December 2, 2009 Edition

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The most precious gift is love

Vivian Heyl
Staff Writer

This will be our family's first holiday season without my mother. She has been an integral part of our festivities for what seems like an eternity and the season will seem somewhat flat without her pithy commentary.

Mom loved to be the armchair quarterback for each step of our holiday plans from Thanksgiving to Christmas and New Year's. She had opinions about the menus, the social gatherings and the activities planned for the children. She often informed me that I was going overboard and that I needed to curb my tendency to get carried away, and then she would add four more things to my list of things to do.

She delighted in choosing gifts for her family and got such a kick out of it she could hardly wait until the big day. As soon as she bought her first gift she began dropping hints to the future recipient about the nature of the gift.

When I would drop by her house for a visit she would beam at me as if there was a 100-watt fixture behind her eyes and say, "I got your gift today and I think you are going to love it." Then the hints would start. "I wasn't sure what color you would prefer. I got it in blue."

Mom told me that Christmas in the 1920s and 30s consisted of a stocking with a precious orange in the toe and a handful of candy and some small toy if the money ran that far.

When my kids were growing up she wanted them to have a spectacular Christmas. I always thought it was because times were so hard when she was a child and she managed to relive those days through the eyes of her grandchildren. There were bikes, and beautiful dolls, a special sweater or on occasion an art set with every imaginable color to work with.

She was always much more interested in seeing them open their gifts than in her own packages though we tried to make sure she got something special each year.

The year before she died I started asking her for stories about her childhood and young adulthood. I somehow knew that it was time to start gathering them for the future. She loved to tell me about what it was like to grow up in a large family with nine children and an extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

"There was always a Christmas feast with family gathering around a table so full of food that you couldn't hope to sit down at it," she told me.

"My Mom and aunts would cook for days. Then on Christmas after church we would all gather at our house or at Grandma's and we would eat and sing and tell stories and the kids would play games until everyone was so tired they couldn't move."

That remained the most precious Christmas memory to her. So maybe it wasn't about whether it was only a sock with an orange in the toe. Maybe it is about family and joy and the knowledge that Christmas can only be celebrated by throwing your heart into it and realizing that the most precious gift is love.

This year, as I look forward to having all my children and their families home for Christmas, I'll try to put that to the test. We hope to cut back on the gift giving and up the spiritual level. I know it would make Mom happy to see that her family can enjoy the sheer unadulterated joy of just being together.

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