From Daddy, With Love
By Dori Knight
"Wake up! Wake up! Itís Christmas!" Dianneís eyes opened, and she sat up, stretching. "Hurry! Letís see what Santa brought!"
"We canít open anything until everyone is up." My older sister yawned.
"Yes, but Daddyís presents are always on Ö"
"The couch!" she finished, and jumped out of bed.
In the dim morning light, we could make out an oddly shaped stuffed animal balancing upon the back of the couch. "Whatís it say?" I asked, looking around for the second gift.
"It says, ĎTo Dianne, from Daddy, with love.í Whereís yours?"
A very good question. Dianne looked to the empty sofa, and back at me again. I pretended to be busy admiring the ornaments, but inside, my seven-year-old heart was breaking. My father hadnít given me a gift.
"Oh Dori, itís okay. Iím sure Daddy meant for us to share. In fact, Iím really too old for stuffed animals. You can have it, if you like."
It hurt to talk. "Itís okay." I croaked. "Itís just an ugly old mouse. I donít want it anyway."
In truth, it was an odd looking toy. Its ears were large, even by mouse standards, and lined with pink gingham. It sat back on its haunches, more like a cat, and had a curious shock of bright white fur on top of its head that looked like my grandfatherís toupee.
The house was coming to life: Donna busy making coffee, and Dennis rummaged through the neatly wrapped packages, looking for his name. Debbie eventually stumbled down the stairs, still half asleep, and plopped onto the couch, while Mom settled in her chair to watch the festivities.
A few moments later, the sound of my fatherís voice boomed down the hall, singing a tune he had made up for himself: "Jim, Jim, the Christmas him Ö" as though he were a particularly tall elf.
It would normally have brought a smile to my face, but not this morning. I sat staring at the floor.
"Whatís a matter, Dori?" he asked, as he settled onto the couch. "Are you still sleepy?"
"Yes sir," I mumbled.
"Well then, letís see if we can wake you up a bit!" And with that, the opening frenzy began.
My siblings tore into their gifts, squealing with delight, and throwing paper high and wide, but I opened mine slowly, too distracted by what I hadnít received to be aware of what I had. As quickly as it began, it was over, and everyone sat back, exhausted.
"Donít you like your presents?" I looked up into the warm, root-beer brown of my fatherís eyes, and the lump in my throat grew larger. I couldnít bear to think he didnít love me, this man who I admired so deeply.
"Yes sir. Thank you." I croaked.
Dianne sidled up next to our father; the mouse tucked under one arm. "Thank you for my present, Daddy," she said, hoping to jar his memory.
My father was momentarily confused, looking from the mouse, to my sister.
"Oh, I see Ė but thereís been a mistake. I must have mixed up the tags. Dianne, Iím sorry, but that gift was meant for your sister."
"Itís okay, Daddy," she said, and handed the mouse to me.
I took the offered gift, relieved, but now sad for my sister. "But whereís Dianneís gift?"
"Well I donít know. I put them both on the back of the couch last night. Do you think it could have Ö"
"I found it!" Dennis crowed. "It mustíve fallen behind the couch!"
"So, then this was really for me?" Tears began to form.
My father handed me a napkin, then lifted the mouse to his ear, and listened intently. "Yes, he says he belongs to you."
I twisted the green and white checked napkin in my hand, nervously.
"So what are you going to name your mouse?" Donna asked.
The wadded up piece of tissue reminded me of the gingham ears. "Napkins. His name is Napkins."
"Napkins?" Dennis howled. "What kind of a silly Ö ouch! Mom! Debbie elbowed me!"
I flung my arms around my fatherís neck, and smiled. Everything would be all right, as long as my father loved me.
Napkins lived on my bed for many years, and was eventually put up on a shelf in my closet. When it came time for me to step out on my own, Dianne came over to help me pack, and brought her daughter Kira with her.
"That!" Kira said, pointing at the still unpacked piles of belongings on my bed,
"That is a book." I answered.
"A photo album"
"That!" she said, and grabbed at a piece of gray flannel.
"Oh dear. Will you look at that? Itís Ö"
"Napkins." My sister finished. So, she hadnít forgotten either.
"Mine!" Kira insisted.
"No, Sweetie. Thatís Aunt Doriís."
"Mine!" she said again, and hugged it tighter still. I pulled the old mouse away gently, and looked into his big, black eyes.
Had sixteen years truly passed, since that Christmas morning? "Do you remember, we thought it was yours."
"Yes. I remember."
"Did it hurt your feelings, that Daddy gave it to me?"
"No, of course not. Maybe. A little."
I was startled by her honesty. "Why didnít you ever say anything?"
She stopped brushing Kiraís hair and looked at me. "Because. You needed it more."
Napkins stared back at me, the memory of a Christmas long ago reflecting in his big, black eyes, and it occurred to me that a giftís true value is in the freeness with which it is given, and the love within the heart of the giver.
"Well then, Napkins, are you ready to hoof it off to L.A? Hmm? Whatís that you say?"
"Mine!" Kira said again. I lifted my fatherís gift to my ear, listened intently and smiled. I could almost hear my fatherís voice once again:
"He says he belongs to you."
"Yes, Sweetie. From my Daddy, with love."
Authorís Note: At the ripe old age of 34, and a little worse for wear, Napkins, The Misfit Mouse, carries on, offering the assurance of love to another little girl: Kiraís daughter, Lila.
Copyright 2005 Dori Knight
Dori Knight is an award winning columnist and editor. Current editing projects include Hope Floats, an anthology to benefit the survivors of the 2005 hurricane season in the Gulf Coast of the U.S. She is also the founder of The City Gate women's ministry, an online community of Christian women. You may write to Dori care of the Letters page of this magazine.