The most memorable Christmas memory I have is about my father and our Christmas tree. When I was about 8 or 9, I remember my mother telling my father that she was very displeased that here it was, Christmas Eve, and he had still not gotten a tree. We always had a real tree, and the pine needles smelled so good throughout the house. Normally, we would have had the tree up for at least two weeks before Christmas, and it would be all decorated and cheery, adding to the fun of the holiday season..
This particular year, my father had been especially busy, and my mother was not able to go and get it herself since she did not drive.
My mother was usually a mild-mannered woman, but this particular Christmas, she was so upset that my father just never got around to getting that tree, she gave him an ultimatum. She said, “John, I want you to go and get a tree right now and don’t you dare come back without one!”
Well, my father didn’t want to risk her wrath any more, so he grabbed my hand, and off we went to…who knew where!?…on a mission to get that tree. He drove only as far as the nearest grocery store, and told me this was the place. We walked in, he looked around, then asked to see the manager. When he showed up, my father asked him if everything in the store was for sale. The manager said yes, and my father pointed to a fully decorated artificial tree up on a pedestal, serving as the Christmas focal point for all the shoppers. The manager told him THAT was not for sale, and my father took issue with him, holding him to his prior statement that yes indeed, EVERYTHING was for sale. The manager didn’t want to argue, so my father asked how much, and the manager told him some ridiculously low figure, since it came with all those decorations and lights. He put the money in the manage/s hand, then proudly grabbed the tree just above the stand and carried it out like a prize hard-won.
Because it would not fit in the car, he carried it all the way home, with me at his side.
When we got home, he brought it in, parked it in the usual spot for our tree, and said to my mother, “Here’s your tree.”
Another memory was a very touching one, many years later when I was a mother. The children’s grandparents most always came to visit on Christmas Day and always brought presents. And it was my custom to read Christmas stories to the children on Christmas Eve. This particular Christmas Eve, the story had to do with orphaned children at an orphanage, and how little they had. It was sad, but showed how the children got through the day by appreciating everything they had, be it just a new drinking cup or a pair of socks, and finding games to play with each other in the spirit of the season. They all drifted off to sleep shortly after the story was read, no doubt anticipating their own Christmas morning and the joy of opening their gifts.
Grandma and Grandpa showed up as usual shortly after the children were awake. After greetings and hugs and kisses all around, Grandma brought out the children’s gifts, but instead oI the usual act of tearing into them, leaving paper and ribbon scattered every which way, all four of them had decided to bring their unopened gifts to the local orphanage because they already had so much and “the orphans have so little.”
I couldn’t have had a better gift that day.
A few years later, when we had moved to a different town, I wanted to be sure we would be able to help some whole family that needed a little boost during the Christmas season, so I had gone to a local church to ask the missionary priest if he knew of such a family.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, as the case may be), he knew several. We were living in the Appalachian Mountains in upstate New York, and I had been preparing for this event by gathering up Christmas decorations and food items, clothing and toys, and made arrangements with the priest to visit the family shortly before Christmas.
This was going to be without the children, since I had no idea what I’d be getting into.
So Father X and I set out to visit the family. Their home had no windows, although the openings for the windows were there; instead they were covered by flaps of old carpet. There was no floor in their home; it was just the dirt beneath their feet. Their beds, all six of them, were additional pieces of carpet laid out on that dirt floor, with anything but adequate warm blankets tossed loosely over the carpet pieces. In one corner was a pile of clothes — all sizes, all kinds — obviously used for sleeping warmth as well as wearing.
The father and mother of the family greeted us and thanked us profusely for the things we had brought. We put up the little tree, immediately realizing that such a luxury might not have been a good idea under the circumstances, but all the children looked at it with such awe that it made us feel that maybe it was okay after all.
We passed the gifts around and saw that it must have been quite a while since any of them had such an experience. I took the mother aside and asked if there were some way I could help her husband find work to make it easier on the family. She said the reason he couldn’t find work was because no one would hire a man who didn’t have clean clothes and there was nothing they could do about that.
I learned a big lesson about helping others that day: Sometimes what a person needs most is a way to help himself, and that could be as simple a thing as having soap and water.
My last memory for this column is about my first Christmas with my late husband. He was working late on Christmas Eve, and had to close up the service station at 11:30. He didn’t have a car at that time, but our apartment was within walking distance. He hadn’t been able to get me a Christmas gift, and although he had just been paid, he had no transportation to any store. Just then a young man came by on a bicycle, and asked if he wanted to buy it for $5.00. He did, rode the bike to the nearest mall and was able to buy me a beautiful set of gold-rimmed crystal wine glasses as their last customer of the day. He tucked them under his arm and pedaled all the way back to our apartment in the lightly falling snow.
I still have those wonderful wine glasses to this day and can drink in the magic of his love.
Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.