ZILLAH, Wash. — It was Christmas of 1987. The family, plus a few special guests, had finished the holiday meal, laughed and talked for hours and unwrapped all the presents. All that was left were the goodbyes and clean-up.
But then, there was this gift.
A small, square box remained under the tree, and since no one claimed it, then-52-year-old Roberta Story simply swept it aside as she packed up the decorations, assuming someone would remember in a few days.
But no one did, and the gift was forgotten. No one gave it a thought until decorations came out the following year, and there it was.
Every Christmas since, the gift has found its place of honor under the Story tree in their Zillah home. The paper is a bit worn from all the handling over the years, so now Story keeps it in a plastic bag for protection.
Other than that, it’s as unwrapped as ever.
“I save everything,” Story, now 77, admits. “I think I’ve kind of grown quite fond of it, sentimental.”
Her family has come to see it as a tradition, and each holiday season goes through the ritual of trying to guess what’s inside.
She thinks it’s an old cheeseball. Her son, Jim, suggested it may have been a hamster. Several family members believe it to be a ring box, brought to Christmas in 1987 by the boyfriend of one of her daughters who never popped the question.
“I guess I just think it’s more fun to anticipate and wonder about it,” Story said.
“For 25 years?” her daughter-in-law Kimm Ward, wife of the hamster-guesser, asked.
“We’re easily amused,” Story told her.
One year, a grandson scanned it with a metal detector but didn’t discover anything. They all take turns shaking it, trying to gauge the weight and size of the object inside, which can be plainly heard thudding against the sides of the small box.
Most family members have given up hope that it will ever be revealed, and the younger generation has grown up accustomed to the mystery, but Ward is determined.
“I even said I would take it and open it and wrap it back up and not tell anybody,” she said. “I’ve tried to understand why she didn’t just open it. That’s what I would’ve done.”
“I guess I didn’t open it because I felt like it wasn’t mine,” Story said.
The gift has endured two weddings, five grandchildren and a move across the state. Story met her second husband, Dick, 20 years ago, and he’s known about it ever since.
He wants to open it, too, but says it’s up to her.
“I care about it, tease her about it, but it’s her decision,” he said. “But these girls” — looking at Ward — “they’re just going crazy.”
“I do think when it’s opened we should have Haz-Mat here,” he joked.
Many feel that once the box is opened, there’s no way the gift inside could live up to the hype. But still, several family members feel that, because this is the 25th Christmas, this should be the year.
Story hasn’t committed to anything.
“Well,” she says, eyes twinkling, “We’ll have that discussion.”