Thursday, December 23, 2010

The best Christmas present ever

     In our household we abandoned all the craziness of the Christmas season a long time ago, and it was the best present that we ever gave each other.  The simple pleasures of the season, and the joy of living in such a beautiful area makes up for it tenfold!
     I knew that I had found the man of my dreams when my then future husband handed me a fruitcake as an early Christmas gift. How many couples do you know who both actually crave a well -made fruitcake, and spend hours hunting for the perfect one? We may be the oddballs on the block, but we have ordered from companies all over the country and shopped in the most unusual places searching for the ever -elusive delicacy-and we have a ball doing it.

     During one of my earliest teaching years when I was pretty naive I gave out the best Christmas present ever without realizing it. You see our classroom was decorated with a lovely real tree with lights that shimmered magically all day long. I had the false assumption that all my students were living in situations where they were anticipating the same Christmas trimmings.
         “What are you going to do with the tree when school is out over vacation,” asked a gangly boy who always seemed to be curious about things.
         “Why, I don’t know,” I replied believing that the custodian would take it away and put it on the dump pile at the back of the building.
         I didn’t think anymore about it, and totally missed the cue for what the boy really wanted.
         Two days later he came back up to me and asked the same question. Thank goodness he was persistent!
         This time I wised up and realized that he might want that tree, so I asked him outright if he did.
         “Oh, thank you. My brother and I will take it home, but can we wait until all the others are gone so no one will know?”
     My heart immediately went out to him and we made a plan that the tree would be his with no questions asked.
     The day arrived when the two brothers hauled off the tree, and watching from the classroom window I had tears in my eyes as they slowly plodded through the street dragging the tree behind them.
     “You don’t have a tree for the rubbish pile?” asked the custodian standing in my doorway right then surveying the room.
     “No, I don’t.”
      The custodian walked off accepting that short reply. If he had seen the boy and his brother carrying the tree down the stairwell leaving its needles behind, he never mentioned it again.

     The last Christmas that I ever saw my father alive was the most challenging one to get home because of nasty weather issues in Rochester. By the time the delayed plane landed on Long Island it was way late into the afternoon, and my parents had left the relatives behind at the Christmas turkey dinner to pick me up. I put my dad’s hand in mine and helped him walk to the parking lot, and I sensed that this was a special time for he and I. Who cared if we had leftovers when we got home? It was the loving moment with him that I re-live every Christmas season.

     One year at school my colleague and I had all the extra energy needed and two wonderful class loads of kids. We decided to put on a play, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” We practiced and practiced for weeks, and when the lights dimmed for the evening production for the parents, the high school auditorium was filled to capacity. It was just great! Sometimes I wonder if experiences like that are what learning is all about, and how many of those kids- grown-ups by now, will ever forget that play?
     “You chop down the tree and I will take photos,” my husband said putting all the required tools into the trunk of the car.
     Off we hiked in a blinding snowstorm up the hill until I spotted the perfect tree. I set to work and sawed and sawed, but it didn’t seem like I was even making a dent in the bark. I took off my jacket and kept at it, but I realized then that this was not going to be easy at all.
     “You’re doing this all wrong. You are making too much work of it. Work smarter,” my husband said.
     After a few more attempts, I gave up and my husband finished the job. By the time we hauled the tree down to the house, our friends had warm coffee waiting. They also broke the news to us that we had strayed way off their land and had chopped down a neighbor’s tree. The second bad news came when we got the tree home, and even with a cathedral ceiling in our living room, the tree wouldn’t fit unless it was bent in two. I guess things looked smaller out in nature! That was a wonderful happy day filled with fun together that we still talk about.
     This afternoon as Christmas nears we are writing out checks to local charities to help those less fortunate than us while nibbling on fruitcake. Ah, it is all good!