I’m trying to remember what year it was . . . maybe 1998 or 1999, soon after we’d moved back to Juneau, after living for 20 years in Oregon. It was the year my mother came to visit us for Christmas.
A couple weeks before Christmas, on a Saturday, Dan, Mom and I went down to South Franklin Street to browse in the gift and jewelry shops that were still open. Many of these shops close up for the winter, once the tourists quit coming, but others, which cater more to the locals, are open year-round.
In one of the jewelry stores I found a handmade piece of Alaskan art for sale. It was made to be worn as a pin or put on a heavy chain and worn as a pendant. It was made of sterling silver and fossilized ivory, in the shape of an Eskimo, holding a fish in her hands (I always thought of the Eskimo as a woman, although that’s debatable). I fell in love with this piece, and oohed and aahed over it. I even took Dan by the arm and drug him over to the display case to make sure he saw it. Later that day Mom took Dan aside and told him that he really should go get that piece of jewelry for me for Christmas. He said, "Maybe."
A few days later, when Dan was at work, Mom and I went window shopping again. We went back to look at the Eskimo. We were told it had sold, and that they didn’t have another one like it. I was a little disappointed, but felt better when we saw a similar one, although the ivory wasn’t quite as pretty, at another shop. That evening my mom took Dan aside again and told him that he’d better get himself down to this second shop and get the Eskimo pin for me, since the original one was already gone. He was pretty noncommittal, which irritated Mom.
Christmas morning finally came. We sat around opening presents and eating my homemade cinnamon bread. We were down to the finish when Dan put a package in my lap and then stepped into the kitchen to answer the phone. It was Chris and Kelsey on the phone, and Dan chatted with them for a long time. After waiting about half an hour for Dan to hang up, I decided to go ahead and open my package. It wasn’t the right size or weight for jewelry, I realized, but Dan had been know to wrap presents in deceiving ways to trick me, and I was pretty sure my Eskimo lady was inside. It was rare that I hinted so strongly about a gift. I slowly and carefully unwrapped the present. It was . . . a . . . telephone. Just an ordinary, sit-on-the-counter, plug-into-the-wall, forest-green telephone. “Well, we did need a new one,” I said out loud to my Mom, who appeared to be much more upset by this development than I was.
About that time, Dan said good-bye to the kids and looked our way, quickly assessing the rather chilly living room scene . . . all presents opened, everything cleaned up, me sitting on the couch with a green telephone in my lap, and my mom with a how-could-you scowl on her face.
“Oh, no!” he cried, “I’m so sorry! There’s something else!” He dashed over to the tree and, reaching into the thick branches, pulled out a small package. If it looks like a jewelry box, and shakes like a jewelry box, it must BE a jewelry box. Sure enough, inside, cradled in a little pillow of cotton, was my beautiful Eskimo lady, holding her fish. And I knew, by the looks of the ivory, that it was the original one, not the almost-as-nice one from the second store.
Dan told us, then, that he had whispered to the clerk, that very first day (before my mom had ever begun prodding him), to put the piece on hold for him, and had gone back later to pay for it and pick it up. He had thoroughly enjoyed playing clueless for two weeks and watching my mom's nervous reaction. He had to admit, though, that he’d almost blown it all on Christmas morning, when he’d become distracted by a phone call and left my mom and I thinking, for 30 minutes, that he’d missed the mark by an Alaskan mile.