Every year at this time I like to look back and reflect on the most remarkable Christmas I have ever experienced. I close my eyes and I’m back in 1984. What makes this particular year stand out? This was the year when a little girl and a tea kettle reminded me that the best gifts come from the heart without any fancy price tags or packaging.
I was not earning much money that year but had saved for months to be able to buy modest gifts for my family. My father had decided to give my mother a mink coat and my youngest brother had purchased a microwave oven for my parents. (Unlike today, in 1984 a basic microwave oven was frightfully expensive.) My other two brothers were in the military and stationed overseas, so they were bringing exotic and unusual gifts.
A few days before I was going to do my Christmas shopping a friend told me that one of our mutual friends — Jenny — was in dire financial straits and unable to provide her five-year-old daughter with a warm coat for winter and still manage to have Christmas gifts for her. Worse still was that Anne was being taunted by her classmates because she didn’t have a coat. This news just broke my heart. I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing — so I decided to take my savings and purchase a coat for her.
I took Anne shopping and thanks to some wonderful sales was able to purchase not only a coat, but also a dress and shoes. Somehow there was even enough money left over to buy a gift and a scraggly poinsettia for Anne to give her mother. As an extra treat I took Anne to see Santa and had her picture taken with him. When we returned from our adventure Anne insisted upon modeling her new clothes and giving Jenny her gifts.
Jenny was quite overcome and cried as she hugged me tight. When she was whispering her thanks she told me that she had never believed in Santa Claus until then. Her words were humbling.
When I got home I talked with my mother and told her what I had done. She was as touched as I was at Jenny’s plight and told me not to worry about the family gifts and that everyone would understand.
With my leftover savings I went shopping and was able to get very small gifts for everyone. That did not bother me except for the gift I bought my mother. It was a very pretty, but very inexpensive tea kettle that I had seen mom admire once when we were shopping. On its own it was a nice gift — but it paled in comparison to a mink coat or a microwave.
I confess that I was embarrassed when she opened my gift after all the others that year. But the interesting thing is that while she loved all of her gifts she seemed to have a special affection for mine. For nearly 10 years that little kettle was well used and sat in a place of honor on the stove in her kitchen. It was still there long after it wore out because mom thought it was so beautiful.
Today, the fur is in storage, seldom worn, and the microwave has been replaced many times over. Mom will still talk about that little kettle and tell me how sad she was that it finally wore out from use. We’ve never really talked about it — but I’m not sure if it was the actual kettle she found beautiful or the story behind it. I’d like to think it was both.
— Raine Cole is a founding member of the PRIDE Charlotte Task Force.