The Last Gift

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic

Christmas is all about giving and receiving, right? We all look forward to those festive, happy holidays! Getting together with friends and family; sharing meals and stories and watching the expressions on our loved ones’ face as they open this gift or that. The unexpected gift, though, is usually the best. It can be a strongly desired, serious gift or a crazy gag gift. And it is usually always saved for last. This story is all about a lifetime of finding that “Last Gift”.

The “Last Gift”

By Donita “Jo” Bawiec

© December 2016

 

Christmas is all about giving and receiving, right? We all look forward to those festive, happy holidays!  Getting together with friends and family; sharing meals and stories and watching the expressions on our loved ones’ face as they open this gift or that. The unexpected gift, though, is usually the best. It can be a strongly desired, serious gift or a crazy gag gift. And it is usually always saved for last.  This story is all about a lifetime of finding that “Last Gift”. 

I

As she slipped into the pew and sat in silence, she was overcome with a feeling of despondency and a deep sadness. She had come to Midnight Mass an hour early this year. The celestial voices of the choir serenading the congregation with beautiful Christmas hymns, accompanied by a small orchestral ensemble, filled the church. She had come early to have more time to pray. Christmas shouldn’t be a time for sadness, but, for her, this year it was.

“I do not know how I will ever recapture the wonder and joy of Christmas without my lifetime tradition of the ‘Last Gift’. It will never be the same!” she thought sadly.

 She closed her eyes to keep the tears that were welling up inside from spilling over. Silently she prayed, “Please, please Lord, help me regain the feelings of awe and amazement! Please take away this sadness!”  

Then, slowly, memories flooded her mind. Her first remembrance of the very special ‘Last Gift’ was when she was ten years old…..

 

II

The aromatic smell of the pine needles overwhelmed her. Lying on her back underneath the Christmas tree, looking up into the shimmery, shiny, magical beauty of the colored gleaming lights, the satiny mercury-glass ornaments, the billowy strands of tinsel, the silver crinkled garland, she could not see the angel at the top. It did not matter. This was a mystical, ethereal, wonderful, safe haven. It was a beautiful, warm, cozy, peaceful spot where she could envision Heavenly beauty. This was her secret nook where she felt wrapped in love and angel wings- the perfect place to be on Christmas Eve. She allowed her heavy eyelids to close, just for a moment. The gracefully, exquisite ballerina doll, the one she so longed for, danced in front of her eyes. It was just so dreamy.......

“Wake up, Wake up!!! It’s Christmas morning!! Santa Claus came!! Hurry, we have to go see the ‘hundreds’ of presents Santa brought!!” Her older sister was tugging excitedly at the covers and pulling on her. They ran into the living room, awed at the many presents piled under the tree.

 “Hurry, let’s wake up Momma and Daddy!”

Momma and Daddy dawdled as usual, making coffee, getting fully awake, moving as slow as molasses, until at last they settled in. Daddy sat on the floor next to the tree and began handing out the gifts. Squeals of delight, amazement and surprise filled the room.

“Ohhhh, it’s JUST what I have been wishing for!”

Within minutes, all the gifts had been given out. Amidst all the toys, mounds of waded wrapping paper and tangled ribbons, she looked over her many gifts. As wonderful as they were, she couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit dismayed...no ballerina doll this Christmas.

Suddenly, with a mischievous grin, Daddy said, “Oh wait! Look!....way back there in the corner...seems Santa hid this one last gift”.

He pulled out the big box and handed it to her. She tore into the ribbon and paper, so full of anticipation. And there it was!

 “Could it possibly be true? Wow!! The Ballerina Doll!”

Brimming with excitement, she was bursting with joy! In that moment, she knew, the ‘Last Gift’…the hidden one…would always be the best!

III

“Are you going to be able to come join us?”  Holding the phone in one hand and with her fingers crossed on the other, she was talking with her very best friend.

 A huge smile spread across her face and she began nodding happily to the small close-knit group of girlfriends circled around her.  It was Christmas again. She was now ‘all grown up’-sixteen years old. Most of her time was spent with her small group of friends, all of whom had known each other since early childhood. 

Their number-one favorite activity was Christmas caroling. On starlit, snowy evenings, they layered themselves in warm winter hats, scarves, coats, mittens, and boots and crunched through mounds of soft snow, playfully tossing snowballs at one another while going from house to house, serenading unsuspecting neighbors. They had so much fun!

A giggling bunch of teenage girls engaged in such pure innocent delight. Much later, rosy cheeks and frosty cold hands persuaded the girls to return to her home to enjoy warm, fresh-from-the-oven homemade gingerbread cookies and a steamy cup of hot chocolate, tiny marshmallows floating on top. Afterwards, they scurried to her bedroom, piled onto her big, soft bed and in this ‘secret, private haven’, they whisperingly shared their wishes of the most desired gift this Christmas.  Sunken into the down-filled comforter, warm and cozy, they allowed themselves to drift into dreamy visions.

