The Gift of Giving

December22

My favourite kind of cookbooks are the ones that include personal reflections and anecdotes about a person’s life and their relationship with food.  I have received one such collection this Christmas from my Mom-in-law and I wanted to share this Christmas story with you.

“If everything special, warm, and happy in my formative years could have been consolidated into one word, that word would have been Christmas.  So, by the time the building blocks of my days had piled themselves into something as formidable as late adolescence, Christmas had a lot to live up to.

Christmas, by then, meant fireplaces and the bustle of a big, excited family complete with aunts, uncles and cousins.  It meant great smells from the kitchen, home-made bread, and cranberries bubbling on the stove, pumpkin pies and turkey. It meant Grandma’s cheery voice raising to be the first to holler “Christmas gift!” as we came in the door.  It meant real cedar Christmas trees, handmade foil ornaments, and lots of secrets.  It meant unfolding in the arms of our great family the lonely or forsaken of our village who had no place to go.  It meant all the good and lovely things we said about Christmas being in your heart and the joy being in giving.

Then came another year.

There were many things that conspired to bring me to the situation in which I would test all my glibly accepted theories.  Grandma was gone, leaving in my heart a vacuum that wouldn’t go away.  My sister was married now and had the responsibility of sharing her holidays with her husband’s family.  The other relatives were far away …… I wasn’t there when they moved from the parsonage to a tiny cottage at the lake that a concerned businessman had helped them build.  Nor was I prepared that winter day for the barrenness that can be found only in resort  areas build for summer fun.

There was no fireplace.  There was no bustle of a big excited family.  Gone was the sense of tradition and history that only the aged can provide, and gone was the thrill of the immediate future that comes with the breathless anticipation of children.

The dinner was going to be small, just the three of us, and there just wasn’t any ring in the brave attempt at shouting “Christmas gift!” that Mother made as I came in the door.  Daddy suggested that because I’d always loved it, he and I should go to the woods to cut our own tree.  I knew that now, of all times, I could not let my disappointment show.  I put on my boots and my cheeriest face, and off through the knee-deep snow we trudged into the Michigan woods.  My heart was heavy, and I knew that Mother was back at the stove fighting back the tears-for all that was not there. 

There was a loveliness as the forest lay blanketed in its heavy comforter of snow, but there was not a comforter to wrap around the chill in my heart.  Daddy whistled as he chopped the small cedar tree.  (He always whistled when there was something bothering him).  As the simple tuneless melody cut though the silent frozen air, I got a hint of the quiet burdens adults carry, and for the first time felt myself on the brink of becoming one.  So as I picked up the end of the scraggy, disappointingly small cedar, I also picked up my end of grown-up responsibility.

I felt the times shift.  I was no longer a child to be sheltered and cared for and entertained.  My folks had put good stuffing in me.  Now, as I trudged back through the snow, watching the back of my father’s head, his breath making smoke signals in the morning air, the weary curve of his shoulders, I vowed to put some good stuff back into their lives.  The day was somehow different after that.  We sat around our little table, stringing cranberries and making foil cut outs.  This time it was not the activity of a child but sort of a ceremonial tribute to the child I somehow could never again afford to be and the people who had filled that childhood with such wealth and beauty.”

Excerpt from Gloria Gaither “He started the whole world singing”

Kath’s quote:“There is nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.”-Erma Bombeck


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