My father was a civil engineer for Winneshiek County, and as such he was responsible for all road and bridge construction and maintenance of the county's road system. He had many miles of roads and bridges under his control, and he used numerous contractors to do the work required.
My dad was an honest guy. As straight an arrow as they come, really. He would run a closed bid process, and he didn't engage in cronyism. And this isn't just the biased opinion of a daughter...one of the most common things I heard about my father at his visitation and funeral (from many of these construction contractors, in fact) was that he had impeccable integrity and people trusted him to be fair.
But if you've worked with contractors, you know that they like to send their thank you gifts at Christmas time...even if they know that it will have no effect on whether or not you will give them business in the future. And BOY do road construction contractors give gifts. Dad would turn down the big ones. He didn't feel right accepting really valuable things, and I'm sure there was a policy about what an official could receive. Nevertheless, what he did accept was still mighty impressive to a kid.
Things started showing up at Thanksgiving. There'd be turkeys. Hams. Crates of oranges. Boxes of nuts. The crates of grapefruit were a bummer, but there were chocolates and other candies to provide counterpoint. I used to believe Turtles were the most amazing candy delicacy...I mean, if they were a GIFT they had to be good! One year there was a carving set and some steak knives. We received not one but TWO complete sundae making kits - one had tulip glasses and the other had little metal cups, but both had scoops and syrups and sprinkles. Obviously, someone knew he had kids - and let me tell you they scored big points with us, because thirty-five years later I can still remember my oohs and ah's at the magnificent splendour before me when we opened those boxes.
My favourite gift was a simple one. Back before you could buy them at Target and every other all-purpose store on the planet, my family had one of those giant metal tins of three kinds of popcorn delivered to our front door every single year. NO ONE had seen anything like it. My brother and I LOVED this. Carmel corn. Cheese Corn. And regular...which was always the last to go, but was still cool because it filled one of the sections. But still...THREE KINDS OF POPCORN! NO WAY!
It was Dad's gift, not ours though, so he was in control. My dad was a master at drawing things out for an eternity to drive his antsy children wild. He would get a wicked twinkle in his eye, and even start moving slowly just to piss us off. The popcorn tub usually sat for a few days, taunting us with its deliciousness, hermetically sealed so that we couldn't sneak a bit before Dad authorised it. By Saturday night, we'd have given up hope that the popcorn would EVER be opened. We were sure it would be Easter, and that tin would be sitting there untouched. And then sometime after bath time when we were mesmerized by Mary Tyler Moore or Carol Burnett, Dad would surreptitiously get the tub and let it sit there until we noticed it. HOORAY! POPCORN TIME! We would definitely squeal and whoop while Dad ceremoniously opened the bin, and he would dip us each a sampler in one of the orange or yellow margarine bowls my mom had designated for popcorn. Dad, of course, would just eat straight out of the tub...it was his, after all....and if you were really lucky he'd let you sit with him and grab your own handfuls.
Even after he retired, one of these popcorn tubs was always around somewhere at Christmas. I've watched my brother taunt his kids with similar torture over his own tub given to him by my mom and dad as a stocking present on Christmas morning. This year my dad isn't there to munch popcorn with us, which makes me profoundly sad on so many levels.
But life goes on whether we want it to or not, and the trifecta of popcorn deliciousness will be...and if the lid sticks, well, I know it's Dad just making us savour the moment.