Ruth Anne remembers a Christmas gift that wasn't

Ruth Anne remembers a Christmas gift that wasn't

Holston friends share scenes from seasons past. Part 2 in a series


RUTH ANNE HENLEY, age 61
Draper Circuit
Draper, Va.


There is a memory that persistently interrupts my thoughts on Christmas although I have actively tried to squelch it. It was an awkward moment, one of those terrible things that gets filed away in our "what-if" folder on gift giving. But it was also one of the most formative moments in my understanding of gratitude and celebration.

I was little, maybe as old as six, but surely not older. The season was progressing as planned with each of us counting our pennies and dividing them out to cover the cost of remembering each member of our family on Christmas morning. Shopping was a ritual for us with Daddy taking us to town to meet Mom as she left work for the day. We scattered among the dime stores and trinket shops along State Street, to make our secret purchases.

I knew, of course, that a parent or older sibling was always watching, so I watched, too. No buying for Buddy or Missy unless it was Daddy or Mama in my line of sight. No buying for a parent unless it was a sibling keeping watch. Charlie and Steve were more likely to spy. I was always on guard for one of them, though the truth was that they were less interested in what I was buying for them than what our parents were putting under the tree.

All went as planned and as I lay down on Christmas Eve, I was sure each member of my family would be pleased with the little gifts I had purchased. Only when my eyes fell closed did my thoughts turn to the treasures under the tree with my name on them. What would I find when I woke?

As Christmas morning dawned I was, as usual, the first to stir. I ran to the tree and my eyes were drawn to a stuffed puppy. He was collie-like, soft and beautiful, and it was love at first sight! I scooped him up, oblivious to the other packages, and squealed with delight.

My voice woke the house, and my parents were instantly there. The look on their faces confused me. It should have been a look of pride in their gift-selection, but instead it was nearly a look of painful horror. How does one explain to a six-year-old child that the toy with which she has just fallen in love is intended for her sister? The thing that transfixed her is not her own, but someone else's.

One of the hardest lessons of life is that we cannot have everything we want. It is not enough, though, to recognize that the thing we felt drawn toward is not ours. It is important that we learn to celebrate with the one whose hands receive the thing we cannot have. To know that things are transient and that others may enjoy what we cannot is a liberating concept. We can and must celebrate their joy and good fortune, knowing that the moment of happiness is increased by our generosity or decreased by our selfishness.

Oddly, this is not a painful memory for me. It sometimes makes others wince a little in the telling, but for me it was a moment of timeless truth. Some things will be forever in my line of sight but never held in my hands and enjoyed as my own. And I am okay with that. I can celebrate with my sisters and brothers with no trace of covetousness because I know that I am loved and that what the Father gives me is best for me. Their gifts bring me joy as well.


 

See other memories in the series.