As the middle of December neared, she and her family went for the annual ‘Christmas ride’ to view all the pageantry of gorgeous homes, extravagantly decorated in Christmas splendor and sparkle. Overwhelmed with anticipation, she could barely wait for morning. Not because of the gifts she would receive, but because she had such joy watching her parents and sister opening their gifts. She had finally come to the age of enjoying giving more than receiving. But the most thrilling of all was to see the ‘Last Gift’---the one hidden way back in the corner by ‘Santa’--always the most desired gift of the year.

Christmas morning dawned, filled with unbridled joy; laughter and taunts; wishes fulfilled; gifts galore and all manner of Christmas goodies to fill empty tummies. What a wonderful time! These hours with her family were so remarkably special.  An unbelievably wonderful day lie ahead.

Christmas afternoon was spent with her friends, all of them exclaiming about the terrific, ‘cool’ gifts they had each received. And, as they did each year, each of her friends waited breathlessly to hear about her ‘LAST GIFT’...the most special, the most desired one.

Never a disappointment-because of course, it was always something magnificent. This year it was the white, bunny-fur collar tied with long dangling strings, large balls of bunny fur on the tip of each string. All her friends oohed and aahed over it and delicately reached out to stroke the soft fur. And each girl had her turn trying it on. It was a perfect day and a totally superb Christmas. Life could not be any greater.

 

IV

Barely nineteen years old, she and her high school sweetheart had been married for three months. Their small three-room apartment was the perfect size for just the two of them. In the tiny living room, a small Christmas tree sat atop a little round table. Nothing elegant or exquisitely decorated, but their very own ‘Charlie Brown’ tree and ideal for them. The living room overflowed with gifts, threatening to engulf the table and tree.

She carefully tied the bow on the last of the family members’ gifts. She was so happy she laughed out loud, “I really shouldn’t have bought so much but I LOVE this time of year.”

 Then she leaned over and slyly hid her darling husband’s special gift in the very back corner, the gift he wanted most. She loved him so much and wanted to make all his deepest wishes come true. She could scarcely contain her joy and enthusiasm...tomorrow night was Christmas Eve and Midnight Mass.  Midnight Mass always stirred her heart in such a profound way. Celebrating the birth of Jesus gave her a sense of renewal and endless hope.

Now, it was time to get the turkey ready and bake the pies. After all, Christmas food is one of the merrier joys of the season. Besides, she had to keep her mind off the vision of him opening his ‘Last Gift’ or she would surely burst with happiness. She must not spoil his surprise!

 Little did she know that by Christmas next year she and her husband would both receive the most extraordinary ‘Last Gift’…one to share with family and friends: their first child. A cherubic, perfect infant baby boy who would fill their hearts with love beyond imagining. An eternal perpetuation of their lives and love, personified in a small bundle, clothed in a diaper, gently cradled in a soft flannel blanket. What a ‘Last Gift’ that would be.

 

V

Twelve years later, a large, beautifully decorated tree filled the generous living room in their home. Several presents were piled neatly beneath and around it. Four stockings hung from the mantle.

With only three days until Christmas, she was rushing around, trying to finish all the cooking, cleaning, gift-wrapping and baking.  

“Settle down! Stop being so rowdy...you two boys are going to knock over the Christmas tree!!”

With two young sons, there was always so much commotion. Now, because of the school holiday break AND all the sugary Christmas cookies and candy, both of her sons were so ‘wired’ that they were really trying her patience.

 She flipped on the TV to a Christmas movie.

“Boys, it’s Chevy Chase’ “Christmas Vacation”- come watch!”

 Racing around the room, wrestling, shoving each other, the boys managed to get to the sofa without breaking any of her Christmas decorations.

 “At least they hadn’t tried to engage each other in a food fight with the peanut butter cookies.”

 Finally, with the boys engrossed in the movie, she was able to finish the last of the gift-wrapping, away from prying eyes. It was so important to get their ‘Last Gifts’ wrapped and hidden away.

Christmas Eve was always long. Around eight o’clock in the evening, everyone settled in for a short nap, after which they donned their best outfits for Midnight Mass.

 Midnight Mass had become a Christmas tradition and she hoped, deep within her heart, that her sons felt the same stirrings of extraordinarily renewed hope and rebirth that she had always felt with the coming of the Baby Jesus.

After they returned home from Mass, around one a.m., they changed into their ‘jammies’, drank a cup of hot cocoa, and shuffled the boys into bed. Finally, around two or three a.m., the boys drifted off to sleep. And then, poor old Daddy had to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house to retrieve all the Santa gifts that had been hidden there. By the time she and Daddy finally got to bed around five in the morning, the boys were awake and up again. 

“Mom! Dad! Get up! Hurry! Come look! Santa came!”

Now she and Daddy were the dawdlers, slow as molasses and the boys were the impatient ones with wonder in their eyes and joy in their hearts. Despite of her lack of sleep and the long day ahead, she immensely enjoyed all the laughter, joy, happiness and even the rough-housing monkeyshines of her boys.

