The Christmas Wish List contest just ended and I posted the winners in my previous post, but I want to thank all those who participated. In fact I'd like to thank all of you who read my blogs and better still, read my books. Over this past year I have been touched by many of your comments. My blog today is one more Christmas memory, one that haunts me still. It was the Christmas I made my mother cry and I learned something important about gratitude.
At fifteen, a pleated, plaid wool skirt was all I wanted for Christmas. I knew there wouldn’t be much beneath the Christmas tree that year, but how I hoped for that one thing. Our farm community was small and no one had much money, but it seemed I was the only girl in our high school who didn’t have a pleated wool skirt.
Somehow in my mind, the skirt I dreamed of was two shades of blue with white and black, forming a lovely plaid. It would be that thick kind of wool so popular that year and would fall just an inch or two below my knees. I had a blue sweater that would be perfect with it, a hand-me-down that had hardly been worn.
In the weeks before Christmas I participated in the school play, went ice skating, and even gave my little brother an early Christmas present with the last of my baby sitting money. He was a cowboy in the elementary school pageant and I’d found a cute pair of toy spurs. I warned him he wouldn’t get anything from me on Christmas, but he was so excited about the spurs, he claimed he wouldn’t care. With a family the size of ours, I figured he wouldn’t even notice one less present on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve came and we gathered in the front room. Daddy read the Christmas Story from St. Luke, then came the passing out of gifts. In our family we always exchanged family gifts on Christmas Eve. We exclaimed over cheap bottles of perfume, knee socks, and the other inexpensive gifts my siblings and I had purchased or made for each other. Mama served us slices of fruitcake or bowls of carrot pudding, then we were off to bed.
It wasn’t visions of sugarplums that danced in my head that night, but a pleated wool skirt. I wanted that skirt with all my heart.
When morning came, my sister and I dressed in our icy bedroom before making our way down stairs. The kitchen was warm and filled with good smells, we pitched in to help Mama and our helping frequently took us past the archway leading to the front room where we surreptitiously peeked at the small mounds set on the sofa and under the tree.
When Daddy and my brothers finished with the milking and other chores, it was time to see what Santa had brought, though most of us were well beyond the years when we believed in the jolly gent. Hardly daring to breathe, I followed the younger kids into the front room. At first I couldn’t tell which gifts were meant for me. Then I saw it, a flat bundle, wrapped loosely in a folded piece of tissue paper. It was my skirt! I knew it had to be my longed-for skirt.
Carefully, I pulled back the tissue and stared in confusion. It was fabric; a piece of cloth. That didn’t disappoint me. My mother could sew better than anyone else I knew. But the fabric was pink! Pink with little black speckles! Of all colors in the world, my least favorite has always been pink. It wasn’t thick and slightly rough like my friends’ wool skirts. It felt spongy and slick. It was the ugliest piece of cloth I’d ever seen. I bit my lip to keep from crying.
“What’s that?” One of my brothers pointed to an oblong lump in the middle of the piece of fabric.
Struggling to control my distaste at even touching that piece of pink cloth, I unwound it to discover a navy blue book. A consolation prize I thought. At least I’d have something to read. I reached for the book and turned it over in my hands. This time I couldn’t stop the tears. The book was a hymn book---a hymn book for a girl who was tone deaf and consequently had little interest in music.
I caught a glimpse of Daddy’s broad smile. He loved to sing and was convinced that if I took a little more interest in music, I’d soon love it too. I sank onto the couch and turned my head away, pretending interest in the truck and cap gun my youngest brother was exclaiming over.
At some point I became aware of my mother sitting beside me. As from a great distance I heard her say she was sorry there hadn’t been time to make up my skirt before Christmas, but she’d start on it the next day and I’d be able to wear it when school resumed after New Year’s.
“It doesn’t matter,” I muttered.
“I was lucky to find such a good piece. It’s a wool and silk blend and if it hadn’t been on the remnant table we couldn’t have afforded anything so nice. I’m not sure it’s a big enough piece to pleat, but it will make a lovely straight skirt.”
Something seemed to snap inside me. “But it’s ugly,” I cried.
Mama looked bewildered. “For weeks you’ve been talking about a wool skirt. I thought---.”
“It’s pink! It doesn’t even look like wool! I just wanted a skirt like the other girls are wearing to school.”
“You’ll like it better when you see how nice it will look on you.” I ignored the hopeful note in her voice.
“I won’t ever like it,” I sobbed. “It’s not only ugly, but it gives me the creeps to even touch it!” I ran upstairs to hide, but not before I saw tears spill down Mama’s cheeks.
It was Christmas day, but Mama cut out the skirt and began stitching it for me that day. I stood for fittings when asked. I even wore the skirt to church the next Sunday and one other time, but how I despised it. I never again said I hated it, but Mama knew. She never spoke of it either and eventually the skirt disappeared, but I’ve never forgotten it. If it had just been my disappointment with a gift that didn’t suit my taste, I would have forgotten it long ago, but by the time I first stood in my slip while Mama pinned the pieces of that skirt, I knew that skirt would always be a reminder of the Christmas I made Mama cry.
In the years since that Christmas I’ve thought of that skirt each Christmas season or whenever I’ve seen that particular shade of pink---and when I stood at my mother’s graveside years later. I know how little my parents had and how much my mother sacrificed to come as close as she could to what she thought I wanted. I’ve thought of that skirt each time I’ve received a gift I didn’t care for or want and when I’ve given gifts I’ve realized too late weren’t quite right. The years since that Christmas have impressed upon me how much love goes into each gift placed under the family Christmas tree and I hope I’ve become more sensitive to the generosity of others and a more gracious receiver.
Each time I hear that familiar quote from Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” I can’t help thinking it may be more blessed to give, but receiving is harder.
Shortly before Christmas a few years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer and during the days between my hospital stay and Christmas I was pretty well confined to either my bed or the big chair in the living room. With excellent insurance benefits, two daughters still at home, a married daughter nearby, and a husband and son who were excellent cooks, I was in no danger of starving, yet every few hours the doorbell would ring and a neighbor, visiting teachers, Relief Society presidency, or even my children’s friends would be standing on the steps with bread, cookies, pies, or complete dinners. The Young Women gifted me with the Twelve Days of Christmas. I felt embarrassed and awkward accepting their generosity, yet somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered that long ago Christmas when my mother wanted to give me something nice because she loved me and I spurned her gift. I smiled and accepted each and every gift, knowing that the givers felt a need to give and without a gracious receiver they would miss the blessings of giving. I didn’t need the gifts, but oh how I needed the love each gift represented. Over the years I’ve come to suspect that when the Savior said it was better to give than to receive, included in that admonition is a subtle suggestion that a grateful heart is included as one of those “better gifts.”