Christmas Memories: Gifts of the Heart

I’m wearing my flamingo Airstream trailer pajamas as I write this. They’re aqua with puff of snow, red scarves flying from the pink flamingo’s while lights outline the Airstream’s door and windows.

When I was a girl, our Christmas–like everything else in our family life–was do-it-ourselves from tree to treats to gifts.

We cut our tree up on the pine rows of Evergreen Heights, our family land. Finding the right tree was a highlight of the season. We were good stewards, and cut a scraggly tree to give space so the other trees would grow better. If it’d snowed, we pulled our tree back on one of our sleds. Back home a heavy duty metal stand supported our tree. Daddy drilled holes in the tree trunk and added branches to fill out our skinny tree.

My parents hid presents all over the house in odd places. When we scoured the house in search of them, they just found harder places. My brother Gary and sister Julia huddled in twos and threes conspiring what to give each other and our parents. That remains my favorite Christmas memory.

We opened gifts Christmas Eve. Uncle Ralph (my favorite uncle) and Aunt Dorothy (my least favorite aunt) joined us for the evening. They didn’t have kids, so we gave them a whiff of having youngsters around at Christmas time.

We ate a light waffle supper in the dining room, then carefully opened presents in the living room. Mother brought out the Christmas cookies as refreshments halfway through.

Opening presents was ceremonial and thoughtful–often filled with humor. Each of us took turns being Elves. We couldn’t pick our own presents. The person receiving the present then became an Elf. This way of presenting the presents and slowly enjoying them and thanking the giver slowed down the process and imbued it with meaning.

One year we gave Daddy seven pairs of cotton work socks–each wrapped separately. He opened the first package and said thank you. Then, when the second parcel came his way he caught on and said, “Oh! These are my Tuesday Socks.” And, on it went until he got to his Sunday socks–dress socks for church.

We made a convivial social evening of it. Gary came up with the idea of attaching a string to one of the branches so we could include larger presents that wouldn’t fit under the tree. He made box rabbit traps one year. The string led down to the workshop. We all followed and suitably admired them.

We didn’t have that many presents, and none of them were expensive. It wasn’t about the presents; it was about being together. Most gifts were home made, which I still love. The gift of a poem carefully presented, a coupon to plant hyacinths in the Spring, a booklet made with clippings from a magazine. Well into her adulthood my sister Julia was an ace at giving gifts that cost absolutely nothing. The intimate gift of being known animated our exchanges.

Last year I invented a gift for my friend Grace Madison (in her 80s): The Order of the Golden Rolling Pin. She’s an ace baker. I made a certificate inducting her into the order and then painted a toy rolling pin gold to go with it. Her son presented it to her on Christmas. In the photo he sent, everyone looks happy. For an investment of $3.00 it touched a whole family and will give Grace a giggle afterward. She’s one of my Women of Inspiration.

For my father’s 95th birthday last year I created the Second Mild Award and the companion Women of Inspiration Award. My niece Janean Baird gave a gift of love when she made beautiful certificates for both. Her work multiplied significantly to touch the lives of people we didn’t know. The certificates are beautiful, and infused with Janean’s care, talent, and skill. Making these certificates cost her little in cash, but represented hundreds of dollars of in-kind contribution.

This year I found out that my brother likes ginger beer. So, I’m giving him a gallon bottle of it tucked inside a “Kudos” bag with a note that says how much I love him and value all that he does.

I discovered that my niece Diane likes Golden Sultana raisins. I stuffed a quart mason jar with them and slid it underneath our African Violet Tree that Daddy made.

For the girls, I’ve wrapped cloth that holds memories of Grammy Julia. Each is wrapped separately paired with a little story.

Truly, I believe that it’s the thought that counts–carried out with a little panache.

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