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The Gift

Note: This is one of my new stories. It appeared on Solveig Werner’s blog on Sunday. Only a couple of my readers have made it over there to read it so I thought I would post it here. It is a rewrite of an old story; I changed the point of view and I think it’s a much better story. I hope you enjoy it. 

 

Vince had hidden the package from his wife for over a week. He was so excited to finally be able to give her this special gift. He had been so afraid that she would find the package that he had asked his compadre, Roy, to keep it at his house for him. Roy had gladly taken the package home with him and his wife, Jenny had offered to wrap it for him, gladly agreeing to his idea for the wrapping of this special gift.

Finally it was Christmas Eve and his comadre and compadre had come to the house to make tamales. Before they left, Roy had found a way to get the package to him without Bea seeing it. Mission accomplished! When bedtime came around and all the kids were put to bed, Vince found a way to get the package under the Christmas tree without Bea knowing. He put it in the back of the tree where it was hidden by the all the gifts for the kids. He went to bed and then he got nervous. What if she didn’t like it? Maybe he should have taken her to the store to pick it out for herself. But he had wanted it to be a surprise. She loved surprises. She was like a little girl when he treated her the way she deserved and he realized that he didn’t always treat her that way. Life had been very difficult for them for the past eleven years since they had married. There had never been enough money and there had always been all the kids, one new one each year. They had seven in all and he was pretty sure there would be no more. At least he hoped because although he loved each and every one of his children, he also wanted to be able to give them all the things he had never had when he was growing up and for that, he needed to be sure there were no more. Seven was enough.

On Christmas morning, they managed to keep the kids out of the living room where the Christmas tree was set up in front of the big bay window. The older kids knew the rule, no going in to see the presents until their parents were up and said it was okay. So the older kids, all boys, made sure the girls stayed out. They were all crowding at the door to the living room anxiously awaiting their parents’ appearance so they could get to their presents.

When their parents appeared and gave them the okay, they burst through the living room door to see all the presents. There were so many! The gifts were passed around to the right owner and opened, one by one. Each package brought glee to the owner. As the gifts were opened, the large box at the back of the tree began to show. Each of the kids wondered if the package was for them. The older ones dared to look for a tag on it but didn’t find one. When the gifts were all opened, there was still the last one, a big square box wrapped in shiny silver paper and topped with a big fancy white bow. Who did it belong to? There was no name on it. Everyone had gotten their presents except one person. She didn’t always get anything for Christmas because of the money so she had learned not to expect anything. Surely this package could not be for her but for who?

Finally, Vince smiled broadly and passed the gift to her. She looked at him with a puzzled look. This couldn’t be for her. She knew there hadn’t been any extra money but he was pushing the box at her and telling her to open it. He looked so happy this morning and she was glad that he was happy and sober and hoped that it would last at least a while but she knew that on most holidays he would be drunk before dinner.

“Open it. It’s for you,” he beamed at her.

“For me? Really? What is it?” Her eyes were smiling at him.

“Just open it. It’s a surprise. I can’t tell you what it is!”

She took the box and held it for a minute, trying not to shake it. She said it felt light. Was it a dress or a blouse, she asked? He looked at her and just said, “open it!”

She carefully un-taped the wrapping paper, not wanting to rip it because she always reused the paper for gifts throughout the year. When the paper was off and carefully folded at her side, she lifted the top off of the box and found a lot of strips of newspaper. She looked at Vince with hurt in her eyes.

“It’s a trick! It’s a mean trick. There isn’t anything in here.”

“Look around. There’s something in there. It’s not a trick!”

