Holiday Wishes Through the Gift of Words…

To celebrate a year of writing together we are posting a collection of essays with the single word prompt of Gift. Happy Holidays to all our readers thanks for following along!

Joy Delicately Restored

written by Lisa Solis DeLong

Dad was never one to spoil the grandkids; he and mom started giving them money for their savings as their Christmas gifts a long time ago, practical people they are. It was really very un-dad-like to give them such lavish doll houses back then but he enjoyed working with his hands and I think he enjoyed being able to give them something of himself.

I am thankful that he did. As I pulled the doll houses out, I was surprised that I had the foresight to save most of the little wooden pieces which had broken off.  I remembered finding them on the floor back then and contemplating throwing them away as the pile of Polly Pocket accessories mingled with Lincoln Logs and the chaos grew out of control and I felt like ditching everything.  But each time I held one of those broken pieces in my hand I would picture my bald little dad in his workshop/garage patiently gluing each one delicately in place, holding it until the wet glue dried and so I didn’t have the heart to toss it.  After gluing the one-and two inch railing pieces back on the log home myself, Jacob and I delicately layered white batting on the roof tops and around the front “yards.” we added lights and created an instant winter wonderland. “Ahhh Christmas has arrived,” I thought, as the “Grandpa Houses” sparkled magically with the little people placed inside, sitting at tiny tables and lying on cozy cardboard beds, Santa and his reindeer ready to make his delivery, perched on the “snow”-covered roof tops.

The other night my husband went to bed after a long day of coaching and teaching, Jacob took his night time chemo pills and Jojo went to bed exhausted from a tough basketball practice. Jessica was still out and I found myself in a rare moment of silence, so I stayed up and played quiet music, picked up the day’s warn shoes, folded some warm laundry, and swept up the pine needles which had fallen from the tree.  The air was chilly but the doll houses sparkled warmly. They looked spectacularly festive. It is in moments of recognizing stunning loveliness that the stinging pain of dealing with so many cancer experiences blend and I wish that Christmas didn’t have to come with such conflicting, difficult emotions. It isn’t right that happiness should hurt but sometimes in the quiet stillness of the holiday season, memories surface, and it does. Life is like that—a blend of good and bad, of highs and lows.

The houses have become my heart’s fondest decorations for Christmas and now when I am feeling too tired, too torn up to celebrate, I look at those glistening doll houses and I feel a spark, think of my dad. And like the tiny rungs of the railing on the well- loved log doll house, I realize that there always comes a time to restore that which is worth restoring.  That is Christmas.

Which Gift?

written by Laura L. Mayes Hoopes

It was December, 1949 in Chatham, New Jersey, cold and blustery but warm with anticipation of Christmas right around the corner.  I was in second grade at Chatham Township Public School, learning to sound out my letters and read phonetically from my teacher, Mrs. Belcher.  We lived in a white frame house on Longwood Street, with many children living near our house.  Robins nested in our lilac trees, but now it was winter and there were no leaves and no birds to be seen.  Icicles hung from our roof and frost flowers scrolled over the windows of the back porch.

My mom sat on the stairs below me, sewing something made of white satin.  I colored, leaning on the step above me where the coloring book rested.  Mom shook out what she was working on, and I saw that it was a doll dress, probably a wedding dress for a Toni doll, the type of 18 inch tall dolls with settable hair that were all the rage.

She said, ‘Laursy, this is one of the two doll dresses I’ve made.  One is for your your friend Christine and one is for you.  I only had enough to put lace on the snap placket of one of the two, this one.  See, here is that lace.  The other dress is exactly the same but it doesn’t have lace on the placket.  You can’t really tell the difference when the dress is on a doll, only when it’s off and the snaps aren’t snapped together.”

I looked at the dress.  It was long and full, with a fitted top and puffed sleeves.  There was lace on the neckline and the sleeves.  And there was lace on the placket of this one.  “It’s beautiful, Mama,” I said, handing it back to her.

“Is it okay to give Christine the one with the lace placket or would you feel bad because yours didn’t have the lace?”  she asked.

I thought about how the real fun of the dress would be putting it on and off and how I”d probably be jealous of Christine if she got the lace placket and I didn’t.  So I was honest and said, “I wish I could have it, Mama.”

