Years ago when I was a child, my mother wrote this story about her best ever Christmas gift. I hope you enjoy her story and the photos from Christmas of my childhood.
Six part-time angels gave Christmas to me wrapped in warmth and love. The uncomplicated truths of childhood changed what seemed a catastrophe into the most precious gift that I have ever received.
It was four days before Christmas and we had all been busy with our usual holiday preparations — addressing cards, baking cookies, making candy, stuffing dates, linking the wreath for the front door, decorating the house inside and out, wrapping gifts, stringing popcorn and cranberries for the birds’ tree in the front yard, arranging Great Aunt Mary’s crib in its honored place in the entrance hall, trimming the tree — doing all the happy chores that make up our pre-Christmas ritual. The children’s gifts of clothing had been purchased and wrapped, and the toys had long been ordered.
Unable to squeeze any more days into my schedule, I had ordered the toys from an out-of-town mail-order house and considered myself very lucky that they would all be delivered in one shipment to my door. I waited as patiently as possible until the preceding week and then wrote asking the company to check on my order. They replied to the effect that shipments were understandably slow and that I should not worry. Worry I did, however, as the days passed and no toys arrived. Finally, in desperation, I called the firm long-distance. After what seemed an hour of expensive delay, a pleasant female voice on the other end of the line was telling me something about a mix-up in orders. They were terribly sorry. My order had not been shipped. There was no possible way of getting the toys to me in time for Christmas. I was stunned, and I excitedly babbled something about my predicament — my husband, a mailman, was working late every night in the rush of Christmas mail. I couldn’t get to a store from our rural location. The order was all of the children’s Christmas toys. I had to have those toys! The poor girl at the other end of the line was patiently understanding and, as I remember now, sounded genuinely sorry for the mistake. There was just nothing the company could do! Finally, I had to accept the impossibility of getting the shipment to our house in time.
I sat by the phone, the thought of a toyless Christmas settled over my mind like a black fog, smothering all the joy I had known in our Christmas preparations. I was still sitting there when the children came in, flushed with cold and excitement and the joy of the season. They knew immediately that something was wrong and grouped around me to find out what it was that could cause such sadness so close to Christmas. Foolishly, I thought of the disappointment on those shining faces on Christmas morning, and the flood of tears I had been fighting to hold back could no longer be controlled. I cried. And then, hoping to temper their disappointment on Christmas morning, I told them there would be no toys. The looks of disbelief I expected were there, but not the looks of disappointment. They simply could not believe that I was so upset over that.
The parent became the child and the children became the parents. They pressed close and assured me that of all the things of Christmas, the toys were the least important. Christmas to them wasn’t presents. Christmas to them was the fun of being together, of doing things together. It was the fun of caroling our neighbors and of welcoming our friends. It was the wonderful, indescribable feeling of happiness, the experience of celebrating Christ’s birth at midnight Mass. My oldest daughter summed it up very well by saying, “Clothes wear out and toys break, but we have you and Daddy for all the time.” Needless to say, my feelings readjusted to their proper perspective immediately. I was thrilled by this insight into their true feelings and a bit chagrined that I had lost sight of the true values of Christmas.
That was the warmest, most wonderful Christmas ever. When the holiday season was over, and the Three Kings stood at their destination in the crib, the little light in the tin-star reflector over the stable was extinguished. That has always been the signal that the time has come to pack away the material evidences of Christmas. The boxes and crates were filled with gay decorations, the greens burned, and the gifts put in their proper places. But no drawer, no shelf, no closet was large enough to hold my gift. I keep it with me constantly, and each day is gilded by the knowledge that, “we have you and Daddy for all the time.”
In all fairness, I must confess the children did not reform their mother completely. When I had related the incident to my husband, we immediately combed the city for late-closing stores and replaced all the toys in the canceled order. Then we added a few extra. We are glad that we have those children, “for all the time.”
About the Author
Mildred Clements, a.k.a. Mom, passed away nearly eleven years ago, but her spirit is ever present, especially at Christmas. Mom believed Christmas should be all about family and traditions. We put up the tree together, placed the creche beneath the tree, sang carols, and laughed over past tree raisings. With so many people living in one house, someone always had a funny remembrance. Though Mom decorated most of our house during the day while we were at school, she enlisted our help with baking and food prep and many of our other Christmas traditions. I still make many of the same cookies we baked in Mom’s kitchen.