By: Marlene Oxender
Several years ago, I was invited to a holiday tea at the home of my friend Cassie. Her dining room table was beautifully decorated for the winter season and made the perfect place for friends to gather. Each of us brought a favorite snack as well as a wrapped gift for an exchange.
Cassie asked us to share a story of a memorable gift we’d received at some point in our life. After the storytelling began, I remember thinking I could feel the nostalgia in the air as I listened to talk of baby dolls, tea sets, roller skates, and saddle shoes.
There were stories about the best gifts that come in small packages as well as presents equipped with four tires. The story of a “meow” coming from a wrapped box on Christmas morning was a memorable one.
My husband’s mother was a seamstress. We loved receiving her perfectly sewn quilts and articles of clothing, made just for us.
There were times she didn’t get the project sewn together before the holidays arrived. So the problem-solver in her simply wrapped the material and pattern. The person receiving the gift knew she’d complete it soon.
After my husband became a woodworker, he decided to wrap some oak boards as a gift to her. She didn’t understand why she was receiving lumber but ended up being pleased to learn he was making the quilt rack she’d requested.
The best part of their story is the fact they both have a talent that involves an investment in time. Handmade gifts are often perfect because they’re custom-made and custom-thought-out.
Years ago, I made several visits to friends who were residents in a nursing home. Husband and wife, they were both dealing with short-term memory loss.
Although neither of them knew what happened just minutes ago, both could tell stories from their earlier days. During my visits, I listened to him tell the same fishing story I’d heard each time we were together.
His stories were all he had left to give to others. I would ask him about his farming days, and he would tell me about farming equipment.
The only thing I remember is the fact we had something to talk about – farming and fishing. Because my husband is a fisherman, I could nod my head in understanding while he was telling where he fished and what kind of fish he caught.
Had I been a writer back when I was visiting them, I’d ask questions no one could answer. Things like how many trips he’d made to the barn with the moon as his only light.
How many kitties were at his feet over the years? Certainly there were farm dogs, and he’d likely remember their names.
When he thinks of the tractors he’d owned, what would his story be? Does he remember teaching his sons how to farm and the first time he knew they were ready to drive the tractors?
Did his wife and daughter make those big breakfasts that were served after morning chores and before everyone headed out the door for the day?
I’m sure his wife would have smiled if I asked her about the holiday cookies she baked. What were her family’s favorites? Sugar or chocolate chip? How many platters of goodies did she wrap with bows and deliver to her neighbors? How much fussing did she do?
If ever we reach a point in our life when we think we have nothing left to give, our life story is always there to be shared with others. And it should be.
I don’t remember all the details of the stories that were shared at the ladies’ afternoon tea, and I’ve forgotten most of my friend’s fishing stories. I’m simply left with warm memories of having spent time with friends.
Most of us have a story to tell about a gift we’d received in our childhood. The day comes when we’re old enough to learn how to give gifts in return.
To make a tray of holiday goodies. To fuss with ribbons and bows. To sit still and listen to a story we heard just ten minutes ago.
When someone gives a gift which they’ve baked, crafted, sewn, purchased, grown, or built for me, I will be forever grateful they made it happen. There are eight billion people on this earth, and someone chose to think of me.
I can’t help but wonder if I’ve ever given a gift to a friend who hasn’t forgotten and may still own it. My brother Stevie, who has Down Syndrome, has no problem letting Santa Claus know that he’s been good.
Stevie doesn’t like any joking on a subject as serious as having been bad or good. When Santa is around, he needs his siblings to be serious and to tell the truth about how good he has been.
Several years ago, I heard the term “extravagant giving,” and I remember thinking those two words paired beautifully together. To me, it was the ultimate permission slip to go ahead and give big and have fun doing so.
Isn’t that what life is all about? Having fun. And as much as possible. We’re the guardians of our memories. We’re the keepers of our stories. And we can choose to tell our stories with any words we’d like.
When Santa asks Stevie what is on his wish list, he has a habit of answering: “Everything.” Perhaps that’s his way of telling Jolly Old St. Nicholas to choose what he thinks is right.
On Christmas Day, Stevie knows he’s the only one in the room with a stack of gifts to unwrap, but he’s okay with that. He’s okay with surprises, laughter, and being on the receiving end of giving – extravagant or not.
As we enter the new year, may we remember the fun we can schedule. The giving we can do. The reasons for laughter. May we experience a year of peaceful moments that leaves us with fond memories and fun stories.
Marlene Oxender is a writer, speaker, and author. She writes about growing up in the small town of Edgerton, her ten siblings, the memorabilia in her parents’ estate, and her younger brother, Stevie Kimpel, who was born with Down syndrome. Her two recently published books, Picket Fences and Stevie, are available on Amazon.