Even the best of parents sometimes do foolish things. My own parents included.
It was a good 50 or so years ago. As such, my brother was around 12 and I was about 10. We were typical siblings, playing together one minute and squabbling the next. My parents came up with the genius idea of giving us boxing gloves for Christmas.
What negative repercussions could ever come from providing two boys with equipment designed to facilitate the bludgeoning of one another? Can you imagine how that decision came to be made?
It's somewhere between 1972 and 1974. It's a month or so before Christmas, probably cold outside, at least cold for Georgia just south of Atlanta. My parents are seated at the table after all three kids have been tucked into bed. A fire crackles and pops in the woodstove . The subject of presents comes up.
"Hey, Frank," my mother says. "I've got a splendid idea for the boys. Let's get them boxing gloves."
My father shakes his head in disapproval. "Now, Gena," he says, "You know, we really don't want to encourage them to fight, or to settle their fusses with fisticuffs."
"Oh, Frank," she laughs. "Boxing gloves are padded, so it won't even hurt if they punch each other. You've seen how Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier go at it for 15 rounds before somebody gets knocked out. Frankie and Herbie are little and can't even hit that hard."
The light comes on for my father. "You know, Gena," he says, now nodding his head vigorously. "This'll be great exercise and it might help them learn to defend themselves. I'll stop by the sporting goods store tomorrow on the way home from work and pick up a pair."
I wasn't privvy to the conversation, of course, but I'm pretty sure that's not how things went down so long ago. What I strongly suspect happened is that Daddy, while at the sporting goods store looking for other gifts, spotted the gloves and grabbed them, along with an inflatable speed bag. My mother was, I firmly believe, aghast at the sight of the gloves and she likely told him he was out of his mind. Daddy likely told her we could beat the tar out of the speed bag and would never need to take a swing at each other.
Christmas morning came and we got the gloves and the speed bag, much to her chagrin. I know Gunga, my mother's mother, wasn't one bit happy with the gift selection. Then again, Gunga worried about every gift we ever got. Candy canes could choke us, bicycles led to busted heads, guns were plumb dangerous, and a football received today meant a broken arm or leg tomorrow. Boxing gloves for her grandsons probably got mentioned aloud at the next Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting of the First Baptist Church of Smyrna, Georgia.
The speed bag needed inflating, so Daddy grabbed the brand new hand pump I'd received for filling up my football. I remember him sitting on the hearth, the living room fireplace ablaze at his back. Pump, pump, pump, he went, and the bag began to take form. Within a minute or so, my mother utilized the "indirect comment" approach, you know, where she just kind of mentioned that she thought the bag maybe looked good and full.
It had three or four stitched seams, as I recall. Gunga followed her daughter's lead and took the indirect approach. He kept pumping. You could literally see the stitches in the seams at this point. My mother took a more direct tact, flatly telling him it was sufficiently inflated. Pump, pump, pump.
Had the speed bag come with eyeballs they would have been bulging out by this point. Still he pumped. My mother now warned him the thing was about to explode. He paused pumping and looked straight at my mother.
"Gena," he said. "I know what I'm doing. This thing needs to be really tight so it'll bounce right when they hit it."
Pump, pump, BOOM!!!
No one jumped because we all knew it was about to happen. Well, everybody but Daddy, that is. He sat there with the most shocked expression on his face. I think Mama truly considered lacing on a pair of the gloves and taking a whack at him.
Without the speed bag, I was never able to train and missed my chance at winning a gold medal in the Olympics. My brother and I seldom used the gloves. When you're mad at each other, who's going to take the time to put on boxing gloves and settle your differences? Besides, he was bigger than me and I knew I'd get pummeled.
I look back on that morning and think of how our Christmas celebration may not unfold quite the way we planned, but that doesn't mean it can't be memorable, or meaningful. The truth is, without that destroyed speed bag, those gloves would have been tossed in the back of our closet and long forgotten. In fact, I might not even remember receiving them. But, as is, we added another story to the family lore.
The moral of the story is that, fellows, it won't hurt us to listen to our wives. Maybe even our mothers-in-law.
And remember, you don't have to have a perfect Christmas to have a great one.