My dad always had two things on his Christmas list, and I never understood either.

1. Boxer shorts.

2. Chocolate-covered cherries.

I mean back in the day, when we were kids, and the Sear’s catalogue came in the mail sometime in late October, Dad never even looked.

My brother, sister and I (this is before the three younger siblings were born) would sit in the middle of the living room floor, a yellow notepad and three pencils handy, and go through the toy section page-by-page. It was a tedious process. We knew better than to ask for or expect the grandest things – battery operated race car tracks with all the amenities, the princess doll with the real gemstones in her crown, or the Barbie Dream House. But if you asked for too little, you wouldn’t get enough.

Somewhere in the middle range, always, each of us would find the perfect item. The something to be good for, because Santa was watching and we didn’t want to sacrifice our heart’s desire for one wrong decision or bad behavior.

We were old enough, I suppose, not to believe in Santa, but we weren’t bold enough to tell our mother we didn’t believe. And so it was a charade we went through. She certainly didn’t mind our being on our best behavior. We didn’t mind just giving her the list and offering to make a copy to send to Santa Claus, if she thought that was necessary, or calling her attention to the moderately-priced, sensible list we’d compiled, which, in its own way indicated we were good children because we weren’t greedy.

But, well, you just couldn’t be too careful. So at supper time, when the family was gathered, one of us – usually my brother, he was the oldest – would work the conversation around to the fact Christmas was coming. And somehow, we knew that part of the being good was not just discussing what we wanted for Christmas, but acting like we would actually have the wherewithal to give gifts and asking Dad and Mom what they wanted for Christmas.

I don’t remember my mother ever having a thing on her list and I don’t suppose she found it necessary. Come Christmas morning, the big, professionally-wrapped box behind all our bounty would be for her. Its contents would be a robe. Dad’s list was always the same.

Some Christmases, I’m sure, he got boxer shorts. I don’t remember. Every Christmas, he got a box of chocolate-covered cherries. I cherish the memories of Dad acting surprised, and delighted by the gift; ceremoniously taking off the wrapping and offering us a candy before taking one himself, then popping one in his mouth and enjoying the ooey, gooey morsel to its fullest.

I didn’t get it. Non-discriminating candy lover that I was, chocolate-covered cherries missed their mark with me. I ate the obligatory one I was offered, and didn’t ask for more. That may have been the method of Dad requesting the chocolate-covered cherries in the first place. Choose something no one else wanted that much would mean more for him.

After we were grown, the tradition continued. In 1999, Dad’s last Christmas – though we had no idea it would be – I asked Mom what I should get Dad.

“Boxer shorts and chocolate-covered cherries,” she said.

I sighed and noted I’d come through with the cherries, but she/he, I suggested, could buy boxer shorts in the after-Christmas sales.

Chocolate-covered cherries have become a staple, a Christmas tradition in the family. A cherished one, I might add. My boys are grown now, their lists are edited and generally realistic, but they always begin, or end, with chocolate-covered cherries.

Last year, on Christmas morning, with his not-yet-2-year-old daughter on his lap, my middle son, Tyler, pulled his requisite box of cherries from his gift sack, tore off the cellophane wrapping with the same ceremony and decorum my dad always used and offered little Kylah the first candy.

“This,” he told her, “is a long-standing family tradition. You have to have a chocolate-covered cherry on Christmas morning. It’s very rich and sweet, and if you think about it too much you’ll decide you don’t like it very much. But you have to have one, in memory of your great-granddad, one of the greatest men I ever knew.”

I watched the process, Kylah took the candy, and popped it in her mouth, chewed it quickly and made the sign for more.

It was a perfect Christmas gift, something, if I had thought about it, I would have put on my Christmas list; the kind of moment you always hope for, but are never sure you will find in the rush, hustle and bustle of the holiday; a sweet moment that long after the gooiness is gone, the love and memory remains.

Candace Cooksey Fulton is a freelance writer, formerly of Brownwood, living now in San Angelo. She can be reached at ccfulton2002@yahoo.com.