Friday, December 24, 2010

A Priceless Gift

It was the Christmas of 1980. I was fourteen years old and had just fallen into the pattern of comparing myself to others, as a lot of teenage girls do. Somehow, I allowed myself to believe that in order to be as good as everyone else, I had to be like everyone else; look like everyone else; have the same possessions; wear the same brand name and style of clothing. I didn’t understand the underlying cause of that belief and I didn’t care at the time -- I only knew that I desperately wanted a rabbit fur coat that Christmas. Most likely, I wanted one because all the cool girls had one, and for whatever reason, I felt I was beneath them if I didn’t have one. Now looking back, I’m not so sure if I even liked rabbit fur. I certainly wouldn’t want one now. The problem was, I knew I wasn’t going to get a rabbit fur or even a faux rabbit fur coat that year because daddy had been laid off from his job and we were doing very well to have food on the table and electricity.

Mama made it very clear to me I was not going to have my heart’s desire that year. I didn’t know at the time, but my mama understood me more than I thought.
Mama was a very creative woman, and her talents were endless. One of her talents was the art of ceramics. Mama didn’t have the best vision, and I remember her working endlessly in the basement with a bright light and huge magnifying glass to add the smallest details to her pieces of art. One of the happiest moments in her life of ceramics was the year she won first place in the state fair for a Christmas ginger jar lamp, and second place for another piece she made, and a trophy for best overall talent in the show.

I didn’t notice at the time, but Mama also knew the feeling of comparing oneself to others. I believe she finally felt accomplished that day at the fair. She had done something she was proud of and probably felt pretty good about the fact she walked away with something the best in the competition had tried to win for years. The same people who made fun of her work behind her back because she was a beginner entering the contest. Eventually, mama’s vision became worse - to the point she had to quit ceramics. But not until she left a treasure behind.

Now about the Christmas of 1980. I remember it well … I remember for some reason, no one was there except Mama and me on Christmas Eve morning. My daddy and brother, Randy had probably gone on their annual Christmas Eve deer hunting trip with the other men in the family. There were six gifts under the tree. Three for my brother, and three for me. Three gifts representing the three gifts given to baby Jesus. All six gifts were made by mama’s loving hands as she squinted in the basement with the magnifying glass and bright light. “Things are tight this Christmas, honey, with daddy being laid off work,” said mama. “I know how badly you want the rabbit fur coat, and I’m sorry we couldn’t get it for you. I want you to open this one now, then we’ll let you and Randy open the rest tonight when we‘re all together. It‘s not much, it’s just something I made for you.” It was our family tradition to open gifts on Christmas Eve night. I’m still not sure why Mama chose this as a mother and daughter moment.

Mama had put a lot of work into the Christmas package itself. The box was wrapped beautifully with gold foil paper and a soft velvet burgundy ribbon tied around it. I unwrapped the paper, trying not to tear it too much, and inside the box was layers and layers of tissue paper. Inside the tissue paper was the lady figurine with black hair, wearing a black dress with splashes of red. Her eyes were dramatic and very detailed, and even her fingernails were painted. She was beautiful, but she was not the rabbit fur coat that I so desired. I forced a smile and hugged mama’s neck while saying, “thank you” in a very dry, insincere tone, and went upstairs to my room to cry.

That night, my brother and I unwrapped the remaining gifts under the tree. Each gift made and signed with love. She made each of us a clock with our name on it. I can’t remember the other two gifts of my brother’s, but I remember very clearly the lady wearing the black dress, my clock and my trinket box which remained on my dresser for years.

After mama went home to be with the Lord this past March, we started doing what most people do - we started cleaning house and finding everything we could to make us feel close to mama again. I moved out of the house when I was seventeen, and she left my room exactly the same as I left it. For years, every Christmas I thought about the beautiful lady in black and red, but could never find her. Finally in June, I found my little lady figurine in a box, in one of my dresser drawers, wrapped in layers and layers of tissue paper. She was still just as beautiful as I remembered. The only thing different was my attitude. Like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, my heart grew three sizes that day. I held her and I studied her in a way I never had before. I looked at her eyes, her fingers … every detail that I know my mama could barely see to make, but somehow made the figurine lifelike. I beheld her with far more appreciation than I did the Christmas of 1980.

I’ve had many costly gifts in my forty-four Christmases on this earth, but none that changed my attitude as much as that one priceless gift from the heart did when I was fourteen. Sadly, it took thirty years to fully appreciate. Alone in my bedroom this summer, I couldn’t help but cry when seeing her for the first time in years. I felt the love of my mama again through the gift she felt wasn’t good enough for me in 1980, and apologized to me at the time for it “not being much” … Not knowing that in years to come, it would become the most important gift and lesson she could have given me. The attitude of gratitude.

By the way, Christmas 1981, I got a rabbit fur coat, and yes, I did love it, but eventually it went out of style and started to shed. I donated it to the thrift store.

I’ll treasure the beautiful lady in black and red forever, but even more so, the beautiful lady who made her for me will be treasured and appreciated the way she deserved to be appreciated the Christmas of 1980.