The Christmas Present
By James Michener
It was the turn of the century and I was a mere boy of 10. During the summers, I cut the grass of an elderly lady who lived near me. Approaching the end of November, she told me that she would have a present for me for Christmas!
I ran home full of glee and wonder. Could it be ice skates, a basketball or a bicycle?
On the first day of December, I asked my mother if I could go to the elderly lady’s house for my Christmas present. I got a resounding “No!” On the fifth day, I asked again and received the same answer, “No!”
My mother said it was not at all near Christmas yet.
Finally, on the 12th day of December, I could not stand the suspense any longer for all of my thoughts had been concentrated on the amazing present the woman would give me.
With excitement, I walked over to her large house, walked up on the front porch and knocked on her door. She opened the door and said, “Why James, have you come for your Christmas present?” I could not help but say “Yes, I have!”
She ushered me into a parlor where there hung heavy dark red velvet draperies and told me to sit down on the couch. Then she left to get my present. I could hardly stand waiting because I knew that it would be one of the three things I wanted more than anything in the world.
When she came back into the room, she was holding a wrapped present that was about a foot long, nine or so inches across and about and inch thick. My heart sunk. It was not a basketball, ice skates or a bicycle in that small box.
Gleefully, she handed me the box and told me that it was a magical present. When she said that, I tore open the paper and there in front of me was a thin box that said “Royal Carbon.” I had no idea what those two words meant.
When I opened the “Royal Carbon” box, inside it were 12 sheets of shiny black paper. I asked her “What do I do with these?” At that point, she presented me with some plain white paper and a pencil and told me to put a shiny black sheet on top of one plain piece of paper and write my name on it.
I did. Then she told me to lift up the shiny black paper and there was my name… as if by magic.
I thanked her for my present and went home mostly disappointed but yet there lurked an excitement in me to try the magical papers again.
I went up to my room and collected a stack of plain white paper and many pencils.
Hours went by as I wrote and wrote upon the shiny black paper [carbon paper, I learned] until I ground off all of the carbon on those twelve sheets. I wrote words, and then proceeded to sentences and finally, stories.
I learned more about words from doing this than from any other source. It occurred to me that her gift had not cost her a cent. But she gave me something far better than the three things I wanted for Christmas. She gave me imagination.
During the years, I have received many special Christmas presents but none could compare to the elderly lady’s gift of carbon paper. She opened up a world of writing to me that exists in my soul and in my books.
Sometimes a gift that appears to be nothing can turn out to be the most magical gift in the world.
*James Michener went on to write novel after novel. He won the Pulitzer Prize as well as numerous other literary awards. His books have been translated into just about every language possible and a lot of them have been made into movies. He always credited the elderly lady whose grass he cut for giving him the gift that changed the course of his life.