In 1966, my Christmas list was very simple. An electric guitar. That's it. The whole list. Nothing else on it. No more negotiating and compromising. It was all or nothing.
They said, "Son, don't you want to put something else on that list in case Santa can't come up with a guitar?" Not that I still believed in Santa or anything, but heck no, I didn't want to put something else on that list! Been there, done that, and still no guitar. I dug in my heels.
"All I want is the guitar. Nothing else," I told them. "I promise I'll practice and learn how to play it. If I don't, you can take it away from me." Of course, I knew that if I ever really got that guitar, I would practice it. And anyone taking it away was probably as likely as someone going up to Chuck Norris and taking away his chest hair. Ain't happening.
Of course, I had no idea what my parents could actually afford to buy me. I certainly was old enough and observant enough to know that we always drove a used car, didn't have air-conditioning like some families, never went on nice vacations like the Fraziers, and didn't get Eskimo Pies anytime we wanted like Amelia Leverett. But it never really occurred to me that we were that much different. I never asked to see my parents' checkbook or examine their tax returns to better assess their financial capacity. That stuff wasn't my problem anyway. I was concerned with one thing — getting that electric guitar.
I found one that seemed perfect in the J. C. Penney Christmas catalog. It was a red and black model with a white pick guard, and it came complete with a little amp, a carrying case, and an instruction book. The whole package was featured in the catalog at the special low price of ninety-nine dollars. I cut out the page and attached it to the piece of paper on which I had written my Christmas "list."
My parents asked me several times if I wouldn't mind giving them some "other ideas." I knew what that meant — "You aren't getting the guitar."
"Nothing doing!" I said. "You guys asked me what I wanted, and this is it. I want this or nothing." I was fully prepared to get nothing, and only years later did I find out how close I came to getting just that.
Was I being totally unreasonable, selfish, and ungrateful? Absolutely. But I honestly didn't realize it. At eleven, I really didn't know what my parents could or couldn't afford, and they hadn't asked me what I wanted within their budget. They had just asked what I wanted. Of course, through the years I asked for stuff I knew I wasn't going to get, like a pony, a chimpanzee, and a trip to Disneyland, but the guitar wouldn't poop all over the floor like a chimp, so I thought it might be a realistic request. And I really, truly wanted it.
Because of my previously confessed habit of opening up my gifts before Christmas, my parents had resorted to hiding things in places where I couldn't find them — apparently at the homes of people they worked with or at the fire station where my dad worked as a fireman. I guess they figured my sister and I couldn't go rummaging around places like that.
So as we gathered for the ritual of Christmas gift opening (which we did on the night of Christmas Eve most years because my dad usually worked on Christmas Day), nothing was under the tree for me. I had rolled the dice and gone for broke, and it was looking like I had crapped out. Nothing. Nada. I had said, "If I can't have the electric guitar, I don't want anything." For once, it looked like I was going to get exactly what I had asked for and most certainly what I deserved. My sister was all too happy about the entire thing — she was tearing into her stuff and holding each gift up and waving it about as if to say to me, "Sucker! You got nothing."
While I tried to do as my dad often told me and "take it like a man" (which translated to "Don't cry like a little girl"), I fought back tears and thought I was the biggest idiot in America for being so stubborn and not giving my parents any other options on my Christmas list.
After I had been made to feel thoroughly miserable at my situation, my dad excused himself from the gift giving and returned with a box. "Oh, I almost forgot that I have this one last thing for you," he said. The box didn't look like it would hold a pony or a chimpanzee, and I had no idea what it could be. Getting anything was somewhat comforting, just knowing that at least I was still considered family and wouldn't be sold into slavery or shipped off to China.
The box didn't look like a guitar, unless it was a guitar that was square and about eighteen inches high. I took it, opened it, and was truly bewildered. It was a small amplifier that looked very much like the one from the J. C. Penney Christmas catalog. But what a cruel joke — buy me an amplifier, but no guitar! As I was opening the box, my mother had quietly slipped out of the room, and as I examined the amplifier, she returned and said, "You might find this to be useful to go with that." I looked up and saw that she held in her hand that very red and black electric guitar whose image I had memorized from staring at its picture in the catalog.
Move over Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, and Eric Clapton! Mike Huckabee has a guitar now! For all the taunting my sister had given me, this was the "game over" moment in my mind. It turned out she was actually excited for me and had known all along what my parents were up to but, amazingly, had kept it secret. (Remember, she became an acting teacher!) The taunting she had put me through earlier as she unwrapped her stuff was all part of the conspiracy that my family had contrived to make me truly think that I was about to have the lousiest Christmas a kid could have. It's a good thing that I didn't get anything else that year, because it would have been ignored anyway. I don't think that guitar left my hands for hours or even minutes. I held it and looked over every inch of it, carefully inspecting what I had only seen in the catalog picture before. The catalog hadn't done it justice. It was far more beautiful in person. I even held it in front of a mirror to see how I looked as a young rock star. Unquestionably, I looked like a complete dork, but at the time I thought I was the coolest kid around. (This was before I got glasses.)
Excerpted from A Simple Christmas by Mike Huckabee by arrangement with Sentinel, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright Mike Huckabee, 2009.