This was her ‘Last Gift’. Mesmerized, she thought, “Nothing, NOTHING, could make me happier!”

 

VI

A new grandbaby! What better Christmas gift could one ask for than another grandchild?

 Two years ago, she had gained a daughter and an impishly, adorable six-year-old granddaughter, when her oldest son, now thirty-four years old, had married. And now, there was to be another grandchild! A baby boy!  WOW! Another boy added to this family.

For the last two years she had relished the indulgence of all the ‘girlie stuff’: Barbie doll clothes, Easy Bake ovens, ruffles, bows, pretty, shiny stuff.  

She smiled and even laughed out loud, remembering all the trucks, cars, GI Joes, bats, balls, even ‘fake vomit’ (yuck!) throughout the many years.

And now, with the new grandson coming, it would all start over...all the boy stuff. She hugged herself and whirled around in such an ecstatic mood. What a blessing!!

After both sons had become adults, the mystique of Christmas had lost a little of its luster. Even the ‘Last Gifts’ did not evoke the same surprise, wonder and joy.  But now, with a precious little granddaughter and a new baby grandson-to-be, Christmas glowed with inspirational awe. She felt like a child again, barely able to contain her excitement of how unbelievable this Christmas would be! Is this how Mary felt that first Christmas so many years ago?

This year’s ‘Last Gift’, the new grandson, would undoubtedly be unsurpassable for years to come.

 

VII

Eleven years had passed.  It was just her and her husband now. Her parents had long ago passed on and both sons lived far away.  

This past year had been extremely intense. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer last spring and had undergone surgery and five weeks of daily radiation treatments.  Going through the adversity had taught her to fully rely on God’s strength and will.  She was at peace with whatever the future may hold. 

And now, Christmas was nearing. Her grandson was a ‘tween’ and her granddaughter was about to present the family with another ‘Last Gift Christmas Miracle’-a baby boy.  She felt such an excitement at becoming a great-grandmother. 

Although she had not fully recovered from the radiation treatment burns, she was determined to travel the one hundred-eighty miles to meet her new great-grandson.  Late in the evening, she and her husband arrived at the hospital amidst a gentle snowfall. Stepping out into the starlit evening, the whisper-soft flakes dusted her hair with a silvery halo of snow and tickled her rosy cheeks. She breathed in deeply, savoring the crispness and the beauty in the air. Such a wonderful gift from God

Inside the hospital newborn-nursery, in an incubator in the far corner, slept the most angelic tiny cherub. Because he was still too fragile to be held, she slid her hand into the incubator opening and placed her finger by his teensy little hand and HE GRASPED IT and held tight to it, while his delicate rosebud mouth formed into a funny, quirky grin.  Her heart melted.

  How can the ‘Last Gifts’ of the future, ever measure up to the ones with which she had already been blessed her whole life?  How can my heart ever get any fuller?  The ‘Last Gift’ has always been the best!  What an incredibly fantastic Christmas this is.

VIII

Seventy plus years old? How did that happen so fast? Where did all those years go?

No matter…she and her husband still had each other and were still able to travel and do most anything they chose. And it was Christmas time again. This Christmas, they opted to stay at home instead of traveling to either of their sons’ homes.  Just the two of them, alone again together--life had come full circle.  Once again they had a small Charlie Brown Christmas tree--just right for them.

 But this year, the only gifts under it were for their family and friends.  They no longer gifted each other. There was no reason to because they gave to each other throughout the whole year.  She remembered the joy and specialness of all the Christmases past.  Her thoughts returned to the ‘Last Gift’.  This year, there was no ‘Last Gift’!

A deep melancholy seeped into her heart and being. 

And now, alone with her thoughts, here she sat, in the huge church.  Midnight Mass would soon begin. Overwhelmed with sadness, she closed her eyes and a tear slid silently down her cheek.  As she reached up and brushed it way, she opened her eyes.

At once, her gaze reverently transfixed on the altar.  The nativity scene, baby Jesus in a manger crib, with his hands outstretched to gather and touch each of us, was aptly positioned below and in front of the crucifix: the adult Jesus with his hands outstretched to save and soothe and love each of us forever.

How appropriate--the ‘first beginning’ and the ‘second beginning’

Then closing her eyes, to shut out any distractions, she allowed her mind to concentrate fully on being in the Holy Presence of God and to feel as if she were truly present at the first Nativity.

Slowly and softly, almost unperceptively, something ethereal passed over her and suddenly, completely, she realized something she had always known in her heart:

 This! This birth - this omnipotent, divine, miraculous birth, had always been and would always be ...the most special, the most desired, the best of all, subconsciously ‘hidden in the back corner’ of her heart and mind…The Ultimate ‘Last Gift’ Forever. No Christmas will ever be without it! 

She smiled, her heart and soul full of absolute love, peace, and joy.

“The Last Gift” and Christmas had come again!


Submitted: December 04, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Donita Jo Bawiec. All rights reserved.

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