She moved the paper around and found another box, also wrapped in the pretty paper. She opened it carefully only to find more newspaper strips. Not willing to believe either that there was a gift in there or that he would trick her like this, she moved the paper strips and found another box which was also wrapped and contained more strips of paper and another box. She kept going until she got to a very small box wrapped in shiny gold paper with a silver metallic bow almost bigger than the box itself. She carefully opened it and found another box in there. She looked at this box, which wasn’t wrapped. She held her breath. The box was from Kay Jewelers but she didn’t dare think it was actually a piece of jewelry. She lifted her eyes and looked at her husband with disbelief. Could he be mean enough to trick her and give her an empty box from the jewelry store? Her eyes filled with tears as she hesitated before opening the jewelry box. When she did, all she could do was look at the contents with disbelief and an open mouth. She looked at her husband and asked “How? How could we afford this? You have to take it back!”

“I am not taking it back. I saved up money for weeks; a few dollars each week. I paid for it. I didn’t get it on credit. It’s for you. You deserve to have it. I only wish I could have bought it for you when we married. Take it out! Put it on. See if it fits. They can fix the size if it doesn’t fit.” His eyes were also tear filled and his face was taken up by a huge smile!

The kids looked at the parents, not knowing what was going on, yet knowing it was something good. Their parents were happy. They weren’t fighting. They were happy and so the kids were happy, too. They watched as their mother took two rings out of the little black box. She took her silver band off and put the two new rings on. She looked at the rings and then waved her hand around so the kids could see. Her cheeks were wet but she was happy, not sad.

The kids asked why she had taken off her silver ring and she explained to them that the new rings were “real wedding rings” and the one she had taken off was a ring their father had made for her out of a silver quarter. And the kids remembered the summer day a few years before when their father had gotten the quarters and worked in the back yard all day long, tapping the middle of the quarters over and over again with a small hammer he had borrowed from a neighbor. It had been like magic to see the flat round quarters slowly turn into rings. He had made their mother’s ring thinner than his but they matched. And he had shown the kids how he had left the year on the inside of each band and how he had chosen a quarter with their mother’s birth year and one with his own birth year. Their mom had been wearing the band for a few years. Now they looked at it inside the little box the new rings had been in. Their mother held the box in her right hand as she looked at the new rings on her left hand. She got up and hugged their father. He asked her if she liked the set and if they fit and she assured him that they fit and that she loved them. Again she asked him if he was sure that they could afford this extravagant gift and he repeated that she didn’t have to worry about it. They were hers to keep. They were paid for. They didn’t owe anyone for them.

That was a happy Christmas for the family. They were all happy on that day. Happy and hopeful that their futures would be bright and happy. There were lots of tears that year as the kids were happy for their mom and happy that their father was in a good mood. They were happy it had been a very good year for their gifts but soon they ran off to play with new toys, leaving their mother and father to go on with their life together, thinking happiness was in the bag.

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It’s the day after the snow day. A lot of people are still home from work and school as the roads are icy. I’m sitting at home, nice and warm. I left the house for about twenty minutes to get some food my daughter picked up for me. Yay for food!

Otherwise, I am looking online for ideas for inexpensive but useful groups for the adults I need to get things for. I also order two things for the youngest grandbaby. I have the kids’ gifts ordered or already in my possession so if I don’t get anything else, that’s fine, I’ve got the babies covered!

I also wrote a new Christmas story. This one is a short flash piece (under 800 words). It’s for a guest blog post later this month. It’s fiction. It feels good to sit and write something new. That’s twice this month, both for other bloggers. I’m going to try to come up with something else later today…maybe for MY blog this time!

Are you finished with your shopping? Who is the most difficult person to get a gift for? I’d love to hear!

 

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Years ago, my son told me about a new kind of book. He was working for Amazon and they had just introduced their first e-reader. He knew I loved reading and I had trouble with my eyesight so he thought it would be a perfect fit for me. I looked at them online but at that time they were $300. That was way too much for my budget. Besides, I mostly bought my books used so having to pay even $10 for an e-book would be too much to feed my reading appetite so I passed. The following Christmas I found a box under the Christmas tree with a Kindle 2 inside of it. I was almost going to tell them to send it back because I thought it was too extravagant and I thought it would just sit there unused because of the price of the books, but I couldn’t disappoint them…the gift was from all three of the kids. They had also included a $25 gift card so I could get a couple of books. My son set it up for me and showed me how to shop in the Kindle Store. It was 2009 and one book I really wanted to read had just been released so I picked my first book, The Moral Compass by Ted Kennedy. When I finished that I bought The Help. After that, I mostly got free books or 99 cent books. I bought a couple of books by fellow bloggers, too, but mostly stuck with the cheap and free books.

