Melinda Eye Cooper
A Gift to Remember
Updated: Dec 17, 2022
It was Christmas Eve.
Mr. and Mrs. Nichols expected their family to arrive soon for dinner. The fragrant aroma of stuffed turkey wafted through the small farmhouse. Mrs. Nichols hummed “Jingle Bells” as she cooked.
“It’s snowing,” Mr. Nichols announced as he peered out the living room window overlooking their land. No other houses were in sight just an old barn, rolling hills, and fields.
“Oh dear. I hope everyone arrives safely,” Mrs. Nichols said as she wiped her wet hands on her apron.
Mr. Nichols turned to his wife and asked, “Who?”
“Our children, Kate and Annie.” She held back her irritation and exhaled. “You remember, your daughters,” she said.
He shook his head with a blank stare.
“Well, they’ll be here soon, along with the grandchildren.”
“I ain’t old enough to have grandchildren.” He chuckled.
She mumbled under her breath and added a pat of butter to the mashed potatoes warming on the stovetop.
A few minutes later, in came their two daughters with their husbands. They carried wrapped packages and covered dishes of aromatic foods. Four children bustled through the door behind them.
“Merry Christmas, Dad.” Kate hugged her father after setting down her gifts.
“Christmas?” He scratched his head, confused. “I sure didn’t know it was Christmas.”
When Annie finished placing her dishes on the counter for the meal, she tightly hugged him, too and said, “Merry Christmas, Daddy.”
“Well . . . Merry Christmas, I reckon,” he said. Then he made himself comfortable and sat down in the recliner near the window as the little house brimmed with vaguely familiar people.
The daughters helped their mother prepare the meal in the kitchen as the grandchildren made themselves at home.
“Pops, where’s your tree?” The youngest grandchild, Claire, held a small wrapped gift in her hand.
“My tree?” The old man motioned out the window. “Why, it’s out there with all the other trees.”
“Not those trees,” Claire said with a giggle, “your Christmas tree.”
“Yeah. We have a great big one in our living room. It’s got lots of decorations and we put our presents under it.” She held up the gift in her hand. “I got this for you and I want to put it under your tree.”
Kate answered for her father from the kitchen, “Pops and Grandma don’t have a Christmas tree, honey. They haven’t had one in many years. Not since I was little, like you.” Then she added, “Not everyone has a Christmas tree.”
Claire’s mouth dropped open. “They don’t?”
“Dinner is ready,” Mrs. Nichols interrupted. She guided Claire to the small folding table set up for her grandchildren. After the blessing, they gobbled up turkey and dressing.
Pops finished eating before everyone else. He rose from the table and began rifling through the kitchen cabinets. Then he took the lids off every container he found on the countertops until Mrs.
Nichols asked, “What on earth are you looking for?”
“Where’s the Divinity?” He grumbled as he looked in the cabinet under the kitchen sink, “We can’t have Christmas without Divinity.”
It was his favorite candy.
“I’ve got some. I made it for you yesterday.” She scurried to the bedroom and returned with a round tin. She popped the top off revealing fluffy, white pieces of candy. “Here you go, dear.” She handed him the tin.
He smiled with great satisfaction as if he’d found some wonderful thing he’d lost many years earlier. He happily munched on the candy. It became oddly quiet when he asked Mrs. Nichols, “Mom, when I get married someday, will you teach my wife to make this for me? You make the best Divinity.”
“I will,” she answered, and without missing a beat, added, “I’m sure you’ll marry a beautiful, young woman who’s a great cook.”
Everyone smiled knowingly. These types of conversations were common as he worsened with Alzheimer’s. Though some of his actions were jarring, like trying to use the television remote control as a telephone, they tried to make the best of a bad situation as he declined. They finished the meal and began clearing the table.
Mr. Nichols relaxed, gazing out the window at the falling snow. He popped another piece of fluffy candy into his mouth, savoring its sweetness. The grandchildren sat around the coffee table playing games except for Claire. She plopped down on the floor next to her grandfather who was kicked back in the recliner.
“Why don’t you have a Christmas tree, Pops?”
“Who says I don’t?”
