Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Christmas Ball

For the past 15 or so years, I’ve had a ball at Christmas time. Oh sure, I’ve had a great time, but I’ve also had an actual ball...a golf ball to be exact.

You see, my brother and I went golfing some 20 years ago and both spotted someone’s lost ball in the tall grass. If you’ve never golfed before, please understand that finding a lost golf ball is as precious as shooting a good score, especially when you’re two young and broke guys like we were. Being the brothers we are, we both laid claim to the ball, but rather than fight like, well, brothers, we decided to play the hole for it. The best score for that hole won the ball. I still think he cheated.

Sometime over 15 years ago, my brother and I were still young and broke, but we still made sure to exchange gifts at Christmas time. We lived hundreds of miles apart, so we made sure the packages were small and cheap to ship. I received a small, tootsie roll-like package from Jeff that year. It turned out to be a paper towel roll with the golf ball inside. (I guess he felt guilty about cheating). Not to be outdone, I decided to return the favor the next year and, well, returned the ball. This continued for a couple of years…both of us jokingly knowing what was contained within the tootsie roll-like package. One year, I changed the rules.

I read an article about a couple of guys (maybe brothers as well) that exchanged a pair of jeans each year. The jeans were torn and ratty, but the “gift” was in the challenge of how to package the jeans in the most creative way. Inspired by that article, I started our current tradition when I found a 3-D puzzle that required several complex moves to be able to dismantle the puzzle. I took it apart, placed the ball within and reassembled the puzzle while throwing away the instructions. This was the first official “Crazy Golf Ball” exchange, back in 1994.

Jeff responded the following year in an equally creative manner…with a candle shaped golf-ball that contained the ball itself deep within the wax. I decided to honor the spirit of the wrapping by burning the candle until the ball was exposed. Unfortunately, this left a nasty smell in the house and a lasting scar on the ball itself. But this wouldn’t be the first scar.

Over the years, the ball has been packaged in many ways. I have packaged the ball in a snow-globe (luckily the water stayed in); a Christmas ornament that I had my sis-in-law hide on their tree; within an apparent used diaper (the “poop” was melted chocolate and oatmeal); wrapped in twine and masking tape (I was running out of ideas); and super-glued within a block of Legos. In response, Jeff has sent the ball to me wrapped in a large ball of yarn (in honor of my cats); embedded in a commemorative brick; within a decorative holiday “kissing ball;” cooked inside a large Hershey’s kiss; and last year, I received the ball in large ball of hard candy.

This year, I asked a favor of a local machining shop to help me encase the ball in a steel container. Unfortunately, they got a little overzealous with the welding and the ball is quite charred now. I’m not sure if this will mark the end of our tradition, or whether the charred and cracked appearance of the ball will just add to the character. Either way, I’m sure I’ll continue to have a ball at Christmas.

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