Christmas is my favorite time of year! Perhaps it is because I grew up without Christmas that I feel that way. Or, it might just be, because for one brief moment, everyone seems to care for each other, even if they had a fight the week before. It is a time for parties, shopping, and hoping that you will get that one gift you really, really want. You know the one you never told anyone about, not even Santa. I love Christmas so much that I begin my shopping way before the Halloween decorations go up. Long before most mom’s, and kids are considering whether they should go trick or treating, or attend something that is safer, and affirms their values, I have bought my gifts, wrapped them, and decked our house in festive regalia.
Doing these things early in the fall allows me to savor the selection of each present. First, I think about the recipient; who they are, and what they mean to me. Then, I remember all the special times we have shared together. Times of walks along the horse trial by our house with our basest hound Barney running ahead of us as our feet kick up the debris of old leaves. Times of special teas shared near a cozy fire by the seashore. Times of playing blackout scrabble in the living room as the smell of a roast in the crock-pot enfolds us in the aroma of love. Times of reflection, introspection, joy, and laughter, which trips lightly through the moment, and creates bonds of friendship. I think of all of this as I search for that perfect declaration of affection for each holiday recipient.
I want those receiving gifts on this special day to know that they are treasured. I try to choose each gift to reflect the personality of the receiver. Many times, I have stood in front to a lovely display of merchandise and walked away with nothing. For having pondered what each gift might convey, I found a slight discord and chose to continue my search. As you can tell, choosing a memento of love for each special person on my list is a defining act for me. This act says I see who you are. I love and treasure you! You are dear to me!
Therefore, you can understand that is was with a deep sense of frustration that I looked at the few dollars I had to spend on that Christmas twenty-four years ago and wandered the isles in search of that elusive perfect present. A present of recognition, which each family member and friend would receive as an affirmation of their unique personhood. For my niece who wanted to become an author I could envision a portable writing tabletop complete with attached pillow on the bottom. For my daughter Cheryl, I thought of a lovely handmade fall outfit, something seasonally appropriate for our first winter in the cold climate of northern California. For my husband a round of golf, which he loved, but would never do for himself. Now you may wonder why my older daughter Danae was not on my list. Simple, since she had chosen to use her plane ticket to visit during Thanksgiving and would arrive soon, I did not need to worry about a gift for her. However, what had seemed finically easy when we purchased Danae’s ticket was now tantamount to an extravagance and knowing that made my predicament about Cheryl’s gift worse.
Alas, what was the use of wishing? I needed to flex skills long dormant and resurrect my ability to create something wonderful out of very little. I had done this before – years ago – been inspired to make gifts. I can do it again, I told myself. I set my sights on projects I could accomplish while my family was away at their daily pursuits. I was grateful that my husband needed to go to his office daily. I wanted to surprise him with my ingenuity and creativeness. As I worked I prayed that the results would be worthy of those I hoped to give the surprises to. After all, a woman in her forties needs to be able to show some small skill in her work given as a gift. Little by little, these small tokens of love began to take substance. Perhaps it was the prayers I silently sent to heaven, or the blessings I prayed for the recipient of the individual presents because each item turned out well. The gifts completed, I wrapped them and set them out as festive décor as I always did. Even as my eye traveled appraisingly over them, I knew I was not done – there was no gift for Cheryl.
It was almost Thanksgiving, and I still needed to select a gift project for my fourteen year old. Yet as I wandered the isles, I secretly admitted, Stumped…that is what I am stumped! At fourteen, a girl needs frivolous things, feminine things. My daughter needed nurturing and encouraged as she stood on the threshold of young womanhood. Yet, as much as I searched, I found no gift that could meet this need in any craft store, or catalogue. Christmas was hastening. The air had already tuned crisp. Leaves had long ago become those reddish burnt offerings to the last days of Indian summer and my time was running out.
One day Cheryl and I were sitting on the couch together sharing fond memories while we thumbed through the family scrapbook. As I watched and listened, I became aware of her need to feel more connected to us. Yes, she was reaching out to the world - becoming more than a child. For her to do this successfully she needed to have her personhood strongly and firmly established and supported in our family. She needed what my husband and I always refer to as a stake in the ground. A place of firm footing from which she could venture out and then return for sustenance and reassurance. We tried to give her that daily as she grew. But I could sense that she needed something more, something special. I had her pictorial history in my hands when I realized that I could give her photos of our family’s affirmation of her. It would be a challenge, and a lot of work, but she was worth it. I began at once, praying once again that it would be all that I hoped it would be and that she would be pleased.
The next day, I drove Cheryl to school and said goodbye with a special lilt in my voice. I am certain she never noticed the twinkle that shown through my otherwise usual mourning rituals. But I did! As I drove back home I began to visualize the scope, and breath of the work ahead of me. It seemed an overwhelming project to undertake, for Christmas was fast approaching. However, everything else that I need to do for the holiday was finished. And I must admit I was glad it had worked that way since I knew this project would take all the time I had and most likely many hours I would steel from some other pursuit. However, nothing mattered more to me than the love I would lavish on this gift and my prayer that when my daughter held it she would feel my love through her fingertips and my joy at her being my daughter when her eyes caressed each picture.
When I arrived home, I lit the logs in the fireplace, made a cup of tea, and began to sort the pictures for Cheryl’s Memory Book. Soon pictures of Cheryl were everywhere. I grouped them by age. There were many that I believed she had never seen before since I had put them in an old pillowcase before we moved and forgotten all about them until now. As I looked at each one-I saw pictures of bygone times, of life well lived. Each one held a precious memory - memories of the beach and hugs, our trip to Washington D.C. and confidences, whack attacks and family laughter - family past and present, and friends, the stuff of life. Page by page her book took shape and as they did, I felt I was giving my daughter a wonderful present - her own history. A gift, which I felt spoke loud, and clear of fourteen years of encouragement, and our love for her.
I hoped that my hours spent on this project would tell her that she was of great value to her dad, and me. The project complete my husband wrote her a beautiful letter and placed it in the front of her book. I wrapped this treasure of her precious memories and placed with the other gifts. Would she like it, or would she think it silly?
We did not need to wait long since Christmas was the next morning. I watched her unwrap her present and saw her hug it to herself. I was not disappointed. I could tell that she loved her book. My husband and I exchanged winks. It was only as the day moved on that we noticed with growing wonder how she shared her book with others as her primary gift of the season, embellishing on it so that it seemed to us that the listener began to desire their own memory album.
Today Cheryl is all grown up and has a family of her own. However, even as busy as she has become she has continued to build upon that gift we gave her so long ago. As our parents and other members of the family passed on, she has taken their pictures off their wall or from their albums, written their stories, and made a place for them in her heart and in her home. Yes, memories are the moments of our life. Without them, we pass away unnoticed and perhaps forgotten. How lucky for us that the one Christmas our funds were so low became for our daughter and our family a legacy of love and treasured memories persevered by the keeper of them all, our daughter Cheryl.