On the east side of my house is a small dining room. In the corner of the dining room sits a small shelving unit. On the shelves are displayed various figurines and knick knacks honoring the holiday season. On the bottom shelf sits an ugly metal cube. Within the cage-like cube sits a tattered and scarred golf ball. And within this golf ball rests my fondest Christmas memory.
It all started about 30 years ago when my brother Jeff and I were golfing. We were neither skilled nor rich (which hasn’t changed at all for me). At some point, we both spotted a lost golf ball in the tall grass with an “Elmer Fike” logo printed upon it. (Elmer Fike was a local chemical company just up the river from the golf course). Finding a “free” ball was as valuable as a birdie for two novice hackers such as us. Naturally, we both laid claim to the find, but rather than wrestle in the middle of the fairway, we decided that whichever of us won that hole would win the ball. (To this day, I still think he cheated).
A few years after that, we were still young and broke, but we made sure to exchange gifts every Christmas despite living hundreds of miles apart. We made sure our gifts were small enough to package and ship cheaply. Mind you that this was way before gift cards. Naturally, each gift exchange included one token prank gift. One year, I received a small tootsie-roll shaped package. It turned out to be an empty toilet paper roll with the golf ball inside. (I’m guessing that he felt guilty about cheating). Not to be out done, I returned the ball to Jeff the next year in similar packaging. This continued on for a number of years with the joke being that we knew what the gift would be. Family members would look under the tree before Christmas to find the golf ball. It turned into a “Where’s Waldo” of presents.
One year, I decided to change the rules a bit. While shopping for a gift in a toy and game store, I found a 3D puzzle that looked like it could possibly hold a golf ball. To dismantle the puzzle, several complex moves were required. I felt this was the perfect “packaging” to totally annoy Jeff on Christmas morning. Little did I know, a Christmas tradition was born that would be followed by many.
The next year, I did not receive a tootsie-roll package from Jeff, but a box big enough to hold a softball or grapefruit. Inside was a golf ball-shaped candle. Naturally, inside of the wax was the golf ball. In the spirit of unwrapping the gift, I lit the wick later that night. It stayed lit until a putrid odor emitted from the candle. The golf ball was on fire! This would be the first of many scars.
|The Ball before being caged|
Over the years, the golf ball had been packaged many ways. One year I inserted the ball into a snow globe and it somehow survived the shipment without leaking. Another year I had inserted it into a home-made ornament and sent it to his wife, who was a teacher and had a special tree set up with only hand-made ornaments from her students. The first Christmas after my kids were born, I packed it in a “used” diaper using oatmeal and melted chocolate for that realistic visual effect. Yet another year, I enclosed it within a stack of super-glued Lego bricks.
Not to be outdone, Jeff returned the ball to me in very unique packaging as well. In honor of my cats, he once wrapped it in a basketball-sized ball of yarn. Another year, he encased it in a commemorative brick. He had also sent it within a “kissing ball” decoration, and more deliciously he packaged it in a huge chocolate kiss one year as well as his last shipment in hard candy. You can understand all the scars on the ball…but each one represented something more special.
I shipped it one last time back in 2006. I asked a local machine shop if they could enclose it in a metal cage of sorts. They were eager to help, but alas, a little too eager. Not only did they enclose it, they welded it within hardened steel that was essentially impossible to penetrate. In retrospect, I should have stressed that it could be somehow opened. Unfortunately, that brought an end to the exchange as there was no way to remove the ball without destroying it. Jeff supposedly kept the ball in his office at work as a conversation piece and paper weight.
While that seemed like a sad ending for a great tradition (which was followed by radio stations and newspapers), it created a great trophy. We decided to start a new tradition of exchanging retro toys (think Etch-a-sketch, etc.) but it really wasn’t the same. My last prank gift received was a t-shirt and stuffed bear advertising Cocoa Wheats hot cereal. (When I was a kid, Cocoa Wheats was the ONLY thing I would eat for breakfast). I received that during the Christmas season of 2009. The stuffed bear still sits on my night stand.
|Cocoa and Zack|
As you know, Jeff passed away in November 2010. When I went home to West Virginia for the funeral, my sister-in-law brought one thing along from their home in Ohio…the Christmas Ball. She knew I wanted to have it. I needed to have it. Ever since then, I keep the ball, metal cage and all, on a shelf beside my computer desk. It rests between a tacky WVU piggy bank and an autographed football from the 1977 WVU football team…both gifts from my brother. But during the holiday season, I bring it out along with all the red and green and silver and gold to showcase and celebrate the holiday season. For me, that scarred golf ball in an ugly welded cage is the best symbol of Christmas joy and family love I could imagine.