“Men,” I said as we put our tools away before boarding the bus to travel outside at the end of our shift. “I have a suggestion to celebrate our first Christmas together.”
We were all exhausted from a long shift’s work, but everyone indulged me.
Marvin, my fellow roof bolter operator asked, “What would that be?
I’m not interested in meeting this bunch somewhere away from the mine on my own time for a Christmas celebration. I have a family, you know.”
“Listen to my idea,” I said. “I thought it would be nice to do something since this is our first Christmas together. We will remember this for years to come.”
“What do you suggest?” Gary, the section foreman, asked.
I replied, “How about exchanging gifts here on the section right before Christmas. I will write everyone’s name on a slip of paper and place it in a bag. We can take turns drawing names from the bag, and purchase a gift for the person drawn. There is one important stipulation though.”
“What’s that?” Jack Bonney asked.
“You must not reveal the name of the person you are giving a gift. On December twenty-third we will each be surprised by the gift we receive and the person that purchased it,” I explained.
Gary looked at the eight-man crew and asked, “What do you say guys?
Are you in?”
The crew all mumbled a hesitant “yes” as we started walking to the
“Alright then, I will bring a bag with names written on slips of paper placed inside the bag and we will each draw a name tomorrow,” I said.
That evening, I carefully used scissors to cut the equal sized slips of paper, nine in all, with a name written on each slip of paper. The next day, I presented the bag with the names inside as promised.
I didn’t really believe that we could go a few weeks and keep quiet the identity of the names drawn, but we did.
At the end of the shift, on the twenty-third of December, we gathered together before leaving the underground section to go home and celebrate Christmas with our families. Each man presented a small package that had been hidden away for this moment. Everyone had a package in hand, except me.
I saw the anticipation as I examined each man’s coal-smudged face.
The spirit of Christmas pervaded the circle of miners. I may have made a mistake. It was too late now, the deed was done.
Gary, the crew leader, started. “I want to wish everyone a merry Christmas. Mark, this is for you.” He held out the gift.
“I think you’re wrong,” Jack said. “I drew Mark’s name.”
Marvin said, “No, I drew Mark.”
The confusion didn’t last very long. Soon, the entire group of men realized that I had written my name on each slip of paper, and every gift had been purchased with me in mind.
Taking a step backwards, I said, “How did I know you guys would be this tight-lipped? The last time I pulled this stunt, everyone had told everyone else by the next day.”
“Grab him,” Jack yelled.
Gary, unwilling to witness the horseplay said, “Men, I will be waiting at the bus.” He took the gift he had purchased and walked away.
I will never forget the ride down the track on that cold winter night. The crew had taken all of my clothes leaving only my insulated underwear. I knew how silly I looked wearing a mining belt, boots and hardhat with no clothes except skivvies.
“Men,” I said. “You and I will remember this Christmas forever.”
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