“Of course you can if you really want it,” she said.  “I only thought it wasn’t so important and maybe you’d like your friend to have it.  But it’s no problem.”

On Christmas morning, I opened my presents and sure enough, I got a white wedding dress with a lace-bound placket to fit my Toni doll.  Christine was thrilled with the dress my mom had made for her doll too, and I don’t know if she ever noticed that mine had lace somewhere that hers did not.  But I did, and whenever we dressed our dolls in these dresses, I felt selfish and mean because I had given my mom the wrong answer that day on the stairs.

The Gift

written by Rossana G. D’Antonio

She sits in her car with the box on her lap, her hand lightly resting on its simple white wrapping secured with the bright red ribbon.  Her fingers gently run little circles around the farthest corner of the rectangular box.  It is his birthday and her heart beats excitedly at the thought of the gift.    As she steps out of the car, the breeze ruffles her hair and she pushes it back from her face with her hand.  The other hand gently holds the gift against her chest close to her heart careful not to crush the ribbon.

“Hi!,” she says as she approaches him shielding her eyes from the sun with her free hand.

“Hey!  You brought me a gift!”

“It’s your birthday, of course I brought you a gift!” she says as she sits down placing the gift between them.

“Thanks!  You shouldn’t have but I’m glad you did!…hey, is that Cartier red?” referring to the red ribbon with a quiet chuckle.

“You wish!”

“Wow, another year, how time flies.”

She nods.  Actually these last two years seem to have dragged on and yet looking back on them everything seems like a blur.  So much has happened and yet, so much has not.

“Well, it’s my birthday so let’s open my gift!” The excitement is that of a 10 year old, except it’s not.  The bright red bow slips off the box with such ease and the rest of the wrapping is quickly pushed aside.  “You got me a book?” he asks somewhat surprised at the wide open box exposing its literary contents.  Everyone knows he is not much of a reader.

“It’s not just any book.  It’s my manuscript.  You know, my story…our story.”

“You finished it?  Finally, geez, it took you, what, two years?”

It had been two years.  Two very long years.  But she was done.  Yes, finally, she was done.

“Did you fix Part II?  I heard there were problems with Part II.  Cause we don’t want a shoddy Part II.”

“Yes, smart ass, I fixed Part II…I’m beginning to think this was a mistake.”

His loud and boisterous laughter rang out in the breeze.  He was always the loudest of the family.

“Ok, all right, I’m kidding.  So, I’m assuming you dedicated it to me, right?  Go ahead, read me the dedication.  Go on.”

She rolls her eyes as she picks up the first few pages the breeze ruffling them gently.

“To my little brother who changed my life forever…”

“Cool, it’s about time you realized it!”

“I hope you can read it sometime,” she says.

“No need to read it, we lived it, didn’t we?”

“Yes, we did.”

She brushes her fingertips lightly against the raised letters on the brass plaque.

Captain Cesare Edoardo D’Antonio

December 15, 1967 – May 28, 2008

Today, your wings are those of angels…

“…we certainly did,” she whispers softly blinking back the tears.

She rises to go, brushing the grass from the seat of her pants.  It is so peaceful here and on many visits it is hard to say goodbye.  So she never does.  The garden of farewells is how she chooses to think of this place.  As she reaches the end of the walkway she turns for a final farewell.  Next to her brother’s plaque lays the open gift box with the pages of the manuscript flipping in the afternoon breeze.  Slowly, one by one, the pages turn and tell a story almost as if being read by its immortal protagonist – the non-reader relishing in the gift of a story.

An Unexpected Gift

written by Barbara Force

The house was dark as I stumbled to the kitchen at six am to start the coffee.  It was mid-December, our home was festive and the Christmas tree was decorated and cheery in our small living room.  I loved the smell of the fresh fir.

The coffee started dripping and the aroma mingled with the fir – a heady and eye opening smell.  I plugged in the tree lights and sat with my coffee to enjoy the quiet moments before I had to start getting ready for work.  Our cat, Imp, an all black, part Siames rescue, came in through the cat door, rubbed against my legs and settled in at my feet.

