In our holiday series "Finding ...," the Herald-Leader has invited readers and writers to share the story of a personal quest or journey they're taking this holiday season. This is the fourth in the occasional series. For the other installments, see below.
Standing precariously on a stool in my office, I found the Christmas boxes high on a back shelf. It is time to transform our home into the magic colors of the "love season."
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Somehow I never can enter the spirit of things until I set my own stage, so I slid the boxes to the carpet and knelt to explore once again the satin balls and sparkling tree ornaments that have hung every year for many years upon our tree. Separating the strings of tiny lights, I leaned to plug in the first strand. On it came.
Glancing at the box, my eyes fell upon something tucked in the bottom corner. There was a red candle. Next to it, folded in yellow tissue, were four dimes and, underneath these things lay an old magazine.
I rocked back on my heels and, while the lights burned on, my mind relived the events that led these things to be in my possession.
I once knew a woman who had very little in the way of material possessions. Her clothes were clean but faded. She ironed other people's clothes to make money for her children. There was no car. She walked everywhere; thus her shoes were worn and cracked. She and her two young children lived in a tiny corner house that had once been white. They all slept in one bedroom.
I met her through her little boy, who used to come into my pet store after school. He loved animals and I'd pay him a little to "help me" by sweeping the floor. He brought his mom around to see me one winter day. I liked her and, since I was nice to her child, she liked me. Mothers are like that.
When Christmas came, she appeared in my shop, smiling and red-cheeked, with a gift for me. She asked if I would open it so she could explain it to me.
Wrapped in newspaper were three things — a red candle, four dimes wrapped in tissue and a magazine.
I listened as she said that the red candle would bring light in my life. The four dimes were to be distributed to my four children, and in the magazine was an article about the true meaning of giving and how we are to love one another.
It had meant a lot to her, and she wanted me to have it. Never had I received such a wondrous gift as this. She stood shyly, hoping I'd accept her humble offering of friendship.
I could not close the space between us quickly enough and, with my arms around her, I told her I was honored and would keep it always.
And I have.
Every year, I lovingly place the red candle, the four dimes and the magazine under our tree to remind us of the value of relationships and of giving of ourselves. I can tell you that amid all the gaily wrapped gifts piled high each year, these precious gifts from my friend so long ago help put Christmas in its proper perspective for me.
It is too easy to fall prey to materialistic advertising, too easy to get entangled with spending "enough" on each person on a list, too easy to get as tight as a rubber band on a slingshot because you've spent yourself and your pocketbook too thin. It is too easy to forget that this is the "love season."
So, once again this year, I have placed these three gifts under our tree to remind us of the true reason we celebrate Christmas that has nothing to do with money. These are really hard times this year and, more than likely, there will be fewer gifts under your tree, but that's OK.
Maybe it will turn out to be a blessing — not that we have less, but that we may celebrate Christmas this year with a clearer perspective.