Sunday, December 16, 2007


The Very Best Present of All

It is a brisk December morning in Duluth, Minnesota. A ten-year-old girl is chattering and bouncing and dancing around the kitchen – Dad’s home! Dad’s home! And today is the day we get our Christmas tree! And Dad’s home!

What’s so special about Dad being home? Well, usually he’s not! You see, Dad works construction and so on Sunday afternoons, he takes his travel trailer (which is newly cleaned and stocked with clothes and blankets and food and a few notes from his ten year old daughter) and he travels to the job site, wherever that may be. Dad stays in that travel trailer for the week and returns home usually very late on Saturday nights. He works a six-day week, you know. The family needs the money and the company will pay him if he’s willing to work that extra day every week.

But this week! Oh! This week! Dad came home on Friday night! His daughter didn’t know it because she was already fast asleep when he pulled in to the driveway late Friday. But upon awakening on Saturday morning she found him sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee! On a Saturday morning! A whole day early! Whooppee!! Dad’s home! Hence the chatter and the bouncing and the dancing of the young girl! Dad’s home!

Breakfast was made and inhaled. The breakfast was a pound of bacon fried in a cast iron skillet, blackened toast, eggs fried in the bacon grease, and milk. Tons of milk. So full they could barely dress, the Father and daughter loaded themselves with long underwear and pants and wool socks and boots and mittens and neck scarves and a saw. Yup, these two were going for a walk in the woods out back and would be returning with this year’s Christmas tree!

Once back in the pinewoods, the young girl looked for trees about her own height. Nothing full. Nothing balanced. Oh, nothing good enough! She looked over to her Father and saw him standing with his head bent back and looking up at the sky? What in the world was he doing??? They were supposed to be looking for a Christmas tree! Not spotting clouds!

Well, the Father explained, the best Christmas trees were really treetops. They got good sun up there and so they were full and even and nicely shaped. The perfect Christmas tree for their living room would be a treetop!

After much neck strain and some quick tree climbing, the perfect Christmas tree was on the ground and being hauled back to the house. “Oh!” the Mother exclaimed, “that tree is so big!” “Just perfect!” was the daughter’s response. And it soon would be.

The remainder of the day was spent with Dad and Mom decorating that tree. The bald spot (which there always was one!) would be placed toward the corner. The lopsided tip to the tree would be remedied with shims of wood. The lights were strung by the Dad – a family tradition, you know – and then all of the mercury glass decorations and garland and egg ornaments were hung with extraordinary care. It took hours. In fact, the family ate supper in the living room off of TV trays so as to keep decorating before it was bedtime that Saturday night. And by bedtime, the tree did look beautiful. Glistening and shining with lights and ornaments. All that was missing was the tinsel!

Sunday was tinsel day. Upon returning from Sunday School, the box of tinsel came out and the messy, time consuming, putsy task of laying tinsel on the tree would begin. It took hours! Truly, all of Sunday afternoon would be taken up with hanging tinsel. But by the time to hug Dad good-bye for another week, the tree was looking like a silver statue over in that corner of the living room! And there was still half a box of tinsel to go!

The Dad drove off for the week and the house became very quiet. Both the Mom and the daughter were caught up with their memories of the weekend and their special times with Dad. Oh! But wake up! There was much to be done this week! The tree must be completed and the presents wrapped and under it before he returned home again this weekend!

Between school and Rusty, the dog, and playing in the snow and hanging that infernal tinsel, the week passed quickly! Soon, Dad’s big smiling face was back in the kitchen and once again he was home for the weekend! It was Christmas!

Christmas morning began at about 3am or so – no need waiting since Santa had already been here! So up they were! The daughter bouncing and chattering and dancing in the living room and the Dad with his cup of coffee! Keep filling it, Mom! It is very, very early!

Presents were opened and cards were read to each other. It was a grand morning of sharing gifts. Gifts they had selected for each other based upon their love and desire to please. Gifts purchased on a very limited budget but overflowing just the same! Even the dog got a present on Christmas morning! No one was left out!

And it never failed. At 6am, like clockwork, the telephone would ring. It would be the county or the airport calling. Someone in Duluth who needed someone to run a plow for the day. You see, the normal crew had the holiday off and the runways or some streets down by Lake Superior needed plowing due to the drifting snows. Could the Dad fill in for the day?

Dad would dress and Mom would pack a lunch. Off he would go to spend Christmas Day in a plow. The Mom would assure him that Christmas Dinner would wait until he returned. No matter how tired he might be…. Christmas dinner would wait for him.

The young girl spent her day arranging her gifts. All of her gifts would be delicately and deliberately arranged under the tree and then she would take pictures using her Brownie camera with its big, bright flash. A new bulb with every picture! And pictures were needed so she could put these black and white photos with their jagged edges in her Christmas album!

Then after a hearty Christmas breakfast and a quick romp in the snow with Rusty, the young girl would return to the living room to find a few grocery bags lying next to her presents. It was time. And so now the sorting really began! Presents were sorted as to their size and purpose. And by how much this young girl loved them. The not-so-wanted presents went over to her right. The gotta-keep-this presents were placed over to her left.

Over and over again, the sorting and resorting was completed. Until finally – usually several hours later! – the young girl would call her Mom in to the living room and they would fill the grocery bags with the not-so-wanted presents. Then off to Woodland they would drive to deliver those grocery bags of presents to the girls her very own age. Only these girls lived in the orphanage run by the Catholic Church in Woodland. These girls were her height and her age but they seemed very shy around her. She thought that was odd, but she left her bags of not-so-wanted presents with them and wished them all a “Merry Christmas!” as she ran out the door. It was getting dark and Dad would soon be home!

As we grow wiser in our years, we realize that Christmas is made of memories. Christmas is making memories with your family and your loved ones. When I think of Christmas, I remember getting the Christmas tree with Dad. I remember decorating the tree. I remember opening presents. And I remember the trip to Woodland to deliver the bags of presents.

But what I remember most is the feeling of Christmas. The warmth and the caring and the security of being a part of a family that loved me. That wanted me. And that raised me to share and think of others as best as I can.

Christmas is the time of a very special birth. And at some point each Christmas season, I walk down that memory lane to reattach to my Mom and my Dad. And I thank the dear Lord for giving me the very best present of all. Them.

Enjoy the journey of each and every day – and make a memory today!
Sandy and The Herd

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