Robert Kirby: Sometimes, the best Christmas presents are the ones we didn’t ask for

Tribune columnist remembers the time he brought holiday cheer to a heartbroken trucker.

Merry Christmas. I just finished watching my grandkids tear open their presents. It didn’t take long. Cash was king.

Most of the older ones wanted money in the form of gift cards, so they could buy what they liked instead of pretending to be happy about what they got.

I get it. If you’re 16, what would you rather get for Christmas: a pair of designer pajamas or $50 cash?

So, unless you really plan, Christmas morning will be a crapshoot. Maybe you got your loved ones what they wanted, and maybe you didn’t. This, of course, presupposes that you wanted them to be surprised.

The best Christmas present I ever got was totally unexpected. There were no hints that needed dropping, no outright pleading for a particular item, and no consideration regarding expense.

This particular Christmas was about 35 years ago. I was a cop working the graveyard shift Christmas Eve.

This meant I went to work Christmas Eve before my kids went to bed, and I would return home exhausted (but hopefully uninjured) Christmas morning in time to watch them pillage the front room. Then I would go to bed.

It was a quiet shift. I was patrolling my beat in no mood to take any Christmas crap from anyone. Fortunately for all concerned, it was dead. No drunks, no family fights, no dead bodies. All I did was drive around.

Around 5 a.m. Christmas morning, I pulled through the area of a truck stop where long-haul drivers parked their rigs to get some sleep. I heard a disturbance at the end of one row, so I lit up that place with my spotlight.

There stood a large driver, cursing and punching the side of his truck. When I yelled at him to quit doing that, he turned around and asked if I wanted some.

“Go ahead and arrest me,” he spit. “I don’t got nothing to lose.”

I did. I had Christmas waiting for me at home in two hours.

Long story short, the guy had been pressed into service by his trucking company on Christmas Eve. This meant he wouldn’t be home with his kids.

His soon-to-be ex-wife had taken them to the home of her boyfriend’s parents. Since he didn’t know where they lived or their names, he couldn’t call his children for Christmas. All he knew was the boyfriend’s first name and a general description.

“Hell, I can fix that,” I said. “Just stop beating on your truck, OK?”

The boyfriend’s parents lived in a small Iowa town. I had the dispatcher track down the sheriff’s office in the county where he lived.

All it took was his name and description for the sheriff’s office to recognize him as a regular customer. Within a few minutes, it was arranged for a deputy to go out to his parents’ house and knock on the door.

A short time later, a pay phone at the truck stop rang. I answered it and then handed it to the driver. As soon as he heard the young voices on the other end, he started sobbing.

I got back in my car without a prisoner and with all of my teeth. It was obvious the driver was happy. So was I. It was easily one of the best Christmas presents I ever got.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.