Sunday, December 29, 2013

Re-gifting the best Christmas present ever

     I will let you in on a secret. It takes a reader of this column, AND ONE MORE THING… to put new meaning into my words. Perhaps, re-gifting is an honorable thing after all.
     Recalling my dad’s final holiday with our family on Long Island is part of “The Best Christmas Present Ever” column that I write two years ago. It is included in the essay collection that I publish partly at the request of readers of the Livingston County News.
      It is my personal favorite essay. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t stand out from the others as I go about compiling the pieces for publication.
       It isn’t until someone contacts me that I take a second look, and make my choice. She tells me that at this difficult time of year—her adult daughter passed away suddenly leaving behind little children— and she is trying to make the best of things. Grandchildren need loving, presents and support that she provides for her son-in-law, too, during the holidays.
     Unbeknown to me, my column ends with powerful words that are a tremendous comfort to her: “Tuck your precious memories away in your heart forever. No finer gift will you receive.”
     The mother shares a photo of her daughter from the previous Christmas surrounded with her children decorating the tree. She asks permission to quote me accompanying the picture keeping a memory alive for her grandchildren, and letting friends and relatives celebrate her daughter’s life on earth.
     When I read what this woman says, I am totally taken back with the impact I make with the written word. I dare say that one example probably scratches the surface of people’s emotions that are triggered by what they read bi-weekly in the column.      
     When I do book signings for groups, I never read the same piece twice. It depends on my mood at the moment (and how many crazed drivers on the highway I avoid on my way to the library or coffeehouse.) I can count on the times that I am asked which essay speaks loudly to me, and I just smile and tell folks to pick the one that tugs at their hearts.
     It’s not all-serious stuff in “The Best Christmas Present Ever.” I make you shake your head over my husband and I, both lovers of a yummy fruitcake. Not too many couples can brag about that—well, one reader did email right away and tell me her husband and her are like-minded souls— or I suppose, even have it on their list of keeping the marital bond sugared. 
     Fruitcakes are tossed around and get re-gifted more than any other present according to the legendary Johnny Carson, talk show host. What a terrible shame that one could be hidden in the back of your closet from aunt so-and-so that you feel too guilty to chuck into the garbage. (Fruitcakes get demolished at my house, so I have no clue as to what age has to do with it.)
     The monks at the Abbey of the Genesee in Piffard, NY bake outstanding fruitcake year round. You may purchase cake lovingly made by their hands at their store or online.
     Becoming a woods person by marriage and chopping down my first Christmas tree, is a part of the delightful tale I tell as well. I so don’t get it right as a newlywed in more ways than one. I estimate the height of the cathedral ceiling of my new living room in my head, and come home with a giant fir perfect for Westminster Abbey with a balcony or two to spare.
     Doing the traditional hauling in of a tree only lasts a few years long in our household. We use an artificial one, and put it to rest the rest of the year. It comes out of its box ready to go in December.
     My teacher friends like the section of the column where I tell the story of the live tree in my classroom that is taken home by a student. The boy realizes that his family can complete their holiday joy with his simple offering of a second-hand one. All it takes is a little muscle power on his part and a helpful brother.
     First of all, teachers can’t imagine being allowed to have a tree in the room, and let alone a live one with lights brought in by a proud kid and his folks. Times change, diversity is prominent and thoughts of holiday classroom celebrations are adjusted. It’s good for younger teachers to know about a different era of education once in awhile without judgment.
     At the post office I am met in the parking lot by a person who takes one look at me, reaches out her hand and begins to cry. She is speechless for a moment.
     “You said what I was thinking about my dad’s last Christmas,” she says with tears rolling down her cheeks.
     She goes on to explain that her huge family is very tight knit, and it is remains emotional to this day to sit down to the table without gramps at the head.
     “The Best Christmas Present Ever” is popular because faithful readers keep re-gifting my words and ideas, and I am delighted. I have planted a tiny seed, and that is my gift to savor throughout the season.
     If you want to read the original column, go to my blog ( where I have re-gifted it to you.