“Oh . . . well . . .” he began to explain but couldn’t finish his thought. “I can’t remember exactly.” Then he held the tin of candy out and offered some to the little girl. “Try some. Mom makes the best candy.”
Claire picked out a piece with no nuts and took a bite. She smiled as it melted in her mouth. “Yummy.”
“Told ya.” Pops smiled as a glint of familiarity shone in his eyes. Claire reminded him of himself at that age. Before he got tired of the world turning Christmas into one big sale. Before he’d banned trees from the house and all the other decorations that accompanied the special holiday. Before he couldn’t remember.
“You wanna open the present I brought you?” Claire asked.
“Sure do.” His eyes lit with excitement as the little girl handed him the small package. The rowdy game of Yahtzee going on at the kitchen table continued and nobody noticed the giving of the gift.
He gently pulled the red ribbon from the package. Then he tore the paper off and discovered a handmade ornament inside. A small cross made of beads.
“I made it in Sunday School. It’s a cross and see this . . .” Claire held out the looped fishing line tied to the top of it, “that’s what you use to hang it on the tree.” The little girl explained, “It’s to remember Jesus dying on the cross for us.”
Pops held up the ornament by the clear line as it twirled around. His eyes filled with tears as he remembered his deep love for Jesus. He cleared his throat and said, “I’ll never forget that.” He hugged his granddaughter and whispered in a cracked voice, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Claire said with a smile that quickly turned to a frown. “But you don’t have a tree to hang it on.”
“Come with me,” he said and placed the ornament in the pocket of his flannel shirt. He stepped into his leather boots beside his chair and the two of them made their way to the kitchen door that led to the garage.
Mrs. Nichols (always keeping an eye on her husband of fifty years) asked, “Where are you two going?”
“I got something to show this little whipper-snapper in the garage.”
“Alright, but please don’t go outside,” she advised.
“We won’t.” He winked at the child as they closed the door behind them. Once they were in the garage, he turned to her and said, “You wait here and I’ll be right back.” He opened the side door in the garage and headed out into the snowy, dark night as the child waited.
It didn’t take him long to return, holding a little Cedar tree with muddy roots dangling from it. He shook off the remaining snow from its branches then closed the garage door behind him.
Claire’s eyes lit up, “Is that your Christmas tree?”
Mr. Nichols nodded. “I used to have one just like this. Now, we need a bucket to put it in and some rocks or something." He rubbed his chin whiskers and gazed around the cluttered garage. “Then we can decorate it.”
“Yeah, but where are the decorations?” Claire asked with her little nose scrunched.
“Only got this one.” He pulled the beaded cross from his pocket as he evaluated the contents of the garage. There were empty gas cans, used flower pots, and a bag of cement. Then he found an empty five-gallon bucket. “This’ll work,” he said as he grabbed it by the handle.
“Look!” Claire pointed to a partially used bag of potting soil tucked away in the corner. They used it to fill up the bucket. Then they planted the little Cedar tree. It was as pretty as any Christmas tree could be.
“Put the ornament on it, Pops!” Claire grinned with dimples forming in both cheeks.
Mr. Nichols hung the beaded cross on the tree. With excitement glinting in his eyes, he said, “Let’s show it to Mom.”
They proudly took the tree inside the house and placed it on the kitchen table in the middle of the Yahtzee game.
“What on earth?” Mrs. Nichols’ eyes opened as wide as the lids would allow.
“Merry Christmas, Mom,” Pops said with a sweet tone.
She sighed as a great smile spread across her tired face. The Alzheimer’s that wore her down daily and brought frustration and tears had brought her a gift this day. It was the first Christmas tree they’d seen inside the house in over thirty years. And even though at the moment, her husband thought she was his own mother, she didn’t seem to care.
“Merry Christmas, dear.”
***This is a work of fiction to honor my beloved parents - Travis and Rachel Eye. Always loving us the best way they knew how.
Shortly after my father's passing of Alzheimer's in 2019, Mom had a Christmas tree for the first time in many, many years. She passed away in November, 2022 leaving us with a giant hole in our hearts. So, thankful for both of them.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. Ephesians 6:1-3 (NIV)