A bit of Churchillian wisdom was a famous quote used by my parents “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” If either parent quoted it, they looked to the other seeking corroboration. Most often, it got trotted out when they chose not to answer some question I had asked or didn’t want to admit directly to ignorance, and so wrapped it all nicely as a mystery.
As a child, it worked nicely. I had no idea what an enigma was, and with the solemnity with which it got used, I became certain that ignorance was blissful.
This time of year, with presents appearing under the tree, Churchill had to work overtime in our house. ” Daddy is Santa going to….”, “Louis, it’s a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” So I could shake, look and measure, but not poke. Besides, as I later realized, my parents only put the decoy presents under the tree before Christmas.

As a child, I did have an ally in snooping. Honey, our family dog, was a chronic poker, pryer, and digger out of closets. Additionally, there was also little that she would not do for treats. So there was a reciprocal arrangement she poked and pried, and I discovered. Our technique and the partnership worked best from Thanksgiving till just before Christmas, while presents were stored but not wrapped. Then, after wrapping, we could confirm size, shape, and weight – but not contents.
Of course, the contents were of interest to me, and Honey received no treats if the hunt was not on. We were both very frustrated until the cat entered the picture. Wrapping paper and boxes were what motivated Daisy. She was curious about contents too, but the wrapping paper and bows were her absolute pleasure.

We were back in business. No present was safe. Even my older sister, too mature to poke and pry, would inquire about what Daisy had torn open. But, of course, our success couldn’t continue. So my parents found more secure ways to store presents away from the three-year-old ( me), the dog, and the cat.

What came of all this was an enduring sense of partnership with my furred siblings. These days I am above shaking, poking, and prying. But if Xenia should tear, claw or chew something open, I am not above taking a quick peek. Xenia frequently strolls into the kitchen afterward for a treat. After all, one partner should help the other, right?

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