Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Past

Here's my Christmas story for this week. These things never do turn out the way I intend them.
Christmas Past

One day my phone rang. It was my friend Mary Row with a bizarre request. “Everything you touch turns into a work of art. I’m giving a party and want my house to look perfect. Will you come over and arrange my cashmere throw over the back of my couch? I’ll put on water for tea.” I needed to see her anyway, so I drove around the lake to her house. While she was in the kitchen I tossed the throw haphazardly toward the couch and watched the folds settle. Voila! A vignette of beauty.

What makes my artistic propensities an oddity is that I am constitutionally incapable of wrapping a gift. Ask my children if you don’t believe me. I hate paper adorned with Santa and reindeer, manger scenes with wise men and camels, snowflakes, foil candy cane stripes, and nutcrackers. I trace my aversion to wrapping paper to my early childhood.

I grew up without a Mother. “Ah,” you say. “That explains everything.” Indeed it does.

My Dad had no idea how to buy presents, so beginning when I was in first grade, he drove me to town and handed me the list of names, my own included. I trudged up and down the aisles of the department store, deciding which gift to give various family members. While my peers were snuggled in bed with visions of sugarplums, I was up wrapping gifts, scotch tape tangling my hair, curling ribbon slipping off my scissors, tears of frustration running down my face. Santa Claus? That myth was debunked Christmas morning when the only gifts beneath the tree were the ones I had inexpertly wrapped.

I always dreaded the first day back in school following the Holidays. All my classmates were abuzz with delight, merry with tales of all the gifts Santa had brought them. The year our jaded fourth grade teacher told the class there was no Santa Claus, I nursed a secret smug superiority. I knew better. I was Santa Claus. And I hated it.

Dressing the tree was marginally better. I was the Christmas Tree Tyrant. But I was the only one I got to boss around. I would decorate the branches, stand back and say, “Those lights are too close together. Take some of the blue globes from the right side and shift them to the left, no, up a little, no, down just a bit.” My specialty was the tinsel. I emptied boxes of silver foil icicles, hung them one strand at a time until the entire tree shimmered, twinkling with lights fastened onto the branches in perfect symmetry.

So when I had children of my own, I insisted two things be an integral part of our family Christmas tradition. Santa Claus is alive and well. And I don’t wrap gifts. Oh, I cleverly disguised them. With newspaper, with grocery bags artfully decorated by Crayola, with magazine pages, old calendars, duplicate copies of past due bills. Our presents under the tree didn’t have the traditional, store-shelf look, but the kids said, “That’s our Mom,” and grinned with delight.

My gift to each of you is a heartfelt “Merry Christmas”, wishes for a season filled with abundant joy and love enough to keep you happy throughout the coming year. I send this gift wrapped in newsprint. Santa Sondra

PS: My first place award for the Most Creative Christmas Tree goes to the Burlington Northern and Amtrak people at the station in Havre. This is a “Must See”.

Home Again: Havre Daily News
Sondra Ashton

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