Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Aunt Gail's Christmas Surprise

Clifford K. Watkins, Jr.

It was 1986, and my dad and I were in Mock Holler, Virginia, where he was born and raised.
For Christmas that year, my dad got a metal detector. He was anxious to take it down to the garden to search for some coins that he'd buried as a child.

To his chagrin, he kept finding pennies that were no better than ten years old. I stood beside my dad, remembering the penny fights with my cousins Henry and Tammy. We used to throw pennies at each other with reckless abandon. It sounds stupid, but it was actually very fun.

After finding nothing but pennies, my dad decided to go up around the house. He walked back and forth with his metal detector. I followed in his footsteps.

I remember thinking that I was the luckiest guy in the world to have a father like mine. Though I loved my dad, he was a very scary person when he got frustrated. He oftentimes projected his anger onto me. I didn't mind, though. At least I had a dad ... that was more
than a lot of kids my age had.

My dad worked his way toward the old cellar. It looked and smelled like spaghetti-vomit snakes. The adjacent outhouse also smelled of death. He told me to move, and abruptly knelt down. He began digging into the hard-rock soil, and to my surprise, he pulled a gold ring out of the ground. I knelt down beside him to share in the moment. He said, "Look at that. I wonder whose ring that is."

We immediately went into Granny Rose's house to clean the ring. After polishing it up, it was obvious to my dad that he'd found Aunt Gail's class ring.

Nearly two decades earlier, Aunt Gail had let her young brother-in-law Leonard wear her class ring. Gail always had a heart of gold. Much to her chagrin, Leonard lost the ring, and it was never found until my dad broke ground some ten feet from the house, and no more than three inches beneath the surface. This was eighteen years later.

I was so proud of my dad. My mom wanted him to pawn the ring, but he wouldn't do it. This made my mom angry, and she called my dad a stupid son-of-a bitch.

Against my mom's wishes, my dad called my Aunt Gail and Uncle Henry to tell them that we had a big surprise for them this holiday season.

They suggested that we should not have bought them anything. I remember my dad telling Gail on the phone that she was gonna hug his neck. Then he chuckled.

My sister and I gathered a bunch of boxes--each a little smaller than the next--to put the ring in. My dad tied a small ribbon to it, then we started putting each box inside of the next until we had six boxes. My dad wrapped it up, and we headed to visit Aunt Gail and Henry.

Upon arrival, it was obvious that they didn't expect much from us. But my dad told them this was going to be one of the biggest surprises that they'd ever receive. My dad handed the gift to my Aunt Gail, and she shook it and smiled. She said, "Junior, what is it?" I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders. Aunt Gail proceeded to tear into the boxes. She laughed each time, until she got to the last one. She paused, as if she sensed something extraordinary was going to happen. She asked me again what it was, and I shrugged
my shoulders again.

Finally, Aunt Gail opened the last box. She took the ring and rolled it between her fingers as tears slowly welled up in her eyes. She also began to tremble all over. She read the inscription G V--her initials prior to marriage. She began crying hysterically and hugged my dad like it was the last time they'd ever see each other again. My dad was a hero. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. I'd never been more proud of my dad than at that moment.
Despite all of his shortcomings, he was truly special.


Clifford K. Watkins, Jr. is a thirty-one-year-old writer/lyricist, originally from High Point, North Carolina. He's been published by Ygdrasil, Oracular Tree, Prism Quarterly, and Underground Window. He currently resides in Jacksonville, Florida. Visit Clifford at

© Clifford K. Watkins, Jr.

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012