77 days of class later, we find ourselves again at the end of the semester, in a strangely warm week. Soon we’ll have a solid month of no school at which point some of us will stay here and the rest will scatter to the four corners of the earth. I wish everyone a happy holiday and a great break. Below, please enjoy this college version of O. Henry’s story The Gift of the Magi, first published Dec. 10, 1905.
$1.87. That’s all the loose change Della could find in her little room in ISR. $1.87 with which to buy her dear boyfriend Jim a Christmas present.
Della was a mechanical engineering student at U of I on a scholarship. Coming from a low-income family, spending money was scarce. She’d gotten a job doing research in the MechSE department, but it was her first semester and still for class credit. And now, with winter break just around the corner, she hardly had even two dollars to buy something for Jim. “I really want to give him something special,” she thought. “What will I do?”
She walked along Green Street trying to think of something. Stopped to look for the millionth time in front of the display window at Apricot Lane. The beautiful tortoiseshell hairclip she’d been eyeing for weeks was still there.
“Wish I could have that,” went the old refrain in her head. But it was way too expensive and she had Jim to think of. She kept going, heading north on Wright St. Lost in thought, she didn’t realize how far she’d gone till she looked up and saw the Beckman Institute. And then, standing there in front of the University of Illinois sign, she had an idea.
Jim sat in his room at LAR, trying to think of what to give Della for Christmas. He perused through deals on Amazon but couldn’t find anything he could afford that she would like.
“I’m gonna marry that girl someday,” he thought to himself. “I really want to make this count.” He picked up the gold watch he kept with him, his one valuable possession. His grandfather had given it to his dad, who had given it to him when he’d graduated from high school. He hardly wore it anymore because the band was worn and falling apart, but always kept it with him.
“Della’s worth more than anything I’ll ever own,” he thought.
Della walked to the hair salon on University. She stepped inside and let her long brown hair fall out of its bun. Reaching past her waist, her hair was her one pride and joy. “If it means I can give something nice to Jim, I’m happy to do it,” she thought as she walked up to the counter.
That evening, Jim and Della met up at Cocomero, their favorite place. They went upstairs to sit at the counter. Jim handed Della a package. “Merry Christmas, Della,” he said, full of pride. Inside was the tortoiseshell hairclip she’d been dreaming of. Della shouted in surprise, then felt tears come to her eyes. She pulled off her hat as Jim stared. The customary bun he’d been expecting was gone. “I sold my hair to buy your Christmas present,” she told him, handing him a small box. Inside was a brand new leather watch band detailed with gold thread. “Now you can wear your watch all the time!”
Jim smiled at Della and pulled her into a hug. “Let’s save these presents for later, babe. I sold my watch to buy you the hairclip.”
“And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children who most unwisely sacrificed for each other their greatest treasures. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts, these two were the wisest.”