1983. Through the years there have been many "skimpy" Christmases in our family. Many. For some reason, we always seemed to be in our worst financial shape in December.
I am well aware that many families survive this situation by using that little plastic rectangle. But we didn't have any of those. None.
This particular Christmas, we lived in Houston. The kids had a long wish list. And we had an empty bank account. Empty. I couldn't think what to do.
On Christmas Eve my friend Joyce drove me down to the local drugstore because there were some stuffed animals advertised on sale. Well. We found the animals and actually, they were quite delightful because they were different. Lions, tigers, giraffes...safari animals. And they were a decent size. And they were within my budget means.
I chose four, but really wanted some ribbon for bows. There was no more money, though. Absolutely none left. Joyce assured me she would handle the ribbon. We went back home, tied jaunty bows around each toy's neck along with a name tag and set them beneath the tree.
It was pretty bare down there.
Though our children were aware of the situation, my heart still grieved that I could provide so little. If only it was just a couple months later when Income Tax time had rolled around. We always received a hefty income tax return because--hey! Four kids!
Then an idea of dazzling brilliance dawned. Why not set aside some of that money for the kids Christmas? But how to let them know I was doing that?
Then I thought--a gift certificate!
We had an old dot matrix printer. I printed out my gift certificates, carefully wrote in a name on each with an amount and frowned down at the flimsy sheets of paper. They weren't very festive.
After a moment, I dug out the kids crayons and added drawings of holly and bells and colored them in. That was better. Then with a sigh of reluctant acceptance I tucked them in beneath the bows on the stuffed animals and went to bed.
It was the best I could do.
Christmas morning dawned bright and clear. The kids woke us up, bubbling and giggling out in the living room. Curiosity got the better of me so I padded out there to see what all the merriment was about. There on the living room floor, each kid had sheets of paper, making out lists of all they ways they were going to spend their Christmas IOUs. The stuffed animals were overseeing the project.
The next year when we asked the kids what they wanted for Christmas, they all promptly answered, "Christmas gift certificates!"
So you might say I invented the Christmas gift card. I was always a bit before my time...