Five decades later and still uncertain if sneaky Christmas trespassing went unnoticed

Remembering a favorite childhood Christmas memory

Local 4 anchor and reporter Steve Garagiola as a child.
Local 4 anchor and reporter Steve Garagiola as a child.

DETROIT – With Christmas on the horizon, I think we are all inclined to reminisce and reflect on memorable holiday moments.  

For me, one memory stands out above all the rest. I am not talking about some sugar cookies and hot chocolate kind of memory.  

I am talking about cold fear, the sort of potent terror a 7-year-old feels when he knows he is a reckless hooligan hiding his lawless breach of Christmas protocol.

Mind you, I do not take full responsibility for this incident. My mom was mostly to blame. I am serious. I was set up. Entrapment, which is what it was. I laugh about it now. But at the time, well, who knew what would happen if mom found out. 

Our family had some nontraditional traditions. Because my dad traveled a lot, we often celebrated Christmas on a day other than Dec. 25.  We exchanged gifts at night around a gold aluminum tree that revolved on a motorized stand and shimmered in the radiance of two small spotlights.  

This story is not about the year I knocked over one of the spotlights and burned a hole in the living room carpet. I will reflect on one transgression at a time.

My mom always put some of our gifts around the tree several days in advance of Christmas. 

Maybe she thought the brightly wrapped packages made the room look more festive as we approached our celebration.  

It was torture. She told me and my siblings to leave them alone. Oh, come on. That is not fair. 
One afternoon, several days before Christmas, as I passed by the living room, I noticed a new large box had appeared near the tree. It pulled at me like a powerful magnet.  I resisted, but not for long. 

Realizing that I was temporarily unattended (my mom was in the kitchen), I crossed the threshold, ignoring the “do not trespass” warning.

I slipped into the room with the stealth of a spy, knelled over the package, and worked up the courage to read the card.  My heart stopped.

To Steve, it read. The largest, most amazing box belonged to me. Of course, I should have pulled to my feet and left the room. Yeah, right. Are you kidding?  What was inside? I had to know. 

On a previous covert visit, I had discovered that my mom sometimes used cheap wrapping paper.  If you pressed your hands sufficiently hard, and spread them wide, it was sometimes possible to read printing on the box underneath that offered a clue to the contents.  

I pressed hard-- then harder, stretching the paper thin. Almost thin enough to decipher the words hidden underneath. I was close, so close. Then it happened. 

Without warning the paper gave way to my hulk-like strength. It tore. Not just any old tear, but an enormous tear, an irreparable jagged gash.  My heart dropped as an icy flash of panic raced down my back.  

Interestingly enough, I have no recollection of what the gift was. I don’t know if I even took notice at the time.

Being consumed with panic is a powerful distraction. My eyes cut to the hallway. I heard my mom in the kitchen.

I did what any lawless hooligan would do— hid the evidence. I quickly flipped the box over, putting the large gash in the paper on the bottom. I pushed the box toward the back of the tree, took a deep breath and ran from the scene of the crime.

For two more days, my pulse quickened every time I walked past the living room. I didn’t go in. And the box didn’t move. 

Finally, our Christmas night arrived. When my mom and dad invited us into the room to see what Santa had brought, I dashed to that box first and tore into it. Whatever it was did not produce a thrill equal to the relief I felt. I had escaped. 

It took me five decades to come clean and admit my crime to my mom.

Did she know all along? She’ll never tell.  

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