I was 19 and staying at my parents’ house on Christmas Eve.

Though I had moved out a while ago, I guess part of me still wanted to run down the stairs on Christmas morning to see what joy Santa had brought.

This was the year, however, that St. Nick threw me a curve ball.

My parents were already awake as I ambled toward the tree that morning.

But something was amiss.

There it is, the toolbox that’s been with me for close to twenty years. The stickers reflect a well-traveled life. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

The tree wasn’t sheltering brightly colored presents or overflowing gift bags—instead there was a big, gray metal box.

A toolbox, to be exact.

My dad smiled as he encouraged me to open it. So I did, secretly hoping to find a stack of CDs inside…or a video game…or at least something vaguely fun.

Nope, just tools.

Pliers, wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers. It was an impressive mix of equipment for even a seasoned handyman.

But I wasn’t impressed. I was mad—Santa had duped me.

Instead of fun and games, I got boring old tools. I wanted wonder, not work.

Holiday cheer, not household chores.

My mind was reeling. Is this how it ends? The joy and merriment of Christmas gone—replaced with the crushing reality of grown-up life?

The next day, I tossed the toolbox into the back of my station wagon and sulked back to my apartment.

One of the tools I got was this hammer, which I’ve found works equally well at driving nails and straightening Honda handlebars. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

It was years later before it became clear: With that toolbox, Santa had given me the most-important gift I’d ever received.

It was those tools that helped me repair the leaking radiator at my old apartment, swap out the alternator on my trusty Chevy, and install light fixtures at my first home.

They coerced me into changing brake pads, wiring outlets, and fixing faucets.

More importantly, they showed me what I had learned watching my dad.

Growing up, he’d constantly force me to “help” with projects, whether that meant sawing 2x4s or soldering wires.

What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I absorbed all of that knowledge—skills that I would subconsciously resurrect as I serviced wonky dishwashers and starter motors decades later.

In short, the very same tools that Santa gave me at 19, I still use today.

If there’s a message in this story, it’s that sometimes gifts can take years to appreciate.

Though it took a while, Santa’s gift helped me to become self-reliant.

And I’ll never stop thanking him for it.

(P.S. Santa, if you’re reading this, can this be the year you finally give me that Battletoads game for my Nintendo?)

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Author: Paul Sakalas

Paul is the editor of OnAllCylinders. When he's not writing, you'll probably find him fixing oil leaks in a Jeep CJ-5 or roof leaks in an old Corvette ragtop. Thanks to a penchant for vintage Honda motorcycles, he spends the rest of his time fiddling with carburetors and cleaning chain lube off his left pant leg.