EDITORIAL: The Christmas Closet
A few days before Christmas, the girl’s curiosity and anticipation had her squarely between the ears. A tomboyish redhead full of sass and vinegar and the only girl among four older baseball playing brothers, she was funny and rambunctious and the proud owner of a baseball mitt equally worn as the others that hung in the white farmhouse on the flattest piece of prairie God ever made.
The presence of four hard working and hard charging boys in her life served equally to endlessly pester and fiercely protect and made her precociously headstrong and able to hold her own in both the milking room and on the baseball field and at the long dinner table where razzing and sharp elbows and quick wits and jokes and abundant laughter at shared expense were the family trade. And after dinner at the piano where her nimble fingers provided the accompaniment for sing-alongs and her father’s fiddle and brothers’ guitars that filled the night air with music and laughter and joy.
As those nightly song sessions turned to carols and Yuletide cheer, they all knew that Santa Claus would soon visit again to determine whether after all that joking and prankery, any of them still deserved anything in their stocking other than a lump of coal and a reminder to be just a little less ornery in the coming year.
Still, the girl was optimistic about her prospects and hopeful enough that when a few brown paper bundles snuck their way into a closet the week before the holiday, there was an appointment with a spy’s trade to determine who would be getting what and how much.
Would there be chocolates? And toys? A new baseball, perhaps? A harmonica or two?
Her brain swam with excitement that simply wouldn’t wait. And so, on a certain lonely afternoon after school, with mother busy with this and that for dinner and father and brothers choring the livestock in the frigid outdoors, the girl abandoned her school books and headed quietly and purposefully to her parent’s bedroom closet and opened the door. And there on a high shelf, she spotted the trove, or at least a portion of it. A round object, exactly the size of a baseball, already wrapped and waiting, sitting alongside two flat bolts of neatly pressed gingham fabric in red and blue calico.
And nothing else.
But surely there had to be more, hadn’t there? Of course. And probably hidden somewhere else by a clever mother who knew the tendencies of her children well enough to know that there would be no surprises at all if all the gifts were hidden in the same place.
Carefully, and with an admitted sense of disappointment, the girl closed the closet door and returned to her homework and chores and piano and her roughhousing brothers and finished counting the days to that morning of mornings that is the cause of lost sleep for every child in the known world. But when it arrived, the girl’s excitement quickly turned to disappointment and then embarrassment and then shame and tears.
For there on the mantle on that Christmas morning of 1934 were exactly two presents for a family of eight.
The happy tears she cried on that Christmas morning so long ago were the same ones I saw 50-years later as the oldest of her three grandchildren, watching her retell all of it as one of the hundreds of stories of a simple but remarkable life, filled with lessons about love of God and and hard work and the importance of patience and faithfulness and generosity and togetherness. By then, life had made her a comparatively rich woman by monetary standards, still playing her piano and always, on all but the rarest of occasions, the funniest and liveliest person in any room.