This morning I opened gmail to find an email from Amazon, informing me that I have a new credit for ebooks. It’s my share of the settlement of the anti-trust lawsuit against Apple. So now I get to buy another $15 worth of books with this credit. I figured out the books that made me eligible for this credit were those first two purchases, and a couple of other less expensive books. It made me smile because that original gift of the Kindle I didn’t want six years ago is still giving me so much! Not only am I enjoying it (well I’m on Kindle number 3 because I upgraded a couple of times; I now read on the Kindle Voyage) but I’m also now going to get to read a title or two that I otherwise wouldn’t buy because of the price. Yay!

The #WeeklySmile is a weekly blog linkup hosted by Trent. Go check it out. Smile with us!

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When I was growing up, I was the one who helped my mother do the everyday correspondence, even though I was the fifth of seven kids.  I remember being in second grade and being the one that filled out and addressed the Christmas cards for my mom every year.  I had to print because I didn’t know cursive yet.

One year I was filling out the cards and the card my mom had picked out was a really pretty one.  It had a bright red poinsettia on the front of it and on the inside it had the normal holiday greeting but on the backside of the front picture was a paragraph about the poinsettia being introduced to the United States in 1828 by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.  It also mentioned a Mexican legend about this flower, which in Mexico is known as la flor de la noche buena, or the Christmas Eve flower.  It didn’t tell the legend, it just mentioned that there was one.

That caught my interest and I started to wonder and ask and read about this beautiful flower.  After several years, I learned the legend.  I’ve shared it with my readers previously but I’d like to share it again.  I’ve put it into my own words.  I’ve changed the name of the little girl to Maria (she is called by different names in different versions of the story).  I just recently learned that December 12 is “the day of the poinsettia” in the United States, which is interesting to me because December 12 is also the day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.

The Legend of the Poinsettia

[This is a retelling of the traditional legend of the poinsettia.  I have read many versions and have worded this one in my own words, from a number of variations on the traditional legend.]

In a small village in Mexico, many years ago, lived a family with three children.  The daughter was María and the oldest of the three.  Her two younger brothers were Pablo and José.  Her father worked wherever he could find a job, often traveling to villages far away for a few days of work.  María’s mother was a wonderful weaver.  People from villages nearby brought their weaving to her.  María helped to take care of her little brothers while her mother worked on the weaving.

One day, the priest from the village church came to see María’s mother to ask a favor of her.  Each year the villagers participated in a procession to the church where they re-enacted the birth of the Christ child.  The priest brought the blanket to cover baby Jesus to María’s mother to repair as it was frayed and damaged.  Instead, María’s mother said she would make a new one because the old one was too far gone.  She assured the priest it would be ready in time for the Christmas Eve procession.

The next day, María’s father left to a village to do some work.  He would be back in a week.  His children stood at the entry to their small house, smiling and waving at their father as he left then they went to school, María leading the way as she held on to her brothers’ small hands.  When the three children returned home, their mother was very ill.  María left to call the doctor who was in another village.  When the doctor came, he took care of María’s mother but told María that her mother had to remain in bed until she was well.  It would be some time.  María promised to take care of her mother and make sure she took her medicine.

For the next few days, María took care of her mother and her brothers and tried to finish weaving the blanket her mother had begun to make for the baby Jesus.  It was such an honor to be asked to contribute this small gift to the village’s tradition and to the Christ child.  Her mother had begun to teach her to weave but María couldn’t do it.  Instead, the thread became tangled in the loom and it was no use.  There would be no new blanket for the Christ child that year.  María cried in shame.  Her family would be dishonored and shamed.

