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Toni's Christmas stocking
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Our stockings are hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that Saint Nicholas - or another paunchy guy with toys - will soon be there.

On the far right of our mantle is my stocking, knitted by a dear family friend as a gift nearly 40 years ago. The stocking has aged much more gracefully than its beneficiary. It looks brand new - red and green and white with a tree etched on the bottom, multi-colored sequins acting as Christmas lights. Toward the top is Rudolph, leading the sleigh, his nose adorned in red. In green lettering at the top is my name.

The same family friend knitted similar stockings for my wife after we married, and for two of our children. They are hanging from the mantle to the left of mine. For each, their names are knitted near the brim of the stocking. Their stockings are equally impressive, meticulously crafted and finely made.

Our third child's stocking is located at the end, on the far left side of our fireplace. His stocking has a similar look to it, but the markings are different than the others. Etched toward the top of the stocking is the name, "Toni."

Yes, Toni with an 'I.'

No, our youngest son's name is not Toni with an I, or even a Y.

The youngest child in a family always seems to get hand-me-downs - even when it comes to family heirlooms. In this case, his stocking isn't exactly a hand-me-down. More like a leftover.

Allow me to explain.

Years ago, while in college, my wife moved into an apartment and the previous tenant - an acquaintance - left a box full of items. In this box was the "Toni" stocking. My wife tried to get in touch with Toni to return this keepsake, but could never find her.

Knowing it was an irreplaceable memento, she couldn't bear to throw the stocking away. So as she moved from place to place over the years, Toni's Christmas stocking went with her.

Two years ago, when our youngest son neared his first Christmas, we never even thought about providing him with a stocking of his own. We were too busy with potty training and getting gum out of hair and other such child-rearing issues. Then, when we were hanging up our stockings, we realized we didn't have one for him.

"Hey, let's just hang up this one," I offered, pulling the Toni stocking from one of the dozens of Christmas boxes extracted from the attic. "He can't read. He won't know the difference."

Two years later, he still can't read, and has no clue he's being cheated in terms of personalized holiday decorations.

But others have noticed.

"I recognize all these other names as members of your family, but who's Toni?," asked a visitor to our home last year while perusing our mantle. My wife and I looked at each other, then each came up with a different answer, spoken at the exact same time. "She's our dog," my wife gushed. I said, "he's our Italian foreign exchange student."

To avoid such sitcomesque moments, my wife turned the stocking's name - Toni - toward the wall. Once a day, I turn it back outward, just for kicks.

When we will get our son his own stocking and not utilize someone's leftover? I don't know. I figure we have a few more years before he starts reading. And we could always hold up him back to buy more time. No rush.

Besides, Santa knows who he is.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Len Robbins is editor and publisher of The Clinch County News.