The Doc Project·Personal essay

As a kid, I got the best presents. It all went downhill from there

Ever get a present that made you wonder, “Does this person know me at all!?” Bob Kerr has, nearly every Christmas, when his mother repeatedly insists on giving him jewelry.

Comedian Bob Kerr reflects on years of receiving baffling gifts from his mom

Young Bob Kerr, left, and his brothers John and Chad holding up their He-Man action figure presents. This was not one of the baffling years. (Submitted by Bob Kerr)

We've all been there. We receive a gift from a loved one and our hearts warm. We feel special, cared for. We give them a smile, say something customary like, "Aw, you shouldn't have!"

Andy Williams is crooning Christmas carols in the background as we tear open the wrapped present and then…

We don't quite know what to make of it. We look at it curiously and wonder if we've unwrapped someone else's gift. Our cheeks redden as we say, "This is so cool. What... is it?"

More to the point, why is it? Why did they get this for us? What about us screams this particular thing?

Maybe they really shouldn't have.

In my case, my loved one is my mom. It's not that she's a bad gift-giver. It's that year after year, she gave gifts that had me genuinely perplexed. And even more head scratching, it all started out so well!

Bob unwrapping a present. (Submitted by Bob Kerr)

When I was a child, my parents' gift-giving skills were on point. I remember literally jumping for joy when I got a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure. I gasped with ecstasy when I opened a Super Mario 3 Nintendo cartridge. Then there was the year where I unwrapped a Casio keyboard… with a Michael Jackson songbook (Shamone!). I was at such a loss for words, all I could do was hug the keyboard.

I asked Mom how she nailed it so hard those years. "I just watched what you did and what you were interested in and I would try to get something in that area," she replied with authoritative ease.

But then I got older.

Rings and things

The Christmas that I was 13 years old, my brothers and I got necklaces with little crosses on them. I looked in the mirror and admired the new accessory around my neck. I looked distinguished. I wore it every day, feeling every bit the gentleman. Or maybe like a mobster.

Then one day, I forgot it on top of my dresser. Then the next day. And the day after that. Soon, the necklace found itself living the hermit life in my sock drawer.

The next Christmas, Mom got us rings with a marble-like gem on the top. I put it on my finger. There's something adult about wearing a ring. It's like smoking, but healthier.

A music note necklace and tarnished graduation ring Bob received as presents from his mother over the years. (Submitted by Bob Kerr)

I wore it wherever I went, until one day, my finger broke out in an itchy rash. On top of that, it left a green stain. Mom was flummoxed. "I don't get it," she said. "The man at the store said they were sterling silver!"

I took it off, and the ring shacked up with the necklace in the sock drawer, never to be worn again. And I decided that I was not a jewelry guy.

The big gift that's worth waiting for

As we got older, money got tighter. Three teenage boys with unending appetites can do that to a house's finances. So my parents decided that every Christmas, only one of us would get a "big" present, while the other ones got smaller, less expensive gifts.

Year after year, I watched with burning jealousy as my brothers hauled in their big gifts. "It's okay," I tell myself. "Your time will come."

When my time did come, I was 19. I racked my brain wondering what the big gift could possibly be. A guitar? My own computer? A – gasp! – car?!

My parents gave me a small wrapped box. My heart was pounding. "It's a key," I thought. I unwrapped the box and opened it.

My heart sank. It's a gift certificate. To a jewelry store.- Bob Kerr

My heart sank. It was gift certificate. To a jewelry store.

"It's for your grad ring," my mother said.

Since I certainly didn't have a car, my mom had to drive me to the jewelry store at the mall.

Merry Christmas to me. 

The gift of absorbency

When I was 21, I moved to Toronto to pursue my dreams of a lucrative comedy career. During this time, my mom's choice of gifts took a more whimsical turn: Spongebob Squarepants.

One year, I got a Spongebob doll. The next year, it was a Spongebob deck of cards. The year after that, I got a Spongebob tin of popcorn, which I've since repurposed into a garbage can.

I looked at Mom, confused. She gave a little laugh and explained, "It has 'Bob' in the name!"

I'm left wondering: "Does Mom know who I am anymore?"

Bob and his reworked Spongebob popcorn tin. (Lara Johnson)

At 30 years old, I was back at the homestead for the holidays. My parents said that they only wanted to give gifts to their grandkids, so we, the adults, didn't have to exchange gifts. As a starving comedian in Toronto, I welcomed this with open arms (and a closed wallet).

Bob's jewlery box, a haven for his small, sentimental hoarding. (Submitted by Bob Kerr)

As I left my bedroom, Mom pulled me aside. "I know we aren't supposed to get anything, but I saw this and I thought of you."

She gave me a men's jewelry box.

For jewelry.

I was wearing precisely zero pieces of jewelry.

But I kept the box nonetheless, and it became a repository for all the little bits and pieces of my life that I couldn't bear to throw out: an old bank book, showing how much money I spent on Radiohead's Kid A, and a small plastic pig my brother gave me when I was eight.

According to my mom, this was what she was thinking I'd use the box for all along. "A lot of people don't use it for jewelry," she explained to me years later when I asked her about it. "Men, they throw change in it or they put their wallet in there when they take it out of their pants… It's just a box to put stuff in."

A pendant for your thoughts

I was 35 years old when my father died. His remains were cremated and we had the option to get keychains or necklaces that would hold some of his ashes. I had recently lost my keys in Costa Rica, so I wasn't feeling great about that option. 

"Here we go again," I thought. I ordered the necklace with a musical note pendant, given our shared love of music.

It came a week after my father's passing. I put it on and I had to admit: I liked it. It made me feel more connected to Dad. There was a certain importance to it. I wore it everywhere I went.

Then one day, I forgot to put it on, leaving it on my nightstand.

Now, five years later, I've barely worn the thing. I've lost it somewhere inside the house.

After hours of searching, I finally find it.

I had put it in my jewelry box. Thanks, Mom.

About the producers

Bob Kerr has written and performed for hit television comedy shows such as This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Winnipeg Comedy Festival, Comedy Inc., The Nikki Payne Funtime Show, Hotbox, and Satisfaction to name a few. The web series he co-created, "But I'm Chris Jericho," won a Canadian Comedy Award for Best Writing In A Web Series. Bob has also won a Canadian Screen Award and a Canadian Comedy Award for Best Writing in a Variety or Sketch Comedy Program or Series for his work on This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Bob is the only one in his friend circle that still watches Survivor. 

This documentary was co-produced by Jennifer Warren. It was edited by Acey Rowe.

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