It's time for the exchange game

Let the exchanging begin - unless you took care of it yesterday.

I love a lot about the Christmas season, but there are parts of it I could do without - and the mad rush to the stores and malls on the days following Christmas can be counted among the latter.

I know that sometimes the shirt doesn't fit or chartreuse doesn't really go with your complexion and you got a clapper or a Chia Pet when you really wanted the complete set of "I Love Lucy" reruns, but still.

I mean, some people seem to look forward to taking back gifts almost as much as they look forward to getting or giving gifts in the first place. And the plethora of gift cards that have been exchanged at gatherings across the length and breadth of this great nation this Christmas has added a whole new dimension to the post-holiday madness.

Me - I don't swap stuff, unless it is absolutely necessary. Sometimes, I'll admit, it is.

For instance, I did get this really nice belt for Christmas. It was genuine imitation leather and had a honey of a buckle - had my initials on it and everything. But it was a size 34. I was last a 34 when Jimmy Carter was president. Unless he becomes president again, and brings his economic plan with him, I will never be a 34 again. So the belt might go back.

And my 98-year-old aunt, bless her heart. I know she meant well and has probably been hearing a lot about Georgia blacking out the Sugar Bowl - but I just won't ever find a use for a black hooded sweat shirt with a Tech logo across the front. That bad boy has got to go back to a store somewhere.

But that's it for me. I am keeping the orange flannel pajama pants. After all, I sleep in the dark, so who will know? I am keeping the deluxe set of poker chips that someone in my family was just certain would make my Christmas, and I am keeping the green and pink plaid tapered dress shirt - the one that is just like the green plaid tapered dress shirt I got from the same person last year and the year before that - none of which I have ever been able to bring myself to wear in public.

But, hey. It's the thought that counts. Right?

I said, "Right?"

But you didn't read that part, did you? You are already back at Target trading three of the four crock pots you got for a George Foreman mini-grill and a silk negligee - because your wife won't let you wear hers.

I understand. Really I do.

But as I was thinking about all the people who have made and will make mad dashes to the malls to exchange the Christmas gifts that their friends and loved ones so lovingly gave them, my mind wandered back to a Christmas long ago. It was 1975, to be exact. To me, 32 years is long ago.

I had just graduated from the University of Georgia, hallowed be thy name. It was my first Christmas as a bona fide adult - or so I was told. I didn't feel much like an adult, but I had to get a job and move out on my own, so I must have been one.

I will never forget what my mama gave me for Christmas that year. A really nice coat. It was a light tan corduroy jacket with dark fur lining. I'm sure it wasn't real fur, so all you PETA people can quit bristling up. It was, as I said, a really nice coat and my mama was certain that it would keep her "baby boy" warm for many winters to come.

But it didn't - through no fault of my mother's, who, I am sure, paid a lot more for the coat than she could afford. A day or two after Christmas, my lifelong friend and running mate, Jimmy Hutchins, came by the house with an offer I couldn't refuse. He had an extra ticket to the Cotton Bowl game in Dallas, Texas, and wanted me to go with him to see Georgia play Arkansas. We would take his sister's Camaro and stay in Dallas a couple of days and maybe even stop by New Orleans on our way home.

I was good to go except for one thing. I had just graduated from college, didn't have a real job and didn't have any money to speak of.

None of those things were about to keep me from going to the Cotton Bowl. I talked Sam Ramsey into letting me work a few extra days at his furniture store, even though there was really nothing for me to do - and when I was still a little short, I did the unthinkable.

I took the coat my mother had given back to White's and talked Mr. James Lord into giving me a refund.

Funny. I have never let myself feel the shame that I should have felt for taking back that gift. And I could write a book about all the things that happened to Jimmy and me on that improbable journey to Dallas and New Orleans.

Yeah. I know. I already did.

Enjoy your after-Christmas swapping. And if you get a cash refund, please make the most of it. I know I did.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. E-mail him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net.