Friday, December 17, 2010

A Borrowed Story of the True Meaning of Christmas

To Mike
While cruisin' the internet for some Christmas material suitable for posting, I found s collection of Christmas stories, not from some famous writer, but just plain folks. Like you. Like me. I was drawn to one story in particular, a story called "A Small White Envelope". I am a better man for having read it. "A Small White Envelope" is a true story, plainly written, but every last word of it comes from the heart...because the writer is telling a tale that she was a part of, not something contrived or hastily thought out. The message of "A Small White Envelope" is a familiar, yet timeless one. It is a testament to a family who took the Meaning of Christmas and actually practiced it.
                                         A Small White Envelope

It's just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so.
It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas---oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it- overspending... the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma---the gifts given in desperation because you couldn't think of anything else.
Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.
Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church, mostly black. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler's ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn't acknowledge defeat.
Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, "I wish just one of them could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them."
Mike loved kids-all kids-and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That's when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition---one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.
The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.
As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn't end there.
You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more.
Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope. Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us.
May we all remember Christ, who is the reason for the season, and the true Christmas spirit this year and always. God bless. The End.

I rarely copy and paste a whole story or article because it's just bad manners at the least and plagiarizing at worst. I did not want to break up "A Small White Envelope" into pieces. I hope the author understands the reasoning behind my decision. I think he or she will and to him or her I'd like to say thank you for such a personal and touching story. Merry Christmas and God bless you.

(hat tip to A Wharton Texas Christmas)

An Old Dad, Young Kids and Christmas - My Story

A child is born...
It's December 17 and the calendar continues on its unstoppable march to Christmas, 2010. I don't know about you but I have done more Christmas shopping with my wife over the past few weeks than I have ever done in my previous 53 years on this planet. I thought us old guys would be able to enjoy the dawn of our Sunset Years, spend a lot of time with our grand kids and take it easy during the Christmas season. That's before I went and married up with a younger woman and became the father to a new batch of kids who are younger than my grand children. I'm not complaining, mind you, I am speaking of the way the Good Lord does things His way and in such mysterious ways. Although my body says "ouch" quite often while shopping these days, my heart and mind say "thanks" and there seems to be a smile frozen on my face in anticipation of seeing the reactions of my two little girls, Issy, 8 and Bailey, 3 come Christmas Day and inevitable mangling of the wrapping paper on their Christmas goodies. I haven't been an eyewitness to kids rippin' into Christmas presents in almost thirty years when my sons were children. Trey is now 31 and Toby is 28. See? It's been a while.

A couple of other things that I have noticed over the last several weeks are how Bailey goes ballistic when she sees some toy or another that she can't live without in a TV commercial and the inevitable afternoon inventory of presents under the tree about 3:15 each day after school when Issy gets off the bus. She looks over the presents under the tree like a pitbull looks at a T-bone. The intense scrutiny of her observant blue eyes never misses even the smallest change in number or appearance of those gifts. And like that pitbull slobberin' over a medium rare steak, Issy is poised to lay waste to any and all wrapping paper and/or boxes within reach. Ah, the exuberance of youth.

Bailey on the other hand, is constantly reminding us of which toys she deems fit to be hers as the toy commercials play on TV. We are lucky to have cable TV which features about 7 or 8 hundred kids' channels, each one with a different set of toy commercials to taunt and tantalize children to the point of near-hysteria. 'Daddy, look!" or "Daddy, I want that!" are the most used phrases in the English language this month at our house. As I type this, what happens right on cue? A toy commercial comes on during Spongebob and Bailey shouts "Mama, I want that!" The kid has impeccable timing. If I were rich instead of handsome (that's what my Dad used to say), I'd own half of Toys R Us and damn near all of Walmart's toy inventory. Alas, I am handsome.  :)

Being the father of two young children at 54 years old holds challenges aplenty, to be sure, but those challenges are far outweighed by the rewards that only children can give - neverending smiles, laughter on the spur of the moment when we least expect it, unconditional love and ulcers. OK, I made that last part up. I have been blessed by God with the two little girls that He had planned for me long ago, when the only plan I had was to go fishin' or take a trip to the casino. Yup, the Good Lord knows exactly when to clobber us with a clue by 4 when the timing is juuussstt right. Like Crocodile Dundee said, "Me and God. We be mates". I couldn't have said it better myself.

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