My writing time spans from around midnight to five o’clock in the morning. Some nights either I just don’t have the right words or the drive (shame on me) but stay up anyway watching television or reading. Last night was like that. While reading and listening to the television (multi-tasking?), I glanced up at the cross we decorated instead of a Christmas tree. The red foliage attached to the wood sparkled under the colored lights and the white wall behind the cross glowed. My thoughts drifted to my mom. I wondered what she would think of it. Growing up we always had Christmas trees, and she was the foreman of the decorating team. She knew exactly where each and every ornament would hang, how much tinsel on each bough, and insisted same colored lights were not close to each other. Needless to say, thanks to her “eye,” we had a masterpiece every year. (Except for the one year we tried an aluminum one – never again!)
My mind then wandered to one of our Christmases overseas. We were living in Casablanca, Morocco on an Air Force Base. I was in the third grade and of course, not old enough to go Christmas shopping on my own. Dad planned on taking my sister and me, but I was impatient. The route home from school went through military housing. On the way home one afternoon it was trash collection day and one of the cans along the way happened to not have a lid. I peeked in and, lo and behold, discovered an ash tray. If I recall correctly, it was round with green paint and gold specks. I looked around to make sure no one was watching, reached in, grabbed it and put it in my lunch box. Mom will love this! I thought. When I arrived home, I hid it under my mattress until I could sneak into the bathroom and make it look new. I washed that darned ash tray about a gazillion times until the paint shined and specks shimmered, all the while oblivious to the fact there was a crack on the unpainted bottom. I excitedly told my dad I didn’t need to shop for mom, that I already had her gift and told him what I had done. All he said was, “That’s a really nice gift.”
Christmas morning took forever to come. I sat, anxiously waiting for my mom to rip through a mound of paper and tape that could have wrapped a battleship (I still use too much.) She looked down at the ashtray, gently turned it over then turned it back. She rubbed her hand against the sparkly green surface and smiled. She said it was beautiful and would cherish it forever, and gave me a great big hug. My heart jumped with joy, knowing I made her happy. I was confident she never suspected it was used or found in a trash can. That secret was between dad and me.
I think that was one of my favorite Christmas memories, especially knowing she was aware of the origin of the gift shortly after she opened it. She saw the crack on the bottom and mentioned it to my dad, who spilled the beans. She never said anything to me until I was an adult, and proudly displayed that ashtray for years.
Thinking about that Christmas brought me to tears, not just because this is one more Christmas without her, but the fact she loved me so much. Not only did she ignore the source of that green and gold ashtray, but she also forgave the source of her pain in later years when I took a detour to the darker side of life. I was in a garbage can too, but God, in his mercy, pulled me out and He, along with mom and dad, helped me wash off and shine through their love and encouragement.