My clan celebrates the holidays like most folks, by getting together on Christmas Day to catch up over a huge feat, which makes us groan like it was Thanksgiving again. (Ditto this for my second Christmas with my step-mom and brother.) There is often an exchange of gifts. One year it was gifts cards and another year we chose names. This year we’d intended to do a story swap, but things didn’t quite work out. So things change, especially when our Christmas celebration is being held on the day after Christmas this year. Which will seem odd, since the family has always congregated at my grandparent’s house since I was born. But I guess that means that we’ll actually get to my bf’s parents' house in time to see his sisters and their brood with friends in tow.
But I guess all in all that’s a ho-hum kind of celebration, especially after everyone’s had way too much to eat and is nodding off on the sofa. So I thought I’d share a true story about the origin of what finally got me in the Christmas spirit this year.
“Money doesn’t grow on trees.” My mother uttered those words, fed up by one of my fussy childhood moods. Reflecting on those words as an adult, I realize what a good lesson I learned that day under the pecan tree in my grandparents’ back yard. Luckily I get to be part of one special way my mother pays that lesson forward every year with a twist.
Inside the local toy store, I went my way and my mother went hers browsing the aisles to help me locate an elusive Christmas gift. High and low we searched, trailing up and down the aisles. With nothing fitting what I had in mind, I returned to her side almost empty handed.
I found her standing beside a small Christmas tree. Its green artificial branches weighted down by the heavy burden from a multitude of cut-out angels. Blonde headed girls and boys dressed in red, white and blue uniforms gazed back innocently, their bellies full of scribbled ink.
Her fingers caressed one of the cut-outs as she tipped the thin piece of paper forward to read a child’s Christmas list. Silently she continued until she’d worked her way around the entire tree. “They’re not asking for much,” she stated, glancing my way.
I’d copied her actions, arriving at the same conclusion.
“Why don’t we choose a couple of these?”
I nodded, already plucking off a pair of cut-outs—one boy and one girl—from the tree. Once again I’d unconsciously traced my mother’s own actions. Her lips moved, re-reading the pair of needy children’s wishes. A smile broke across her face as she led the way back down the aisles, this time in the lead.
Like youngsters ourselves we delighted in riffling through a wall full of coloring books. Through a sea of princesses and robotic heroes we delved to find the perfect activity books. Shoulder to shoulder we delved into the stuffed animals to pull out each teddy bear for inspection. Next we hemmed over which doll would be ideal. Because of the plethora of tiny pieces, I succumbed to her experience. Then she differed to my knowledge to snag “her” little boy a nifty action figure. After adding a board game and toddler’s primary colored dump truck to our arms full we headed to the check out desk.
Yet my mother still wasn’t satisfied. “Can we get the other items you don’t carry here and then bring the gifts back for donation?”
The clerk grimaced as if we were another thorn in his side during the Christmas rush. “We can only take what you get here. If you want extra items you’ll have to deliver them to the charity’s headquarters yourself.” He plucked the items from her hands, and tucked the angel tag beside the cash drawer.
“I can find it,” I volunteered, not about to have my mother’s hopes crushed.
My mother leaned forward across the counter to retrieve the paper ornament, determination turning her cheeks rosy red. Wordlessly she watched him ring up the items, then bag the goodies in four plastic sacks. When it came time for him to hit the total button, she pointed to a hand-written sign behind his head. “It seems we also get a discount.”
The clerk grumbled, but gave into the store’s policy of taking fifteen percent off the top.
Wearing a smile like she’d already opened her favorite Christmas gift my mom watched him go through the motion to fill my three bags. Nodding that all was right, she lead the charge to the door, her cut-out angel tucked safely in her purse.
In the car we brainstormed how to fill the rest of “our” children’s requests while she drove to our next stop. Her head held high, she stormed inside to get the essentials every child needs—underwear, pants, shirts and cute pajamas. She left no rack unturned as she scoured the department store. Finally satisfied, she twisted the plastic bags handles together, looped the ornament through the middle and finished the securing knot. With a pat, we stowed the purchases in the back seat of the car. “That should do it.”
We’ve been on that same adventure every year since. This season it occurred to me why my mother gives so much of her heart as well as a small chunk of her wallet. When she taught me that lesson about money she was a single mother of twins, working a full time job with overtime and trying to bring us up as good girls alone. Back then her situation wasn’t the norm and she was hard pressed to make ends meet on her meager secretarial salary. Yet she never gave us cause for worry and she always found a way to make sure our Christmas’ were the best.
Every time she chooses an angel, my mother lends a helping hand to those parents who wish they could do more. She truly has walked a mile and more in their shoes, but that hardship has blessed her with the perspective of what’s important, especially during the holiday season. Money doesn’t grow on trees, but charity does begin at home when one realizes how it warms the heart to give so freely.
I helped three children’s wishes come true. A 4 year-old boy who had his heart set on a Spiderman tent, a 7 year old girl who wished for Bratz dolls and another 7 year old girl who simply asked for books. I had more fun shopping for them than all of my clan (extended members included). In a way this is a small, quiet celebration for me because it reaffirms themes of the season—giving to others, spreading good will towards men, and sharing good cheer.
If you’d like to read the non-fiction short story submission I wrote for Christmas Traditions: True Stories of Holiday Celebration, click here.