I STARTED to wipe my feet on the front door mat and just about stepped on a tiny package and note.

What the hell? Nobody gave me Christmas presents. Nobody. Ever. The Children’s Home had a pick-a-number gift system. Then the trading began. But gifts given directly to me? Never.

After wiping my feet on the mat, I opened the door to my loft apartment. I juggled the paperwork and the present with its envelope. I shucked my shoes by the door, put everything in my arms on the kitchen table, and got rid of the tie.

I don’t do ties unless something’s really important, like meeting with a loan officer to get money to build an addition to the garage. Mostly I’m a jeans, work boots, and ratty T-shirts kinda guy who makes his money without wearing a suit. I fix and modify bikes, mostly Harleys, since I’m one of their certified mechanics. These days, I’m catching the wave of weekend warriors who’re donning black leather jackets and forming clubs after their offices cough them out for two days.

Living in the central valley of California makes mine a year-round job. In fact, next year I’ll turn a corner into a bigger garage and two more actual employees. With Janene, our bookkeeper and resident Mama, we’ll be a full-time family of six and as many community-college interns as I can get.

I’d climbed out of the Children’s Home and was now a productive member of society, even though I probably didn’t look like one to the common guy on the street. I sure didn’t to any of the prospective mommies and daddies who periodically came by the Home when I was a kid.

Now I had my very first Christmas present just for me, nobody else. I didn’t even have to pick the right number for it or trade with someone else.

I poked the puffy bow. It sprang back and shouted, “Open me!”

I decided to tackle the envelope first. The handwriting was blunt lettering, a lot like Tim’s down at the shop.

Hello, Sam McGuire in Apartment 300. How are you? I’m your new neighbor in 303. Hope you’re not allergic to fruitcake because the piece in the box is my grandmother’s traditional recipe and the only way to start the holidays.

I’m holding a get-together on Saturday, December 1, 9:00 p.m. to whenever. You’re invited. If you can’t party here on Saturday, I promise to try to keep the noise down after 10:30. I’d like to meet you.

Happy holidays. Hope to see you soon.

Jay Merriweather