In honour of the woodsy fir that – as of yesterday – is in our front window, I thought I’d share a bit of seasonal sentiment. You might remember it; it first appeared in my Daily Herald-Tribune column “Family Matters,” way back in 2010.
The most perfect gift of all dangles from the ‘Memory Tree’
As he unrolled the tissue surrounding the small ceramic ornament and held it out to me, I saw not a young man taller than I, but a tiny boy with winter hair.
The little boy with the hair that bristled in all directions had a tiny-toothed grin as he sat cross-legged beneath the Christmas tree. He looked at the gifts, touched each one, but kept returning to one small gift wrapped with bright paper and large amounts of tape. He lifted it from beneath the tree and held it gently in his hands, as if it were a small bird he was trying to protect. At least once a day, he brought it to his mother.
“Look at this one,” he said. I picked it up, marvelled at the pretty wrapping and commented about its size or lack of weight.
“Be very careful,” he warned. And each day, he unknowingly gave a little clue: It’s breakable. It has something to do with winter. It’s very beautiful.
Each day, he returned it carefully to the base of the tree, sometimes giving it a little pat goodbye. He had selected and bought this gift himself from one of those “No Parents Allowed” shops. His anticipation at the giving lit up his eyes and radiated from him in warm waves.
I’m not known to have much restraint with pretty packages labelled with my name, but his year, for this gift, I could wait. The joy on the child’s face was the true gift. Had I not thought the child would burst, I’d have wished for a particularly long Christmas season.
“I wonder what it could be,” I mused a few days before Christmas. “It’s small. It’s as light as a feather. Is it a bird?”
His blond curls bounced as he shook his head. “No, it’s not a bird.”
“An angel, then. A small, beautiful angel.”
“No,” he said. His little hands balled into fists as he bounced. His body vibrated. He could no longer suppress his knowledge. “It’s a snowman! A teeny tiny snowman!”
My smile matched his. He’d have let me rip off the paper then and there had I asked. But I didn’t ask. I needed to wait a few days longer and so did he. And even though I now knew what was inside, I couldn’t wait to open it, to look at it reverently and with awe, to proclaim it the most perfect snowman, the most perfect gift of all.
It was the first, and truly the most perfect, gift I opened that Christmas morning. Each year, I relive the joy of that gift – the first one he selected by himself – as we decorate our tree with the flotsam and jetsam of Christmases past. This year, when he passed me the tiny snowman with the turquoise hat and the yellow scarf that still dangles from a length of fishing line, the room was filled – as it is every year – with our mutual memory.
As we emptied the boxes and unravelled the glass baubles and homemade ornaments to adorn our tree, our home was filled with memories of small hands secretly making gifts, of treasures found, of friends, and even of long-dead ancestors whose ornaments grace our tree.
And even though each year I gaze with longing at the themed trees in stores, in magazines and at the Festival of Trees, and each year, well before Christmas, I think, “Wouldn’t it be nice…,” in my heart, I know the best tree, the real tree, is the unique but uncoordinated “Tree of Memories” that takes centre stage in our living room.