The gifts continue to flow in from so many generous and thoughtful people, from friends and strangers alike. Today I want to share two that touched me especially because of their link to my past.
When I was in the first grade, my mother had a Christmas party for me and all the girls in my class. This became an annual event, anticipated by my classmates just as much as by me, that we called “The Cookie Party.” Each girl was given a piece of hot-cross-bun dough to knead, add nuts or candied fruit to, and shape, and while my mother baked these, we decorated sugar cookies–three per girl–with some trying to make them pretty and others piling on as much icing as possible! This party took place each year until I graduated from St. Joseph School.
So when Emily started at St. Joseph, it felt right to revive this tradition. I even got my mother to run the party. Things had changed, though. Growing up with two brothers, Emily was closer to the boys in her class than the girls. So we had to invite the boys too. Boys added another dimension–flour flew through the air, dough was pounded more vigorously. Also, people seem busier these days. They don’t R.S.V.P., and they don’t bring their kids to every party to which they are invited. Eventually we began inviting just those children who kept returning year after year. And they did enjoy and look forward to the annual event.
The cookie party was labor intensive and messy! When William started kindergarten, I had a new idea for a Christmas party–a Christmas bedtime story party. Kids would come in their pajamas, and listen to some Christmas stories. Then I would serve hot chocolate and sugar cookies–decorated in advance! The children got to take home their Christmas mugs as party favors. I did this party for William for three years, and then last year when Lorelei was in kindergarten I did it for her.
This brings us to another tradition–the Christmas book tradition. This one, too, has its roots in my childhood. Like many children, we were allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve. At first, it was whatever present under the tree struck our fancy. Later it evolved to being a certain present–a book–my mother would have ready for us so we could read it before bed as we tried to fall asleep (never so hard as when you are a child on Christmas Eve!). I had a book for Emily to unwrap on her first Christmas Eve–an alphabet book by Steven Kellogg–but by her second Christmas I had decided the book should be a Christmas book. I gave her “The Clown of God” by Tomie de Paola–who became one of my favorite children’s authors.
With five children receiving a Christmas story book every Christmas Eve, our collection of special books grew. We had a large box of very special Christmas books that we brought out at the beginning of each December and read throughout the month. They were in the garage with the Christmas decorations, and now they are ashes.
“The Clown of God” remains my all-time favorite. Here are some others I recall: “The Silver Package,” “We Were There,” “Who’s Coming to Our House,” “The Other Wise Man,” “A Christmas Miracle,” “The Cat in the Manger,” and so many more.
The other day we received a card from the family of a little girl who was in Lorelei’s class last year and attended the party. Little Gracie herself had the idea to send us Barnes and Noble gift cards to help replace the books that were lost. I still have not cried a river over all this, but this is the kind of gift that brings tears to my eyes.
And here’s another: one of the people who attended my cookie parties, starting when she came to St. Joseph in 5th grade, was my friend Katrice. We became close in high school, we were in each other’s weddings, and she and her husband are devoted godparents to our oldest son.
When we were planning our wedding, Katrice’s dad was starting a photography business and trying to build up a portfolio. He offered to do our pictures for the cost of the film. He printed all the pictures and then gave us the negatives to keep and to have larger prints made of the ones we wanted to frame and for our album–an album made for me by my high school roommate. We were very pleased with his work, and in addition to the album full of 8 X 10s we had several photos framed around the house.
Well, those are ashes too now. The negatives are in a supposedly fireproof box buried in the ashes of what used to be our office, and we may or may not be able to find them out–it took about 8 hours for John to find the rings that were in his jewelry box in our bedroom. So imagine how exciting it was when Katrice arrived at my house the other day, bearing her dad’s portfolio with five 8 X 10s from my wedding, including the one of the entire wedding party! She brought a frame for that one, and put it on a table angled toward the front door, so that in her words, “Everyone can see this is John and Leslie’s house when they come in.” It was the very first family photo to be displayed in our new home.