It’s the month of October and as I wander through the mall I am asking myself: Why are there Christmas decorations already on the shelves? I was part miffed and part flabbergasted at these retail displays. This led me to think about Mervin and Melissa and I was wondering if they were still keeping the same tradition they had started over 35 years ago. Oh, it started off as a “devil may care” stunt by Merv, but it has become a legendary ritual full of joy and laughter as the tale is told and retold to family and friends.
Mervin is now in his sixties. Mervin is a mechanic. He began his career in the days when you chain smoked while you worked. Your restful, non-work hours were spent in the company of friends at the local watering hole (aka pub) after which you proceeded to drive home a little bit more inebriated than when you had entered. This was especially true in the month of December. Mervin would frequent the local shopping centre for the yearly chore of purchasing gifts for his beloved. The first two years he agonized over finding the perfect presents that would prove his undying love to his darling wife. In year three of their marriage, Mervin changed tack and thus was born a new tradition.
“Cheers Jim!” cried Merv jovially to his best friend as he raised his pint of ice cold beer. The two friends had been sitting at the pub for about two hours now and were becoming pleasantly relaxed and happy. “Time to get to the mall before it closes.”
“What are you getting Mel this year?” inquired Jim.
“I have a new game plan.” smiled Merv, conspiratorially. “You in?” he inquired of his drinking mate.
“Sure thing pal,” remarked Jim automatically, as that is what a best friend always says in return. Mervin and Jim had been best friends since they were twelve year’s old when Jim’s family had moved into the house two door’s down from Mervin’s family home.
Merv reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a set of dice. The little white cubes with the black dots were being displayed to Jim as Merv said, “Ok, so we roll the dice. First roll tells us which entrance to the mall we are going to take,” began Merv excitedly. Jim nodded.
“Then,” continued Merv, “we roll the dice again.” Merv leaned in closer to Jim. “THAT number will tell us how many stores we need to go into for gifts.”
Jim took another swig from his beer stein, wiped his mouth with the cuff of his sleeve, nodded and asked, “you rolling first or me?”
This was why Jim was his bosom buddy. Always on board with any cockamamie idea Merv had. Mervin handed him the dice.
“Cheers!” Merv hollered again. “You roll first.”
Jim folded his right hand around the dice and shook them a few times (about 12 times for good measure) then dropped them on the table. Both men leaned in. Jim had rolled a 3 on one die and and 2 on the other.
“Mmmmmhmmmm,” mumbled Merv. “We go in by the Food Court doors.” Then Merv scooped up the dice, shook them four times in his hand and dropped them on the beer stained table. Fortunately, Merv had rolled two 2s.
“Lucky us, Jim,” smirked Merv. “Only four stores to shop in.” The two men downed their last dregs of beer, paid their tab, and headed over to Mervin’s car. They drove ten minutes away to the, now-packed, shopping centre. It was December 24th after all.
After finding a parking spot, the two men headed to the Food Court entrance of the mall. As Jim was about to grab the door handle, Merv put his right hand gently on Jim’s arm and asked, “Do you have a coin on ya buddy?”
Jim checked his left front shirt pocket and then his right front shirt pocket. No coins. He dipped his right hand into his right trouser pocket, grinned a little, and pulled out a quarter. He handed it to Merv. Merv tossed the coin in the air and caught it on its way down, slapping it onto his left arm. He covered it with the palm of his right hand and said matter-of-factly: “Heads we go left. Tails we go right.” Jim nodded. Merv slowly lifted his hand for the great reveal: Tails.
Jim opened the door, bowed and gestured with his hand for Merv to go in and then merrily followed behind Merv to continue their Christmas eve adventure.
The first store on the right was a boutique full of ladies clothing. Merv picked a sweater off of the first rack he saw. He didn’t check the size. He didn’t care about the colour. He paid for it and smilingly headed out the door. One down, three to go.
Next door was a knife specialty store. Jim pointed out the very handsome Swiss Army knife in the glass cabinet. All its practical blades and tools were shiningly on display.
“Sold!” cried Mervin.
The store associate cheerily rang up the sale and the two friends were off again. Two down. Two to go.
The third store was a sporting goods store. Merv bought his beautiful wife a football in seconds flat and headed out of the store to finish off his shopping spree.
The fourth and final store was a small store full of men’s ties. Merv put his hand on Jim’s shoulder, pointed to the right hand side of the store. Jim nodded, acknowledging that he knew what his assigned task was. Merv went the left side of the store. The men met in the middle at the cash register each holding a tie. Jim’s was a sky blue with a green Christmas tree full of colourful lights and baubles on it. Merv’s was Navy with red stripes. Snazzy.
With the last of the gifts purchased, the two men were about to head back to the car when Jim noticed the sign “Gift Wrapping” above a table ahead of them. He tapped Merv on the shoulder and pointed at the sign. Merv grinned. They happily carried the gifts to the ladies at the table.
“My name is Merv and this is Jim,” said Merv, pointing his thumb at Jim. “Here is $10.00 for the wrapping. We’ll be back in an hour,” declared Merv putting a $10.00 bill on the table. With the awful gift wrapping delegated to those more qualified than he, Mervin led his best buddy to the closest pub for a celebratory drink.
Christmas day. Melissa is drinking her coffee and smiling at Mervin. There are beautifully wrapped packages under the Christmas tree. She is excited to see what gifts the love of her life has found for her.
Merv is grinning stupidly at Melissa. After finishing his coffee (with the wee dram of brandy in it) Merv points to the tree and tells her to go ahead and open her presents.
Merv almost became a single man that Christmas. After opening her festively wrapped presents, the words out of Melissa’s mouth were quite colourful. During her litany of profanity, Mervin had reached into his pant’s pocket and pulled out all the receipts for those Christmas presents. When Melissa paused to take a breath Merv took her hand and pushed the papers into it saying: “Return it all and get what you want for yourself.”
Melissa, still livid, stared at the receipts then looked back, dumbfounded, at her husband. The following week she did go back and return EVERYTHING her spouse had purchased. She spent the whole day wandering around the mall and buying exactly what she HAD wanted to receive as a Christmas gift.
It didn’t matter how upset she had been with him that Christmas day, Merv continued his new tradition every year. The next Christmas Melissa was enraged at seeing that Merv had done the same thing, knowing full well how furious she had been the previous year. The third year she realized this was never going to end. By year four, she fully accepted her fate and was now beginning to get intrigued before Christmas Day wondering what her beloved (idiot) husband would have her unwrap on December 25th.
A ladder, a power drill, shoe polish, men’s trousers, tap shoes, ice skates, lawn mower, pickled kippers, curtains, a pogo stick, and a plethora of other presents have been unwrapped by Melissa over the decades.
As I wander through the store I think about Merv and Jim. What will the dynamic duo discover this year for the unflappable Melissa? Over the years there have been some changes to the modus operandi. The pre-shopping pub visit has become a coffee shop and muffin meeting. The types of stores has changed dramatically. However, there are some things that have remained consistent. The dice are still expertly shaken. The coin is still tossed. The shopping is done on December 24th. I grin, knowing that no matter what, for Melissa, it will be a very Mervin Christmas.