I had a modest collection of Christmas tree ornaments, amny of them home-made, in a variety of shapes and sizes, some of them animals.  I hadn’t wrapped presents yet, so the area under the tree was bare, except for the tree skirt.  I noticed that one of the ornaments had fallen off, and lay under the tree.

As I stared at it, I realized that none of my ornaments had that long of a tail.  I got up to take a closer look, and there, perfectly placed under the tree, was Imp’s gift to us.

My Christmas Memory

Written by Lisa Ruiseco

It was just weeks till Christmas and I was like most eight year old little girls who only had their sights on Barbie.  Yes, this was the year I was asking for something BIG…a 3-story Barbie House.  I begged, promisd and pleaded with my mother letting her know I would be especially good if she could on, please, please, pretyy please get me a Barbie house for Christmas.  She said it really wasn’t up to her, but up to Santa and that he was watching my every move to see if I had been really a good girl.  I looked back on the year and thought if there was anything bad, I could surely make up for it in the next few weeks.  I was the perfect angel for the rest of that holiday season.

It was finally here, Christmas Eve, and I remember putting cookies, milk and carrots out for Santa and his reiindeers.  My parents said eight thirty was bedtime and the sooner we went to bed the sooner it would be Christmas.  I was so excited with anticipation and nervousness to see if Santa really thought I had been a good girl.  I remember waking up at 11:30 . . . it was a really clear night and the sky filled with stars and the brightest moon ever.  I stood in my windowsill looking for Santa, sure that I would be able to see him flying through the bright sky.  It seemed like I was there forever, never ever seeing that bright sleigh, hearing Santa’s deep voice or Rudolf’s shiny red nose.  Maybe he had already come or maybe he was waiting for me to sleep.

Morning arrived and I jumped out of bed.  I was the first awake and couldn’t wait to see if Santa brought me my Barbie house.  There was a big box with mine and my sister’s names.  Could it be? I had to wait . . . shucks!  Finally everybody was up and it was time to open presents.  My mom asked us to wait to open the biggest present last.  Nothing else mattered to me but the big box, could it be? My mom and dad finally said okay.  My sister and I tore through the paper and yes, I had been a very good girl.  It was a Barbie house!

Stress Relief

Written by Liz Eisen

Stress is one of those terms I’m on the fence about. Yes, it is a valid malady often causing anxiety, insomnia and an ever-growing list of complaints. But, it’s also a word that has become a scapegoat for everything demanding in life. “Can’t get to work on time, you must be stressed…no time to make dinner, must have had a stressful day…need time to relax, eliminate stress in your life.” I think it’s needing more than 24 hours in day that’s the problem, not the “stress”.

At holiday time, we are all more pressed for time and therefore frazzled. Shopping and gift-wrapping, decorating the house, holiday get-togethers added to the regular busy routine of daily life and are more than enough to make a rational person question their sanity. I try to handle December with calm and grace, and an occasional glass of pinot noir.

I never realized that the craziness of the holidays rubbed off on my kids. When they were younger, after days of shopping, I would hide away in my bedroom with cylinders of blue and silver gift-wrap, and emerge hours later with beautiful boxes. More recently I’ve discovered gift bags and speed-wrapping right before the candles are lit. The kids now take iTunes cards or new earbuds out of dreidel-covered tissue paper deftly placed in bright blue bags, which they then hand back to be “recycled” for next Hanukkah, the “to, from” sticker still intact.

As we emerged from the Barbie and Hot Wheels year, the kids each began to adopt one of the eight nights and be a giver only. The requirement was that they spend no money on gifts to Michael and I and their siblings, but rather come up with something creative they could make themselves. In the beginning that worked well; we each got handmade certificates entitled the bearer to three car washes a year or a back massage or a promise to do chores without being reminded. Soon the pleasure of soaping up the SUV on the driveway lost its’ appeal and the kid’s wanted to spend money to get (and therefore receive) real gifts. Pressure ensued as they shopped and realized how hard it is to wonder through a department store hoping that the best gift in the world will jump into their hands.

