The mall in my childhood hometown is charmingly pathetic, but it’s all we had. With one story and no fountains, it wasn’t the shining public palace like most American malls in the 1980s. We didn’t know better, though. Denver and Salt Lake, with exotic things like escalators and The Gap were 5-hour drives away. We loved that mall, especially when we were dropped off and got to shop those halls alone.
Although it was a speck of a mall in the middle of nowhere, Hickory Farms remembered to pop up a holiday shop every Christmas season. One year, I was about 11 or 12 and Christmas shopping for the first time without parental guidance. I was with friends, spending allowance and Grandma-given money when I found the perfect gift for my dad: A small summer sausage. I noticed he liked to eat summer sausage on crackers, especially when he got home from work. He’d stand in the kitchen and slice greasy pork coins on a cutting board, then peel off the casing. Sometimes, he’d give a few to me. The price was right, so I bought it. The feeling of buying a gift I chose for someone with my own money, without a parent near, was a revelation. It felt wonderful.
I took the sausage home and spirited it to my room with a roll of wrapping paper and Scotch tape snagged from my mom. I wrapped the sausage, found a bow, and filled out a gift tag.
But then, I had a sinking feeling. It was food. My dad kept his summer sausages in the refrigerator. What if the sausage went rotten before Christmas? Clearly, I didn’t understand the meaning of cured, smoked, preserved-to-death, vacuum-sealed. If I had forgotten the sausage in the back of my closet until tomorrow, we could probably still eat it. Being unexperienced in the ways of food preservation, I made an interesting decision: I’d freeze it until Christmas morning.
We had a chest freezer in the garage. My mom kept it loaded with bread and Hostess pies from the day-old bakery outlet where she shopped. I took the package to the garage and opened the top. I moved bread and pies around and placed my dad’s gift in a corner at the bottom. Then, I covered it and closed the lid. It would be safe and it would be a secret.
For the next couple of weeks, that sausage was never far from my thoughts. I was worried about it. What if my dad, in a hunt for a frozen Hostess Cherry Pie, found it? What if it got wrecked or thrown away? What if my mom moved a loaf of bread and uncovered it and my little brother saw it and unwrapped it? I checked on it daily. I wonder if my parents puzzled over my sudden interest in the garage freezer? Every time I checked, it was still in its spot, still wrapped, still intact, still frozen. Relief.
Finally, it was Christmas Eve. My plan was to get up before everyone else and sneak into the garage to retrieve my dad’s gift. I’d put it under the tree and go back to bed. Like most Christmas Eves, even the sausageless ones, I barely slept. When I felt the time was right, I tiptoed out of my room, down the hall, through the kitchen to the family room and out the garage door. I flipped on the light and rescued the sausage from frosty exile.
I brought it inside and placed it under the tree with the rest of the gifts. After maybe peeking at my stocking, I went back to bed bursting. I couldn’t wait to watch my dad open the sausage. I’d tell him about how I kept it frozen, so responsibly. He could eat it without worry of dying from throwing up. I pictured him slicing it after work and giving some to me and how happy we’d be. Christmas morning didn’t disappoint. He opened it and was happily surprised. When it thawed approximately four months later, we ate it.
But he still doesn’t know how seriously I took that gift. It would have shattered me if he hadn’t cared or laughed at it. This memory has revisited me many times when my kids present gifts to me. Even when I have the urge to giggle at the lopsided bowl or the ceramic thing that turns out to be a breakfast burrito, I receive their gifts with awe. I picture them picturing me. The top of my dresser sports fake peach and white roses Beatrix planted in a small Dixie cup in honor of Mother’s Day last year. I can’t keep it forever, but for now I will because the top of my dresser is like the bottom of a freezer. She wants to know it’s there.
Someday, it won’t be. But it will forever bloom in my heart. Some say summer sausage forever blooms in the stomach.
I’ll have to ask my dad.