I loved this time of year, the scents of clove and pine, the joyous sounds of Christmas music contrasting with the cacophony of crowds and traffic. The bite of cold wind melted away with a toasty blanket, and a mug of steaming cocoa. Yet, I never felt at peace, it was if something was missing. This year, I felt an overwhelming need to begin a new family tradition, The Giving Tree, to help make the holidays feel complete.
“Mom, do the presents that people buy even get to the kids?” I heard my eldest daughter ask.
Suddenly, I was carried back nearly forty years to 1968. My older brother Johnny and I, were shuttled up the front steps of a red brick Social Services building, holding the hands of a pretty, young social worker
“But we need to hurry!” I heard her say. “Santa is waiting for your wish.” The woman gushed with enthusiasm.
“Santa doesn’t live here,” I said defiantly.
“No, Kathy, he doesn’t but his helpers do, and you don’t want to disappoint them, do you?” the young social worker pleaded softly. She dropped on bended knee to meet my gaze. I finally decided it was worth indulging the young woman’s request, and begrudgingly agreed.
Inside the social worker’s office, Johnny excitedly told “Santa’s helper” that he wanted a Hot Wheels Johnny Lightning race track, the bright orange one that loops around into a big crazy eight. It needed to come with at least two Matchbox race cars.
I exhaled an audible sigh and explained that I’d always dreamed of keeping my hands warm in a fur muff with matching bonnet. I wanted one that tied with a string at the neck with two fluffy pompoms. Deep inside I doubted I’d ever get them, like so many other things that didn’t happen. Wishes didn’t come true for me.
On Christmas morning, we were visiting our mother. We’d been allowed a special weekend visitation. Johnny ran to the Christmas tree and tore open his special “package” from Santa. Arms flailing, Christmas wrap flying the special Hot Wheels Johnny Lightning Race Track box appeared amidst the young boy’s screams of joy and paper carnage. A small rectangular box covered in beige wrapping paper and holly leaves was placed in my tentative hands.
“I think you’re going to like this, Kathy. Why don’t you open it?” my mother said breathlessly, grinning with anticipation. I stood there silently, not daring to breathe.
Cautiously, I tore open the top, revealing a furry muff. I reached inside to touch the silken fur and discovered the matching bonnet underneath. My eyes misted over with tears. I spun around and around, clutching the precious pieces to my chest whispering “Thank you, thank you.”
I felt my daughter nudge me and give me a puzzled look “Mom, are you even listening? You’re a million miles away.”
“Yes,” I answered with a knowing smile “The children do get their gifts and it’s often exactly what they wanted.”