What was my favorite Christmas gift?
Well, I certainly liked the air fryer, the new set of ceramic-coated pots and pans and the noise-cancellation headphones.
But my favorite present was a simple act of honesty, which did much to remind me that good usually prevails, and that the world is not as hopelessly Grinch-stricken as it sometimes seems.
I was heading westward to spend a few days with my parents in my hometown for the holidays. Truth be told, I was in the Scroogiest of moods, after being haunted by everything from the Ghost of Christmas Credit to the Spirit of Holiday Cellulite.
As I baah-humbugged my way home, I stopped at a truck stop to buy a pair of gloves. (I did have seven gloves in my back seat and they were all black - but not a one of them had a partner and five of them were for my left hand.)
Once inside, I tried on several pairs of gloves, stopped in the ladies' room and browsed the energy drinks. I paid for my gloves and headed outside, where I was distracted by a young man who had a particularly rambunctious black Pomeranian. As black Poms aren't all that common, I felt it was my duty to tell him to have faith. If he waited another 14 years, his Pomeranian would be like mine and sleep 23 hours a day.
I got home, ate turkey and opened gifts. It wasn't until much later, when digging in my purse for gum, that I realized my wallet was missing.
It was approximately 16-below and pitch black outside, but I bundled up and began searching my car for the billfold. By "search," I mean I acted like an overzealous border cop accompanied by a pack of bloodhounds. I did everything but rip out the seats. I found change, three receipts, two phone chargers and the world's oldest Cheeto. But no wallet.
My Christmas was spent re-tracing all the places I had stopped on my way home, as I had taken numerous pit stops to fight the boredom of the four-hour drive. I froze credit cards and agonized if I had forgotten to remove the social security card. Normally, of course, I never carry it, but I had recently brought it to the Driver's License Bureau to get a name change on my license, and now I couldn't remember if I'd removed it.
I imagined a counterfeit Tammy Swift stealing my identity even as I sat there, burying my anxiety with butter cookies. She was likely using my name to set up a meth lab, insult Kim Jong-un and manufacture faulty NuvaRings for mass distribution throughout North America.
Naturally, my family tried to help.
They asked all the senseless questions that one asks when you're trying to nudge a loved one's memory (usually variations on the unanswerable query, "Where did you have it last?")
In desperation, I posted on Facebook. Who knows? Maybe Alexander John James, one of those mysteriously handsome US Marines who is always trying to friend me, could help. After all, Brigadier General James works as a "civics engineer" in "The Rhode Islands," and his profile picture shows him receiving a medal from George W. Bush.
I received lots of cyber-sympathy, which helped somewhat, and stories of wallets victoriously returned, which helped even more. Several friends advised me to pray to St. Anthony, patron saint of lost things, but I was sure he didn't have much time for a bandwagon Christian who seemed to have lost directions to the Mass schedule.
Even so, I begged and bargained and prayed. A lot.
And St. Tony must even hear Johnny-pray-latelies like me, because I received a private message on Sunday afternoon from a beautiful young soul named Kelsey V. She had found my wallet - fittingly enough, by the hot dog machine at the truckstop.
Noticing that I lived in Fargo, she brought it to Fargo with her, and left it with her mother and stepdad in Fargo.
And so it was that I met Kelsey's stepdad - a perfect stranger - at a Holiday station on a cold-to-the-marrow Tuesday evening, and he returned my wallet - every card and ID untouched. He refused any sort of payment and just asked that I do the same for someone else.
And so, here it is, all wrapped up in one small, zippered wallet: proof that honesty and goodness can prevail, and that there are still all sorts of good people in the world, if only we believe and pray to St. Anthony no fewer than 137 times.
It's a Christmas miracle, after all.
May your 2018 be filled with miracles too.
Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at firstname.lastname@example.org.