When Christmas Eve arrived, María did not want to go to the procession because she was so ashamed of not having been able to make the blanket.  Her little brothers were looking forward to the procession and they pleaded with her to take them.  She finally agreed, thinking that she would hide in the bushes near the church, close enough to watch the procession and close enough to watch her little brothers but far enough to not feel her cheeks burn with shame.  So she took them to the procession and sank back into the bushes, out of sight.

From nowhere came an old beggar woman and asked María why she was hiding.  María told her what had happened.  The woman told her she had to join the others in the procession and participate in the tradition of bringing a gift to the Baby Jesus.  The woman told her it did not matter what she took as a gift to the Christ child.  The only thing that mattered was what was in her heart.  María argued that she could not join the procession with no gift but the woman convinced her that the gift would be joining in the procession and being present.

Not wanting to go into the church empty handed, María looked around her but found only some green leaves growing near the bushes.  She grabbed an arm full of them and joined the procession into the church.  As her turn came to proceed up the aisle to the manger, María walked with the bouquet of green leaves in her arms, tears running down her cheeks because she was so ashamed of having no gift.  As she placed the leaves at the manger as her family’s gift, she closed her eyes in shame.  She heard the collective gasp of everyone in the church and feared that they were laughing at her for bringing weeds to the Baby Jesus.  She opened her eyes and instead of the wild green leaves, she saw the most beautiful red flowers.  As her tears dropped onto the green leaves, each leaf turned a deep red.  They were the most beautiful flowers María had ever seen and they were her miracle gift to the Baby Jesus.

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I am an avid reader.  I also have failing eyesight.  I am legally blind without corrective lenses.  This keeps me from reading.  I would struggle to read (with my contacts on and two pair of reader glasses one over the other) for twenty or so minutes just to have to stop and rest my eyes for another half hour or so before trying to read again.  My son works for amazon.  When the Kindle ereader came out years ago, he suggested that I might want to get one.  They were near $300 at the time and I did not like the fact that I had to pay around $10 for most books I would want to read.  I was used to buying my books at used bookstores for only a dollar or two.  That’s how I could afford to read as much as I did.  The only time I spent full price on print books was when a new Grisham novel was released or the Harry Potter series.  Other books I would wait til I could find at a used bookstore.

For Christmas of 2009, there was nothing on my Christmas list.  The only thing I wanted was to spend one more year with all three of my children before everyone scattered even more.  That year, my older daughter and I were living in Oregon.  My son was in California and my youngest daughter was in Baltimore at college.  My older daughter was also pregnant.  My fear was that we wouldn’t get to be together for that Christmas and then the precedent would be set and we would not ever have a Christmas together again.  So that’s what was important to me…getting us all together.  I posted an ad on craigslist in the California city where I wanted to spend the holidays, asking if anyone had a house or small apartment that we could use for a family Christmas and I explained what our situation was and who would be staying there.  One woman replied almost immediately.  She said she had never done anything like that but that my ad caught  her attention and she and her husband would be out of their townhouse for the holidays.  We settled on a price and they sent a contract for me to sign and my son went to see the place before I signed the contract.  It all worked out and we had a place to spend the holiday together.  My wish had come true and I was happy.

On Christmas morning, I was given my gift.  Christmas is also my birthday so the gift was for both Christmas and birthday and it was from all three of the kids.  I opened it and it was a Kindle (It was actually Kindle 2 for those in the know).  I wasn’t sure I would keep it but I pretended to like it when my son showed me how to set it up and use it.  They had also included a gift card for $20 so I could buy my first couple of books.  He said I had 30  days to try it out and it could be retuned if I didn’t like it.  I went along with it and downloaded my first book (True Compass: A Memoir by Edward M. Kennedy).  When I got a chance to use it that night, I liked it.  I just wasn’t sure about having to spend so much on books.  The next day I got out my laptop and looked online and found many sources for free books for the Kindle.  So I started to download free books.

