Saturday, December 26, 2015

Simple Gifts

Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free
Tis a gift to come down where you ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
we'll be in the valley of love and delight

1.5 oz Smirnoff� No. 21 Vodka
6 oz orange juice

(Crested Butte, CO): This was the first Christmas without either my mom or dad. My memories of many Christmas mornings past flooded into mind as I opened the box of gifts from our oldest daughter...

Our tiny three bedroom house in suburban Philadelphia fit a family of five in cozy comfort. It was the kind of boxy post-war structure meant to offer housing to returning vets, costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $5000, which worked out to a mortgage of perhaps $55 a month. We walked to school, and the nearby rec center, in blissful ignorance of what we now might believe was terrible danger. The moms were all home with toddlers.

Christmas was always more than just a few days off. We three sons had spent the better part of a month poring over the Sears and Roebucks Christmas catalog.  This tome of vivid color and hopeful possibility was our guide to the inevitable, unattainable list of gifts "Santa" might deem us worthy of receiving. We made so many trips through it that the spine would split, and the pages scatter.

Christmas Eve often found us at church. We would arrive home in time to put up the tree. We never decorated it - it was green and bare when mom and dad tucked us in. Dad would hang one of his old Marine Corps blankets in the hallway to shield prying little eyes from watching the festivities - of our parents trimming the tree, setting out gifts and, hopefully, shielding our tender ears from the purple language that inevitably resulted from toy assembly chores by a handy but impatient father.

In the morning, reluctantly and sleeplessly waiting until some appropriate pre-dawn moment, we were turned loose into a world of light and color and bliss. Mom and Dad would watch in loving amusement as we tore into the gifts.

Years, and a marriage, and children of my own, we assumed different holiday traditions. Yet, there was always one that remained, right up to the point that my father was gone, and my mother fading.

Every year, my mom bought me a screwdriver.

I don't really know how the tradition took hold. Apparently, as a child I was a tinkerer. I would take things apart and, often, put them back together correctly. Although any number of different tools might be required, it was the screwdriver that my mom settled upon.

This went on for decades - sometimes a high-quality precision instrument, sometimes a QVC gimmick. No matter how much they spent on other gifts, how old I became and how many of my own tools I had accumulated there was always a screwdriver.

Last year was the first time in over forty years that I did not receive one. It was a sign that the end was approaching for Mom. Our family would soon face a Christmas, and every one after, without her. When the time inevitably came, it left a hollow feeling inside.

This year I vowed to remember her even as we moved ahead as a family. We were spending Christmas in Crested Butte with our son, daughter-in-law and their two children. This was not so much an escape as the beginning of a different tradition.

So I opened the box from our daughter. Tucked inside a "tactical" Christmas stocking - a screwdriver. Christmas morning, celebrating with our son and his wife and children in their hotel suite, a carefully-wrapped package contained another screwdriver. This one a gift from a man who has truly become a son. It had been a conspiracy, the kids getting together and deciding that they would remember their grandmother with the gift of screwdrivers to their father. Arriving home from our trip - a third, from our youngest, whose kindness had come even as she remained attentive to her own family and their traditions. Each different...but the resulting tears of remembrance and love were the same for each.

It is truly the simple gifts that matter.

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