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A Hidden Gift

by Debbie McNaughton

The year of my sixth Christmas had arrived. I’d decided dolls were for babies. I was older now and fancied an outer space hero…a robot!

I wanted to be COOL, a word my older brothers, Carl and Robert used when they watched the television sci-fi shows. Space helmets and ray guns were okay, but nothing was quite as cool as having your own robot. I could fight evil or terrorize the earth. Why I would want to at the age of six I wasn’t sure, but it was a major kid fantasy at the time.

I imagine it presented some dismay to my mother. “No Mum,” I’d pout when she asked if I’d prefer an Easy Bake Oven to prepare tiny cakes for my father’s lunch box.

When all was said and done, she helped me to write my traditional letter to Santa. I bragged about how I’d been a good girl, did my chores, and prayed for all the unfortunate kids in China who had no vegetables for dinner.

The letter was perfect. No way would Santa let me down. The robot would be in his goody-filled bag for sure!

Finally, Christmas morning arrived. Like the previous five, the bearded plump one had been too fast for me, and had eluded my attempt to catch him, red-handed, leaving the presents under our tree. As usual, Dad gave his standard believable performance in response to my woeful sighs.

Gifts were piled under the tree, stuffed into the corners of the front parlor, and stacked on the couch. I scanned them all in search of my sought after gift. Dad had a routine where we’d sit on the floor together. He’d select a package, read the label, after which I’d deliver the present to my mother, sister, brothers, and grandmother. Dad made sure we each opened them in unison.

It took hours for us to go through all the presents. The tension built inside of me as I grew fearful that Santa didn’t bring MY robot. As the piles of paper spread over the floor, my face began to show more and more disappointment.

“That’s all there is, Merry Christmas!” Dad said as he stood to stretch his legs.

I fought back the tears as my lips quivered. Mum gave me a hug and pointed to the old stuffed gray chair. Dad turned around, reached behind the chair and retrieved a tall box with reindeer wrapping and a large red bow.

“Look here!” Dad said, “one last hidden gift. I missed it!”

He read the sticker, “To Debbie, Love, Santa and Mrs. Claus.”

I ripped the wrapping off in a second, and lo and behold: I held in my hands a cardboard box with a picture of a robot, “Robert the Robot.”

Holy Cow, Santa hadn’t forgotten and the robot had the same name as my brother!

This mechanical man was a 16” red and silver figure manufactured by the Ideal Toy Corporation of New York. I could control his movement by a plastic grip handle connected to his back with a wire. When I turned the grip crank he moved forwards or backwards.

If I squeezed the handle trigger it made him turn left or right. It also had a handy feature; if you needed to do repairs you just opened the robot’s chest and inside were small tools. I was not only the owner of a champion robot but a technician as well!

My space man could do other things. He boasted battery–controlled eyes that lit up, and he could talk when you turned the crank in his back. He could only say one phrase but it was a pip!

“I am Robert Robot, mechanical man.

Drive me and steer me, wherever you can.”

“THIS IS SO COOL,” I shouted. They all laughed at my excitement as I stood, then tossed the discarded Christmas wrap aside to make a path to try out Robert the Robot’s skills. I now had a new friend who’d use his x-ray vision to frighten away my brothers from picking on me every day.

On that Christmas, long ago, my Dad snapped away with his Polaroid Land camera. He captured me in slippers, comfy pajamas and long banana-curled hair, coiffed by Mum for the holiday.

This faded black and white memory is a treasured bridge to another time, when my imagination transported me to faraway planets, combating evil, with the coolest robot at my side.

Photographs courtesy of Debbie McNaughton

Debbie McNaughton is a writer of short stories drawn from everyday life. She is a regular contributing writer to Cape Women Online and has also been published in Seeing the Everyday magazine.

Debbie’s short story, Three Pounds Five Ounces, will be published in the October 28th edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

She is a Member in Letters of the National League of American Pen Women and a member of Cape Cod Writer’s Center.

Debbie welcomes emails at