I have a new ornament on the family Christmas tree. It’s a small felt dove from the gift shop inside the President Woodrow Wilson Home in Washington, D.C.
I picked it up in January when I landed the last seat on the bus with State Rep. Tom Saunders’ Roaming Elephants, covering the presidential inauguration and related festivities.
The day before the swearing-in, we took a detailed tour of Wilson’s home, a time capsule filled with furnishings and memorabilia from his life there following his presidency.
I enjoy museum gift shops as they stock the most unusual souvenirs; keepsakes, really. The one in the Wilson home is packed with nice things, too, but the shop is fitted into a room the size of a large walk-in closet. Still, my eyes fell on something perfect to take home! It was a plastic bag containing a couple dozen or so white felt doves. The bag was sealed so I could only touch the flock through the plastic, but it appeared they were possibly strung together.
The price on the outside of the bag made the package a steal. My mind raced, imagining how the doves would make a beautiful tree garland, or since I’m a wreath junkie, the strand could adorn a wreath. Gosh, the doves were so lovely, I could even take them apart and offer them as small gifts to my Bible study friends.
There were no other plastic bags full of doves, or of any other decoration of its kind. Maybe these were on clearance. I just knew they were going home with me. I went ahead and checked out, then headed for the bus to get out of people’s way so others could peruse the gift shop before we rolled.
Once I got on the bus, I decided to open the sealed bag and see how my garland was structured. But when I opened it, I got a surprise. Inside were individual dove ornaments, not a garland. And each dove contained its own price tag -- the same dollar figure as appeared on the outside of the bag.
OH NO! It took but a second to realize my mistake that was not caught by the sales clerk, either! By my new calculations, not counting sales tax, I had just stolen a $288 flock of birds from Woodrow Wilson!
Evidently, the packaged doves were new inventory not yet opened or stocked properly. I was the beneficiary – er, criminal – who hoisted them!
I knew I’d make it right if the Secret Service or National Guard or IRS didn’t chase me down first. I would package it all up with a note and mail it back to the gift shop once we got home, keeping exactly one dove, for which I had paid.
But wait. Even better, the bus wasn’t yet full, so I sprinted back into the shop, and in a rushed flurry, told the surprised clerk what happened. He thanked me for my honesty as I headed out of the shop.
“So do you want just the one, then, or your money back?” the clerk asked.
“Yes! No! I mean, I’ll keep one—since I paid for it already,” and onto the bus I climbed in the nick of time.
Guess the price wasn’t so amazing, after all. In fact, $12 for a palm-size felt dove was actually a bit pricey but it came with a story. And in the currency of a writer, that makes it priceless.