Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"The Christmas Present"

                                                                
Like most folks, Christmas is my favorite time of year.  It is a time when the hard edges of the soul softens and, in this age of societal savagery, it is a welcome respite, when folks feel unusually kindly to one another. 

I've had so many memorable Christmases.  Sometimes, I've had to rely on the Christmases of memories past to chase away the loneliness; looking back I can count having spent three Christmases in Vietnam, two in Korea and eight of them in the Middle East.  During these times away from family I've always been able to conjure up memories of joyous family Christmases and that has been enough to see me through.  Those Christmases alone made the Christmases with family even more special.

One of my most memorable Christmases was when I was ten years old.  It came during a time when my family's finances were at their most tenuous.  My mother, trying to keep a single parent household together,  was working as a dollar per hour waitress and I guess the tips that month were small because the kitchen pantry was sparse, and though she said nothing, it was one of the few times I saw my mom consumed by fear.  Since we had lived on the brink of starvation many times during the past years we were well aware that Christmas presents were probably not in the cards for my sister, brother and me. 

Yet, on Christmas morning, we awoke to the scent of Christmas cooking and Christmas joy is not always confined to the granting of material offerings, so we kids were infused with Christmas joy.  When we got up we saw that our stockings were filled with apples and oranges and nuts and we all felt immeasurable love for our mom for these meager gifts. 

When we looked upon the Christmas tree we were surprised to see three wrapped presents beneath the tree.  These stood out from the crude wrappings our school-made presents for Mom that we had placed beneath the tree the night before.

After breakfast we opened our presents.  My sister went first and unwrapped a cheap plastic doll.  Then my brother and I excitedly tore open our presents.  Both of us received a hard plastic football.  As I stared at this cheap, ugly and totally useless gift I must have looked very disappointed.  As I looked at my mother I could see the hurt and disappointment in her face too, yet I couldn't wipe that frown off my face.  My downturned lips had absolutely nothing to do with any disappointment in the gift....but my ten year old mind could not voice what I was really feeling. 

The teary eyes were not because I didn't like the gift....which I didn't... but from the frustration at our poverty and my first sensory revelation of what my mother had to go through every day just to provide for us.  I don't believe my love for her has ever been stronger than the moment I opened that cheap and ugly gift.  I guess if one really does have "life-meaning" moments this was one for me.  To this day I value the spirituality of Christmas far more than any material gifts.

With all my heart I feel a deep sadness for kids today who receive IPADs and Sony gaming systems or digital cameras for Christmas.  Christmas today has become a modern orgy of giving and I wonder how it is even possible to find the spirituality of Christmas amidst the bright shiny bounty that detracts from the season's true meaning.

So, every Christmas comes around and the season's magic transports me once again to a time when the smallest token of love meant so much.  That hard, cheap plastic football proved to be much more valuable than the most expensive gift I have ever received.

11 comments:

PammieJean said...

Wonderful and touching read. Again, it did me good to read this.

JustCommonSense said...

Thank you PammieJean. I'm grateful that I was able to explain to my mom my reaction on that Christmas morning. In 1990, while in Saudi, I wrote 25 Christmas poems, one per day from 1 December to the 25th. I sent them to my kids and to my mother. One of those poems recounted the "plastic football" Christmas and, being an adult, I was finally able go explain my true feelings on that Christmas morning.

PammieJean said...

It's wonderful you wrote those poems. Maybe I should try something like that as I've a knack for poetry. It might open up my son's heart/mind if he reads them. He's not speaking to me right now. Long story I won't go into.

Crystal said...

Grandma had a gift for making people happy. I remember just walking into a room and smelling her scent and seeing her smile was enough to make me calm and content. I really miss her hugs and I wish I had the chance to tell her as an adult how much she meant to me as a child.

JustCommonSense said...

Daughter, you personify and honor my mom by the way you work so hard to make Christmas such a magical holiday for your family. You need not wish that you could tell her how you felt about her; she knows. Merry Christmas baby daughter.

Brian Clancy said...

Lovely and touching.

TheRandyGuy said...

"Christmas today has become a modern orgy of giving and I wonder how it is even possible to find the spirituality of Christmas amidst the bright shiny bounty that detracts from the season's true meaning." Absolutely. Every year, my wife and I take our two boys and volunteer for two days at the food bank assembling and distributing food and presents to those that have very little. We also volunteer at a medical/dental/vision event for three days twice a year to provide services to those that need them but cannot pay (my wife is a surgeon). My kids see poverty up close - that's the best we can do.

A Modest Scribler said...

Thanks, Brian..be of good cheer.

A Modest Scribler said...

Randy, what you and your family are doing is wonderful...and what you are teaching your children is wonderful too. Bless you all. And Merry Christmas!

Darlene said...

You kids were so blessed to have such an amazing woman as your Mom. I love that you look back and appreciate the sacrifices she made for you. Knowing her, she would wave off all that 'fuss' and say "Oh pooh". I loved and miss her too,,,

A Modest Scribler said...

Merry Christmas, Sis.