Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Gift

This Christmas will be a memorable one for us. Our little duckling is walking and babbling, and into more things than ever before. I think this year we'll really enjoy the season in a whole new way. We do a simple Christmas, minimal decorations, gifts for children, and a tradition of making unplanned memories. Christmas here smells like apples and baked sugar, and look like pine cones, greenery with hints of tiny lights, and a string of cards.

Both of the photos of decorations in this post were taken at my local farmer's market, which is decorated beautifully for the season.

Recently, a conversation I was having online with a group of women jogged my memory about a special Christmas story that I've never told anyone. I've only ever written one Christmas story, but that was more of a family history story and not so much a personal one. The one I was prompted to tell recently was personal, and made a deep impression on me as a child. 

It was during the years when we lived on the old farm property at the edge of the woods, the place where we lived the longest. Our neighbor was a miserable old man, such a stereotype, but oh, he was the grumpiest. He had a wife of great endurance who had a front row seat to his many temper tantrums, the kind of which all the neighbors could hear and that seemed to echo throughout the fields and forests. You could even hear him stomp his feet during the yelling. If I told you his last name, you would just about fall off your chair because it is the kind of name that dooms someone to a life of distress, such as the one he appeared to live. It was Panic. Mister Panic.

Mr. Panic had no friends in the neighborhood, a foul temperament and an unruly dog that bit children. As our family was his nearest neighbor, he reserved a special ire for us, a front that was both noisy and antagonistic. I was too young to remember, but for years I heard the story of the time he called the fire department on us for having a barbecue. We had no idea why a fireman with an axe was standing on our front doorstep while we innocently flipped burgers over a small charcoal grill. It was that kind of nonsense which we put up with for years. We got along best we could, ignored his childish vents, and turned the other cheek.

One Christmas morning, after we had breakfast and had opened gifts, my father went outside for a moment and came back with an amazing story. Mr. Panic had caught him out by the street and with a tear in his eye, shook my dad's hand, wished him a Merry Christmas and told him what a nice family he thought we were. I'm sure my mouth opened wide in awe, because it never occurred to my young mind that a bad person could have a change of heart like that. It was inconsistent, wildly absurd in my limited experience. If Mr. Panic could become nice, well, anything could happen.

I rarely tell this story, but I never forgot it. Our neighbor gave us a gift that morning, the kind that you take every where, but isn't heavy to carry with you. You never out grow it, it doesn't take up any space, and you can share it with others. It's the best kind of gift. 

Think about it.


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