One year, back in the 1970s when my sons were little, my parents got a huge washing machine appliance box, decorated it and brought it to our house on Christmas morning. They acted as if it was really, really heavy. They struggled to get it out of the car, and when the boys offered to help, they pointed to the caution stickers all over the package and said thank you, but it would be best if they stood back.
Finally, Mom and Dad made it up the driveway and the front steps, really hamming it up by breathing hard as they ‘rested.’ WHAT was in the box? Nothing had been said, so it was just as big a mystery to me as it was to my children.
They maneuvered the box out of the way and we proceeded to have our Christmas Dinner. All the while, the boys eyed the beautifully wrapped box with the big bow in the corner of the living room.
After dinner, Scott and Chris asked if they could open the mystery box first, but they were told it should be opened last. The minutes ticked by and of course their anticipation grew. Santa was pretty good to them that year, and they enjoyed watching the rest of the family open gifts that they had made. There was a pair of wooden lap trays my father helped them cut, stain and varnish that I have to this day. My eldest son wrote out a favorite recipe in calligraphy for my mother, and the younger one painted a picture for my dad.
“Okay, boys, you can open the box now.” Being mindful of the stickers pasted all over, they carefully peeled the paper which had an overabundance of tape on it. (My mother always did that. It drove me mad, but she loved suspense.) Finally, the two of them peered inside and smiled.
I was praying that they didn’t find a little puppy or kitten inside. The way they were acting made me suspicious. So my husband and I looked in and found a pretty sign my artistic father had suspended with thin wire to float within the box.
“Merry Christmas!” the sign read. “Contents are filled with love.”
I think that was the best gift ever!
But here’s the magical part: This morning, our Unchained Writers group was asked what the strangest gift we ever got for Christmas was, and I mentioned the story of this box. Instead of working on my manuscript during our writing time, something ‘led’ me to open one of a number of file drawers that I have not even touched for decades. Within THAT drawer was a collection of papers that included the two signs from that Christmas!
What are the odds? I wondered.
I sometimes believe people will think that I make this kind of stuff up. But it is true. What I am feeling at this moment is very hard to express, but it is the very best kind of gift I can imagine: to feel as though the people we have known are still with us in spirit, guiding us if we just listen.