True gifts

Years ago, as soon as Thanksgiving ended I would be scouting for the best Christmas tree, or up on the roof hanging lights, or in the kitchen making enumerable trays of cookies for friends and co-workers. I would have planned to have all my Christmas shopping done before Thanksgiving, but never did and about now I would be with the crowds going from store to store looking for the best presents.

Years ago when I had less money, I would spend more time wrapping the presents, creating cut outs and designs in the ribbons, making packages that people would open last because they were so pretty. As I became more successful I had more money to spend on nicer presents but less on cooking and wrapping and eventually I would find the professional gift wrappers and have them wrap the packages for me as I continued to shop in a mania of buying.

Then in 1997 we moved to a home on a couple of acres of land on an island in Vermont and I again had less money but more time because I was devoting myself to writing, my beloved writing, rather than working on yet another application that would be dull before the edge was finished cutting. In this old ranch house with its huge kitchen and big windows looking out on an old apple tree, I would bake little fruit tarts made of buttery pastry, candy grapefruit peel to use for baking and eating, and decorate cookie after cookie – gingerbread, sugar, date balls, oak leave cookies, or ones flavored with lemon or chocolate.

We had a tree in the foyer in front of the front door because in the country, no one comes to the front door, they always go around to the side to the mud room. We also had a huge beautiful fir tree in the middle of the field, surrounded by two feet of crystalline white snow, that we decorated with old fashioned fat bulbs that didn’t blink or play songs, but just glowed with rich colors – ruby red, sun orange, lime green, and that deep cobalt blue. We strung the same lights around the eaves, and smaller lights around the windows and that night we turned it all on and stood outside a moment looking at the home, on a snow covered hill overlooking the frozen lake, lights shining out in the dark. Then we went in and had hot mulled cider made fresh not from a mix.

We’ve not really celebrated Christmas since. Sometimes I miss it – baking cookies for friends, sharing warm times and cool egg nog with people I cherish. I also miss the scent of cranberry candles mixed with that of orange and pine, but I don’t miss the shopping and the presents. Especially the presents.

In California, I bought a poinsettia and turned on all the lava lights and lit a candle and made fudge, but that was a reaction to the loneliness not the season. It was at that time I looked around at all the expensive things that crowded my small apartment, and remembered the blur of shredded wrapping paper of the years previous, and wondered at what age did I learn that at Christmas it is excess we embrace and kiss under the mistletoe.

This year I decided to again celebrate Christmas, but there will be no tree and no lights, and definitely no gaudily wrapped presents. But there will be gifts.

Next week I go to Indiana to spend a week with my father so that my brother and his wife can have a holiday. Dad and I will share afternoon tea like we did when I was younger, and I’ll listen to stories of the War, and hear them again for the first time.

When Mike returns I’ll head home but am off almost immediately for additional travels. Contrary to my usual custom, I plan on traveling less than 10 hours a day, and taking frequent breaks. I’ll drive more slowly, and pay attention to my surroundings rather than trying to read the map while I drive.

For my Mom, I made this book of my favorite essays and photographs. Is this a childish thing to do? Possibly, but at her age and mine, shared time sparkles more brightly than another useless crystal bowl.

I have a bag of quarters and everytime I pass a red Salvation Army pail, I’ll throw some in. It might be more efficient to send a check, but if I were a bell ringer, I’d rather have the quarters.

For others, I’m going to shut up. I’m going to listen. I’m going to forgive. I’d also like to hold my hand out to the people who I’ve hurt or disappointed this year, but I hesitate because they may not reach back and then I’ll have to buy a poinsetta and make fudge again, and the lava lights are gone. So instead, I’ll just give them space, with a clear view of an open door.

No, I won’t be shopping at Wal-Mart, so that it may continue abusing its employees. And I won’t be buying another geegaw I don’t need that will only collect dust, or expensive trinket to impress friends and family. I will not begin to build a new mountain of debt, nor will I feel sadness at not getting what I secretly wished for come Christmas morning. I will stop wanting.

However, I am not completely without avarice. I might treat myself to a new music CD, and nibble a gingerbread cookie and sip a cup of hot spiced cider while I listen to it. Maybe I’ll even splurge on a candle scented with pine, and cranberry.

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