The following excerpt is taken from my humorous memoir, A Dead Tomato Plant And a Paycheck. Some of this has been on my blog before, but it’s always nice to look back on past holidays and good times with family.
For several years, I wrote a weekly column for the Plano Star-Courier. That column was also called, It’s Not All Gravy, and it was comedic relief from the daily challenges of raising five kids, the youngest twins, aged three. After a number of people – not just my family – suggested I gather those columns for a book, I found that a brilliant idea. Why hadn’t I thought of it myself? 🙂
By the way, I don’t think anyone in the family brought up the idea of a book. They were sufficiently embarrassed that I aired the Miller family laundry in public with the column, and after they realized none of the writing was going to lead to great wealth or fame, I think they were happy when each week’s paper was used to wrap someone’s wilted spinach.
The Christmas Season was always a source of great excitement at our house. It was also a time of great panic. Every year I found the Christmas Season closing in fast with me panting to cross the finish line before Santa.
I’d immediately start my “Holiday Hustle” working non-stop for three weeks to get everything done. There were gifts to send out of state, and cards to mail. Since I didn’t start early enough on that task, I had to decide if I would write one letter and copy it for all our friends, or try to find the time to write individual letters. This was before the birth of The Holiday Letter, which has now become a standard way for friends to stay in touch.
Some people don’t like them, but, you know, if the alternative means not keeping up with friends, I’m all for it.
Maybe instead of getting angry at the stores that were putting out their Christmas stuff before Halloween, I should’ve taken their decorative reminder seriously. Then I wouldn’t have let Thanksgiving slip by without a thought about the next holiday.
My basic problem was, and still is, the fact that I don’t get in the Christmas spirit until a couple of weeks before The Day, and then the frantic juggling act begins. If I could just bring myself to think about Christmas in October, I wouldn’t be faced with the necessity of regimenting my time down to the last second to get everything done — structure and discipline being the closest thing to medieval torture I can think of.
However, I knew that I had to have some structure, so one year I made a calendar filled with Things to Do. Monday was slotted for shopping. No giving in to the urge to sing carols with the kids or start making decorations. Friday was slotted for singing, and decorating would start the following week. Tuesday was the day to finish the Christmas cards. No fair claiming writer’s cramp as an excuse to quit for a while and play with the dog.
Wednesday of that week started out easy. That was the day to write my column, and I didn’t have to stress over the topic as I had all this great material to work from. But the strangest thing happened as I wrote about the myriad of things I hadn’t done yet. I had to fight the urge to quit working and dash out to the store when I thought of the perfect gift to get Uncle Barney. Not to mention how my brain switched over to thinking about all the other things I’d forgotten on Monday.
While fighting down the urge to go shopping, another distraction popped up. The Girl Scout caroling party. I still hadn’t called the leader to tell her what songs I’d planned for the girls.
Then I remembered someone else I should have mailed a card to.
Then I remembered I was supposed to get drinks for a neighborhood holiday party.
I don’t even remember the rest of that week.
One year, I was able to take one thing off my To-Do list of holiday preparations. It was the year that necessity put me in the position of making a lot of our gifts. At first I was disappointed that our checkbook couldn’t be as generous as our hearts, but, as I thought of what to make for each person and started working on the projects, I got a new perspective. The time spent on each gift made me feel closer to the person I was making it for. As I worked, I thought of all the things that make them special to me, and it was like I was sharing that moment with them. That brought a realization of an extra benefit of a handmade gift. A benefit I hadn’t always appreciated in times past.
After my husband and I moved to Texas, we rarely made it back to Michigan for holidays, and my mother always sent handmade gifts for Christmas. Necessity has ruled her entire life, and we became accustomed to not expecting gifts of any great monetary value. Even so, the arrival of her annual box always sparked an eagerness in me that I never fully understood. The gifts were either hand made, or just a small trinket, and sometimes there were even gifts for ‘we-don’t-know-who,’ arriving with no label. Sometimes we didn’t even know what the gift was or what it was for; usually something she knitted or crocheted that could be a small afghan or a large lap blanket.
Although, the year of the Christmas dolls left nothing to wonder about, except the great creativity of her work.
When the kids were young, they never understood my excitement over Mother’s box, but I couldn’t fault them for that. It’s easy for a simple gift to be diminished when stacked up next to ones larger and more expensive, and, like the kids, I often saw my mother’s efforts as a mere gesture.
But the year that necessity forced me to make gifts, was the year that I finally understood what a gift really is, whether handmade or purchased.
A gift is not just a thing. It’s a connection between the person giving and the person receiving that says something special about the relationship between the two. And a gift should never be rushed. The longer you think about it, plan it, and work on it, the stronger the connection.
That’s the special, intangible ingredient my mother wrapped up and sent to us in those boxes for all those years.
Thank you, Mom.