When I was a youngster, I would go on forays into my parent's closet in the weeks before Christmas. There, on the top shelf, they would store the wrapped Christmas gifts that awaited the family. Once I found my section, I would carefully open my presents. After several years of experience, I became expert at re-wrapping my gifts so that my parents never knew that I had previewed what Santa had gotten for me.

My most memorable raid of discovery was in December of '55. When no one was home, I snuck into my parent's closet. All went well. My gifts contained the normal things: a couple of model cars and planes, several electric train items, and the customary three pairs of white underwear. My mother was always concerned about our wearing new underwear during the holidays-just in case our '49 Chevy would get rear-ended at year's end. However, one gift stood out from all the rest.

I had pestered my parents to get me penny-loafers for Christmas. To my delight, they had responded to my plea. There my shoes were all wrapped up just waiting for me. Finally, I could dress for puberty. Would I knock the socks off Mary Jo when she saw me sporting penny-loafers when I returned from Christmas vacation.

Gingerly, I re-wrapped my shoes so that no one would know that I'd already discovered those leather treasures. Then back on the shelf they went. All that was necessary was to wait until Christmas morning. Time goes ever so slowly when you are young and waiting for Christmas. I thought that I would explode with anticipation. With the untimely pace of a turtle taking tranquilizers, Christmas morning finally dawned for my brothers and me just after 5:30 am. Rushing downstairs to see what Santa had brought, we heard my father's voice: "Don't you guys touch anything until we get down there." Talk about time standing still. After condensing what seemed like a lifetime of waiting into fifteen minutes, my parents descended the stairs.

With their arrival in the living room, we preceded to open all of our gifts in less than half the time that we had to wait for our parents to come downstairs. After completing the task of removing the colored paper from our many boxes, I sat back to catch my breath. Even amid my near exhaustion, I sensed that something was awry. Suddenly, my momentary daze cleared. I realized that I hadn't opened the box containing my shoes. Frantically, I searched through the paper debris; my penny-loafers were no where to be found. Looking around in disbelief, I was about to ask my mother where they were when I noticed them on my father's feet.

How could that be? My father must have opened my shoes by mistake. It wasn't long before the dark cloud of reality slowly descended upon my adolescent soul and bare soles. It was I who had made the mistake; they weren't my penny-loafers after all. I was crushed.

Every since the Christmas of '55, I have never again uttered a request for penny-loafers. It was too hurtful. However, as I grew older that disappointment with a gift often became a metaphor for my life. I could have dealt with not getting penny-loafers that Christmas had I gotten most of what I had wanted during life. The penny-loafers became my personal paradigm for wanting and not getting.

Many years later, I went to a nearby mall and there bought my own penny-loafers. Sadly, I left the mall with an unwrapped box of my long-awaited shoes under my arm. I had wanted someone else to give me happiness in the form of a pair of loafers, but I realized that I was responsible for my own shoes and for my own happiness. I cannot rely on others to supply those things that are essentially my needs. Since then, I have always had a pair of penny-loafers in my closet. Whenever I wear them, I remember that I am responsible for my happiness. Over four decades of Christmases have come and gone since that my penny-loafer disappointment that Christmas of '55. It took me a long time to learn this lesson of life: with penny-loafers or with happiness, it is my responsibility to acquire either of them.