Don't tell me, let me guess

By Kris Ferrazza | May 12, 2017

Over the recent spring break, friends packed their bags and headed off to Florida, California, Mexico, Europe, the Bahamas and beyond. My daughter and I emptied our school bags, stashed them in the closet, and packed a suitcase. We, too, were headed off to an island: Rhode Island.

For a few weeks leading up to our departure, Elizabeth talked endlessly about going to grandpa’s house. She was so thrilled, you might have thought she was going to Disney World instead of to visit my 87-year-old father. At random moments, she would enthuse, “I am so excited for our vay-cay.” I would nod in agreement, but felt a bit guilty telling my 10-year-old this was a vacation.

While her classmates talked about jetting off to beaches and amusement parks, she boasted about visiting her own tiny isle. Not many of the kids at school were familiar with this mysterious place, which is fortunate. Even the city’s name, “Providence,” sounds spiritual, magical and somehow like a destiny to be fulfilled.

To Elizabeth, it is a shopping and restaurant mecca, where her days are filled with adoring relatives who heap praise on her from the moment she arrives. It truly is divine Providence, as she usually is the only child around, and gets spoiled. The relatives take her to dinner, slip her cash when she goes shopping, and ply her with Italian pastries.

“You must be the prettiest one in your class!” her grandmother says, stroking her hair. “The smartest one, too. Do they all hate you?!”

“Look how tall you are!” her grandfather says. “Wow. You look just like a model.”

And on and on it goes.

On this trip, we decided to surprise my dear old dad with an early Father’s Day gift. For months he has been complaining that his toaster oven, circa 1970s, has not been working properly. (Surprising, I know.) So I decided to take a chance and pick one out to surprise him.

Seems simple enough, right? What could possibly go wrong?

Believe me when I tell you, many things could go wrong ... horribly wrong. You might think a person using an antique toaster oven isn’t choosy about appliances. You would be incorrect. My father is very particular, and it would take only one small perceived defect to make my random act of kindness go up in smoke (hopefully not literally).

After doing a lot of online research, I finally settled on the oven I thought he would like best. I steered away from the ones that advertised a “stay on” feature, mainly because I could hear the smoke detector and smell the burned toast from three states away.

I also carefully studied the dimensions of the units, and pondered the amount of counter space currently occupied by the existing Brady Bunch model. And finally, the finish was critical. I took my dad for a stainless steel kind of guy.

We slid the appliance into an oversized bag and waited for the moment of truth. I’m not going to lie: I was nervous. In fact, I felt like a kid again. I have a long history of presenting gifts to my father: 48 years, to be exact. And I’d guess that if I've given him 48 or 50 gifts in my lifetime, he may have truly liked about five of them.

As children, my siblings and I often made gifts for my dad for Father's Day and his birthday, which fall within days of each other. We sometimes would use construction paper, crayons, pipe cleaners, cardboard and clay to fashion homemade gifts from the heart.

We proudly would present these things to him on his special day, along with a few other presents purchased and wrapped by our mom. And every year it always would go the same way. He would first pick up a neatly wrapped gift, hold the package up to his ear and shake it.

"Socks," he'd say, without a trace of doubt in his voice, and set it aside unopened.

We would groan because, indeed, they were socks. Next package. Shake, shake, shake.

"Shorts," he'd say, meaning men's briefs.

Again, he was correct.

I remember one year we put rocks in one box and added oddly shaped household items like hairbrushes and toys into the wrapping of the other gift, hoping to throw him off. It was futile.

Shaking the first odd, rattling, rock-filled package, he said, "It's a hat."

We were stunned. As the eldest child, my siblings looked to me for an explanation of this wondrous feat. I was speechless. How did he do it?

After opening his "real" gifts, he would move on to the handmade items. We would be giddy with excitement as he unraveled the crumpled paper surrounding each craft project. For some reason, a toilet paper roll often was involved in the construction of the gift. And if the cardboard roll was not part of the actual present, we often thought it made a handy container. I guess they were more readily available than gift boxes.

Now this was our chance to get even. Dad, who just moments earlier had been all-knowing, would unwrap each messy gift and look perplexed.

"Oh,"  he'd say, eying the shapeless blob of clay, "It's a little turtle."

No, we'd tell him. Guess again.

"Uhhh, now I know. I see it … it's a whale," he'd say, turning the blob to one side.

Nope, not a whale either.

Finally, he'd crack under the pressure.

"How am I supposed to know?" he say with exasperation. "You kids and your toilet paper rolls! What kind of presents are these, anyway? I see a googly eye over here and a fin stuck over there. How do I know what this is?"

We would be disappointed, but still couldn’t resist doing the exact same thing the next year.

So when I presented my father with the bag containing the toaster oven last week, I was understandably anxious.

“I know exactly what this is,” he said without a moment’s hesitation.

Oh brother, here we go. I immediately wished I had stuck a small broom or an umbrella into the package to throw him off the scent, or at least tossed a dozen marbles into the bottom of the bag.

We locked eyes like two gunslingers just before a shootout. I could tell he wasn’t bluffing. I’d seen that look before. He knew. It was written all over his face.

“It’s a toaster oven!” he said, then pulled it out of the bag with a flourish like a magician. “Ta-da!”

Yup. It was a toaster oven all right. But not just any toaster oven; it was perfect. It fit nicely on the counter where the old toaster oven had resided since the Carter Administration. The doily that had lived on top of the old oven also fit perfectly on the new one. And the stainless finish matched the adjacent stove. It was like it had been there forever. Once it was all set up and the box had been recycled, my father returned to the table, looking pleased with himself.

“Tell me the truth,” I said. “How did you know?”

“I’ve been dropping hints for months,” he said

And the beat goes on.

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