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Sharon Randall: May Christmas bring goodwill

By Sharon Randall

This is a Christmas story. I’ve told parts of it before. But some stories bear repeating, especially at Christmas, when old things — people and traditions and even the world — often seem new.

Like most stories, this one is woven from memories, three memories of three perfect gifts.

The first gift was a bird.

When I was 6, my mother bought a fake Christmas tree. It looked like a TV antenna covered in toilet brushes. She said I could decorate it, but I knew it wouldn’t help. You can put lipstick on a pig, but still.

The day after Christmas, I went to spend a week with my grandmother on her farm. I told her about the tree and she said, “Your mama works too hard.”

The next morning, she woke me early and said, “Come see your Christmas tree.”

I looked out the window. It was snowing. And at the top of a snow-covered hemlock, there sat a single, perfect ornament: A redbird, singing its heart out.

Suddenly, it was Christmas.

The second gift was a promise from my mother. When I was 10, my family fell on hard times (harder than our usual) and Mama said Santa might be late.

“How late?” I asked.

“Maybe spring,” she said.

On Christmas Eve, some people from church brought us a food basket. My mother looked mortified, but thanked them kindly. It was our only gift that Christmas, except for a box of tangerines my stepfather put under the fake tree. At supper, when Mama served up the ham from the basket, she said this:

“Life is a bank. Sometimes we put into it. Sometimes we take out. It’s hard having to take. But remember how it feels, because one day you will do the giving.”

Suddenly, it was Christmas.

The third gift was a cassette tape. When my oldest child left for college, he took with him a boulder-size chunk of my heart.

It’s hard to let go of someone you’ve spent 18 years of your life watching over day and night.

We visited him at school, he came home a few weekends, and we often talked by phone. But I missed him something fierce. I could hardly wait for him to come home for Christmas.

When he drove up out front (with a car full of laundry) I was waiting on the porch.

“Hey, Mama!”

I hugged him long and hard, but he didn’t seem to mind.

“Glad you’re home,” I said.

“Glad to be here,” he nodded.

He unpacked his car, started a load of wash, ate everything in the fridge, then headed off to meet friends, promising to be back for dinner. But first he took something out of his pocket.

“Here,” he said, grinning, “I made this for you.”

I squinted at the names of two dozen songs he’d recorded on a cassette titled “Songs 4 Mom.”

It was the music I’d danced to as a teenager, and later, with him and his sister and brother when they were small — songs by James Taylor, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder.

“Where did you find these?”

“I borrowed them from guys at school and copied them on the tape. They’re all songs I know you love, plus a few new ones I think you’ll like, too.”

In that moment, I realized two things: My boy knew me well. And no matter how many miles or years might come between us, we would always be close.

Suddenly, it was Christmas.

The best gifts aren’t usually things we ask for.

But they are always what we need: A redbird singing in a snow storm.

A promise of hope in hard times. The assurance of being known well by someone we adore. Or a baby born in a manger, who makes the soul feel its worth.

May this Christmas bring you your favorite gift, the one thing you need most of all, not tied up with ribbons under the tree, but wrapped in love in your heart.

And may it fill you and me and this weary old world with peace and joy and goodwill toward all.

Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove CA 93950 or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com.

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