A Socratic Rancher 12-13-10 | TheFencePost.com

A Socratic Rancher 12-13-10

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

Our family really did have a crazy uncle, Uncle Robert.

For Christmas, he gave spoof gifts, that often were downright rotten, such as the time he gave my delicate aunt Lois a shoebox full of sticks, which she took as an offer that she was a witch. Or the mousetraps he gave my niece, perhaps knowing her desperate fear of the wee beasts.

One Christmas, we all decided to, well, give Uncle Robert a little of his own medicine. We communicated by letter and phone in mid-December to hatch a plan. We knew it had to be both clever and diabolical, not simple and pointless, such as a whoopee cushion, a rubber bat in his bed, or pickle juice in his coffee. No, the plan had to have moving parts, unexpected angles, and blindside him when he least expected it.

Finally, we arrived at the solution.

A few days before Christmas, Uncle Robert arrived with his bundle of gifts and retired to his room. Next day, my brother coaxed him to come to town with him to get groceries. That’s when we went to work. Our plan required time and precision. My brother knew to keep Robert in town for at least three hours, and fortunately, we had the necessary skill sets within the family to execute our plan without the help of any outside labor.

On Christmas Day, Robert took his usual chair in the corner of the living room, waiting for the gratification of seeing us react to his “presents.” We all made a point of opening his gifts first. My brother opened his to find a fine fly rod. I got a really handy tool set. Mom opened hers to find the very salt and pepper shaker set she’d been missing. “Oh, Robert, how did you ever know that this is exactly what I wanted!”

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As the rest of the family opened their gifts from Robert, they chimed in, thanking him profusely for his insight and thoughtfulness.

Robert, the rascal that he was, took credit for all the fine gifts, until, that is, he started to open the gifts from us to him and found the rotten spoofs he’d intended for all of us. The big long box in which my brother found a fly rod contained a gnarly aspen branch. The box from which I received a tool set contained an assortment of unremarkable rocks. And so forth.

I always admired Uncle Robert’s desire to go against the grain and avoid excessive commercialism at Christmas, but I think our little stunt of switching around the gifts caused him to go about his objections in a kinder way. In future Christmases, Robert didn’t give any gifts, but he did offer his various opinions about the loss of authenticity at Christmas.

Most notably, however, as a sign that he had reformed a bit, when he received a gift, he gave it to one or all of us.