Okay, the BEST Christmas gift is the best gift, period: The Birth of the Baby King.
But, I want to write a little about the best gift I've ever received in a purely secular sense on the holiday of Christmas. This is the gift that my memory recalls when people ask -- and people do sometimes ask -- me what present stands out most in my mind from my childhood. It was, by far, the most special, most surprising, most delightful cadeau that my tiny fingers ever unwrapped. But, first, a wee background story:
Shouldn't everyone have a groovy aunt? Every girl, at least, ought to have an aunt who is fun and generous and warm-hearted and intuitive and gives that little girl a relationship with an adult woman other than her mother and younger than her grandmother. I am a firm believer in the power of aunts. I had a groovy aunt, briefly. Her name was Linda.
Linda loved my uncle. And, I suppose in his way, my uncle loved Linda. One thing is for certain: Everyone else in the family certainly loved her. I remember well her constant inclusion in all things loud and chaotic and Italian that happened when my mother's family gathered in groups of two or more. There would be Linda -- beautiful, serene, laughing and wholesome. As far as I knew, she was my aunt. And a groovy aunt she was, indeed.
Now, for little children, the often ephemeral nature of pre-marital (and, far too commonly, marital), adult coupling is unfathomable. That two people could be so close -- share a house, a library, a bed together -- without that union's being permanent is not easily understood by children who long, more than anything, for the stable structure of family relationships that anchors them safely while they explore the astonishingly exciting and discomfiting greater world. But, that sad afterword is for later. First I must describe the gift that Linda gave me one Christmas years ago.
It was the day after Christmas. Were I a Canadian, I would tell you it was Boxing Day. But, since I am an American, I'll just use that woebegone term, "day after Christmas," which reeks of dropping fir needles and crumpled-up wrapping paper. My mother revealed a most curious item to me, telling me that it was my gift from Linda. It consisted of twelve pouches sewn onto a silken cord. The pouches were all that was interesting and gorgeous. What promise! What intrigue! My mother explained that it was a "12 Days of Christmas" gift. I was to open one pouch every day for the next twelve days. Now, here was an exciting concept, and one that was just so Linda to conceive. What could be a more suitable present for a child than to find a way to extend the magic of Christmas for twelve more days?
I do not remember much of what was in those pouches. My memory -- grousing and harrumphing in reluctance at being asked to perform such a difficult dredging -- brings up some chocolate coins and small toys of little lasting value or importance. Because, you see, the gift was not the contents of the pouches, but rather the very existence of those beautiful, exquisite pouches themselves. I remember staring with no little awe at the intricacies of the sewing and the patterns of the pouch material -- no two alike. At a Christmas where I can pretty much assume that most toys were popped out of a plastic mold in a distant land, to behold such thoughtfulness evident in every stitch and fabric selection was humbling and edifying. The beauty of a mind that could invent such a present was not lost to me, even in my grubby, self-centered kid-ness. "Linda" she was, indeed.
Well, soon after this Christmas, I lost my groovy aunt. She -- remarkable and sensible woman -- desired marriage and children. My uncle did not. And so, in his stubbornness and indolence, he paved paradise and lost her. And he lost her for me. My beautiful, kind-hearted Aunt Linda was gone from my life, taking a bit of the magic of my childhood with her. With preparation like this, there was a deadened sense of resignation for me when my parents divorced a few years later. This is what happens, I guess, I thought. Adults pair up and separate and nothing is lasting or true really at all. Had I not found the never-failing Father of Life in my early twenties, I shudder to imagine what my own history of relationships would look like. I thank God that He showed me what faithfulness was and is and ever shall be.
Linda found a marriage-minded man and, I believe, had children. I've lost track of her, of course. What can a child do to sustain relationships? The last I saw of her was after my parents had divorced and she had opened up a travel agency. As for where she is today, I can only guess. But, I pray that she is happy and healthy and some lucky young woman's groovy aunt. Maybe, someday, our paths will cross again, and I will be able to let her know how much her gift of love and consideration over twenty-five years ago meant to me.
In her honor, I do my best to try to be a groovy aunt to my own niece. Aunts rule! (Ask Jane Austen.)
Happy 12 Days of Christmas!