I was covered with dust and grime from digging through boxes in the garage when I found the one marked TOYS. Using a Swiffer cloth, I wiped off the small box and my hands. What toys did we have that Mother would have saved and that Daddy would have tucked into the tightly stacked boxes on the shelving in the garage eaves? We never had the money to buy anything expensive that would be worth keeping, so I couldn’t think what it could be. I peeled away the packing and memories flooded my mind.
I was ten years old. We had just moved from the San Fernando Valley to Simi Valley at the foot of the Simi Hills, close to Daddy’s new job testing rocket fuels at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. Any money that Christmas season would go towards a modest Christmas dinner. If there were any gifts, they would have to be handmade.
The weeks when Daddy and my two brothers spent time at night in the garage while my sister and I worked with Mother in the house to create something for Christmas seemed an eternity. What could they be making for us? There were many things I could wish for, but nothing I could think of equaled the sound of tools and the secrecy that barred us from the garage.
At last the day arrived and we gathered in the living room, around the spindly tree covered with one string of fat bulbs, lit in alternating red, blue, green, yellow and white; silver tinsel carefully spread strand by strand over the tree, a red construction paper chain and a few cardboard and construction paper figures we had made. Mother had carefully kept a box of shiny Christmas ornaments. We treated them like they were gold. It was beautiful and mysterious. We read the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth and then opened our gifts.
The gift from Daddy and my brothers to my seven year old sister and I was miniature doll furniture. Wooden and handmade. I was mesmerized. This was a better wish than I could have dreamed up on my own. The detail, the time, the beauty of the craft it took to create small works of art. I was overcome with joy and happiness. It didn’t matter that we had no dolls small enough to play with on this miniature furniture.
“You made these?” I asked Daddy. “Did the boys help?”
“Yes, sweetheart,” Daddy’s eyes twinkled, “we worked together.”
All these years later as I stand in the garage and look at those labors of love and ingenuity, I am again overcome and need to share it. I dig my cellphone out of my pocket and tap on my sister’s number, 500 miles to the north.
“I just found the gift from one of my favorite Christmases,” I said when she answered. “The miniature furniture Daddy and the boys made for us in Simi Valley. Remember?”
“Not now, Kenzie,” my sister said to her great-granddaughter, then back into the phone, “that stuff they made for us? The worst Christmas ever!”
We talked and remembered and laughed and got caught up on current emergencies and challenges and said good-bye.
I sat in the dirty garage fingering those small pieces. Funny how the same family experience can be so different, sibling to sibling. I still felt the wonder of a Christmas wish that had no name, the beauty of just us six, our little oasis of love and security, wrapped in our own swaddling clothes of family working together, laid in the manger of belief and trust.
It was a wish I never knew I’d made but it was lived out by my big, strong Daddy who made Christmas beautiful for me and by the special treat of Mother’s Christmas turkey that was always delicious; it was the love we had that turned out to be the greatest wish. It lived on as my brothers and sister built Christmas traditions with their families that in some form continue what we six had. It still lives on even though Daddy is now gone and Mother’s strength is waning so that I do most of the Christmas turkey. It lives on in eternity because it is the wish of the love and mystery and beauty of Christmas.