I fell in love with that Kindle!  Since then I have upgraded to the Kindle Keyboard (Kindle 3) and hope to buy myself the new Voyager in the next couple of months.  I read more now than I ever have and spend a lot less.  I have also joined several websites where I earn points that can be cashed in for amazon gift cards.  I use those gift cards exclusively for my Kindle books.  Some months I get only $5 in gift cards but I have also gotten as much as $35 in free amazon gift cards in one month.  That buys me a l ot of Kindle books for, basically “free”.  It just cost me some time and a little bit of effort filling out surveys and writing reviews.

Since then, my vision has worsened so much that I can no longer read print books at all so if it were not for Kindle, I would be a very unhappy and very frustrated reader.

That was probably the most surprising gift I have ever received!

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I read a lot and as I read, I often write a quote from a book or an idea for something I want to write.  I jot down prompts.  These notes and little “jottings” are written on whatever piece of paper is near me, an envelope, the back of a flyer, the bottom of a statement, whatever is nearby.  And five times out of ten, these pieces of paper get thrown out as they are mistaken for trash.  There go all my notes!  Oh well, at least by writing them down I increase the chance that I will remember them.

In the last years before my youngest turned 18 and went off to school and a life on her own, I would look for small notebooks of blank paper that I might be able to fit in my purse or in a pocket.  Not anything expensive; just some small notebook.  Sometimes I was lucky and found tiny ones at the Dollar Tree, sometimes I was not so lucky and had to resort to the back of envelopes and other trashables.  My daughter was usually with me when we shopped around town.  In fact, it was usually my daughter that was shopping and I was just the chauffeur.  I would keep myself busy “just looking” as she shopped.

For Christmas of 2012, one of the gifts she gave me was a notebook that she made in one of her classes.  It’s about 5 inches wide by 3 inches tall.  It is hand bound and the cover is hand covered with fabric that she selected for me.  The pages are blank so I could use it without regard to staying on the lines or in the grid.  It was not only a thoughtful gift but it was extra special because Susie made it herself with me in mind.  She said she had made it small enough for me to fit into a purse or pocket but large enough so I could write more than a couple of lines on each page.  She explained how she had selected the fabric for the cover so that it would be pretty, colorful, but not show dirt or smudges easily.  I could tell she put a lot of thought into it and that made it that much more special.

I love my little book and for awhile, I was hesitant to use it so that it wouldn’t get messed up or so that I didn’t use it all up.  Then I decided that I would use it as she had meant for me to use it and so now, when I sit and read a book, my little notebook is nearby ready to accept any jottings, ideas, quotes, that I might set in it.  What I will do when the pages are all filled I just don’t know.  In the meantime, I will enjoy it as it was meant to be used.

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Whose Day?

When I was growing up, I learned that in Mexico Mother’s Day is celebrated on May 10, regardless of which day of the week it falls on.  So we often had Mother’s Day on May 10 and then again a few days later for the American Mother’s Day.  May 10 was also my brother’s, Richard’s, birthday so May 10 was a double celebration.

Richard was very close to my mom.  When he was in middle school, he saved up the quarters that he was given for lunch at school and bought my  mother a Mother’s Day present which he gave her on his birthday, May 10.  One year, he gave her a fancy ink pen.  At least to us it was fancy.  It wasn’t a fountain pen.  It wasn’t a Mont Blanc.  It was just a silver tone Parker pen but it wasn’t one that was available at the regular store.  Richard had to go downtown to the jewelry store to buy it.  I remember my mom feeling really bad that Richard had gone hungry for weeks in order to save money for her gift.  I think it made that pen even more special because of the sacrafice my brother had made. And I think it also made Richard very proud of his gift.

Richard is gone now but I know that May 10 is still a very special day for my mom.  And for the rest of us that miss him so much.

Happy Birthday, Richard.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

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