Over the years, my children have given me beautiful and thoughtful gifts: photographs of flowers they took themselves, coupons for dinner and a movie for just the two of us, and my favorite…the “mom needs to relax” presents. These include, but are not limited to, the Stress-Relief pills from Adam (Sugar Babies in a washed out prescription bottle with a hand-drawn label), a box of Cozy Chamomile tea from Bryan (with the picture of daisies and a butterfly on the box) and a pedicure gift certificate from Melissa (the ultimate in relaxation). The theme is apparent and gratefully appreciated.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and stress-free holiday season…Liz

Christmas Cat

Written by Mary Rose Betten

The evening of Oct 4th, Fall is in the air, and we are leaving for the theatre (okay so it’s L.A. but we still call it theatre). I make certain  the back screen door is ajar for Zorro, our neighbors cat who enters in want of snack.  We have buried the last of our four cats but Zorro still looks for them and snacks in memorium.

After midnight my husband and I return and dress for bed.  I go to the kitchen to get a glass of water and make sure the screen is latched; fill the glass, turn and there on the tile floor is a tiny gold and white kitten with huge new-penny eyes meowing, no…make that yowling! I spill the water and stare.  She can’t be more than 6 weeks, and so confused.  She skids around giving me what for about the door being closed then runs and tunnels herself under the couch.  It happens fast.  Was she a vision?

After coaxing her from every angle of the couch we give up, put food and water at one end, an old scratch box at the opposite and go to bed.

As time went by she would venture out and sit further away from the couch near the  middle of the floor and blink at us.  She began to play with proffered strings and threads and finally let us pet her.  We discovered from the neighbors her mother was a “lady of the evening,” who answered to no one and must have walked her right into our house and left without a fair thee well.

We named her Frances.  Well truth be told, Francis after St. Francis of Assi, since she came to us on his feast day.  When we discovered she wasn’t a Francis we declared her official name: Frances The Feral Cat.  By Christmas she was completely at home, even shared her snacks with Zorro though she remains unsocialized and dives  directly under  the couch when the doorbell rings.  I see her mother occasionally canvassing the neighborhood but we are her parents now, she is forever our gift.   Irrational as love .

The Perfect Gift

written by Erica W. Jamieson

I am not a good gift giver.  Most of my gifts get returned.  I never see anything I’ve given out on display in the recipient’s house or used at a party or worn out in public.  Some of my gifts come back to me as in, oh, wow, you would use this more than me, here why don’t you just keep it.  I’ve also taken some gifts back.  A picture frame that I loved was found on a dark shelf in the corner of my mother’s basement.  It now sits on the side table next to my bed in my home three thousand miles away from where it was intended to be on display in her living room.

I find giving gifts stressful.  The more so now with the internet and all those darn catalogs.  I am inundated with tag lines of “Give the Perfect Gift”, “Fab Finds for Under Twenty-Five Dollars”, or “What They Really Want”. . . I never know what they really want.

I have a friend who circumvents all of this tsuris by giving out specific orders for gift giving at the holidays.  And yet, conspicuously missing from her detailed list of what her son really needs, what would make her husband happy, is any clue as to what to get her.  In twenty years of friendship I hasten to say she has only kept one gift and I’m not sure I’ve seen it recently.

Donations made with an honorarium are meaningful but not personal.  Gift cards worked for a while, money is so easy. But the latter are both rather cold.  I can wrap and add a little candy so it looks festive but after the ribbon cutting paper ripping chaotic anticipation of will-they-won’t-they like it the truth is exposed in plastic or cash.  I didn’t have clue what to get.

Am I so obsessed with my own wants and needs that I’m not listening, not  paying attention?  Is it that I don’t deeply know my friends? I worry that it translates to a missing gene in my friendship capabilities.

There is too much pressure to be jolly and ever so friendly in December, that Academy Awards of gift giving month, oh, to hear someone say I really like it, I really do.  Everywhere you go there are gift wrapped packages, bags overspilling with other people’s favorite things.  The stores swell with merchandise, everything colliding together with a wide angled intensified determination.  I get so dizzy.

I would quit, just stop with all this nonsense.  Bake a batch of cookies or an olive oil cake, make a donation, give the money or a card.  Just let it go.  But one of my better gift giving friends — she always gets it right — said to me once as she handed back a gift I had scoured the city for while in search of perfection, “You try so hard.  I really love that about you.”

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