m rendered speechless.

“It’s reindeers, Daddy!” squeals one of the kids, answering for me. “Flying reindeers!”

We get out of the car and admire them, moving close enough that we can hear the small motor inside the grazing one as he moves his neck up and down to nibble on our winter rye.

Once we’ve all gone inside, I find the note left on our kitchen counter. Written in my mother’s hand, it reads:

Merry Christmas! May you always enjoy the magic of this special season—

Wishing you peace, joy, and love!

Franny and Bob

Franny later shared that after hearing her go on and on about the reindeer, Bob had immediately jumped in his truck and bought two sets of them—one for our yard and one for theirs. To this day, those magical reindeer remain in my mind as the most un-boring Christmas gifts ever!


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