The Best Gift

My sister and I on Christmas

I remember well the December I was 11. Mom must have been busy because she asked dad to take me shopping downtown. I needed new ‘good shoes’ that were worn to church, special school functions, weddings, and funerals. Since mom usually took us shopping, I was not very sure about this trip with dad. But mom probably thought it was a good way for me to spend extra time with him. When we arrived at the shoe store I discovered there were no new styles. In fact they had the exact same shoes mom had bought me on a previous ‘good shoe’ shopping trip.

I sadly told dad there was nothing to pick from. He told me that since I needed new shoes, we would just get the same style. I protested but he talked me into it. He did let me get pearl shoe clips to decorate the toes, which made me feel better. In the back of my mind I thought, mom can fix this. If she wants me to have a new style, she will return them.

As we left the store I asked dad if we could go to my favorite ‘little store’. It was in an old house on a parallel street and it was a wonderful place to go at Christmas time. Alice the owner, a single, Catholic woman in her 50s, welcomed us. She had all manner of things inside from knickknacks to larger pieces in all price ranges. She also sold Catholic bibles, missiles, prayer cards, medals, and rosaries in all prices as well.

This little store had become part of our family history. We shopped there frequently. My sister bought her first Christmas gift for mom there. It was a half moon shaped paperweight containing a house with a helicopter flying overhead. When Alice shook it, the snow swirled all around. Janice was little and loved it because it was fascinating and the price was right — 50 cents. It was displayed proudly on mom’s dresser until long after the liquid dried up. By then Janice was an adult.

In the ‘little store’ I showed dad pretty, shiny little things on shelves arranged with great care. As I entered the religious items room, my gaze rose to a Nativity scene on a high shelf. The crèche was made of wood. The figures were painted so realistically and their faces were lovely and serene. I stood looking at the Nativity Scene and was transfixed.

While Alice and dad talked, I thought what a great family Christmas gift the Nativity scene would be. Noticing my interest, Alice explained it was made in Italy and the figures were papier-mâché. When I told her that I wanted it, Alice began to talk it up to dad. When she said it was $50, dad said it was too expensive. I was disappointed.

Then, Alice carefully moved items to reveal a smaller version of the Nativity scene which cost $25. I told dad that if he bought it, I promised to set it up and take it down every year. I planned to care for it as the very precious thing it was. When dad agreed, I was thrilled.

Every year afterwards I set up the Nativity Scene and took it down. I wrapped each figure in tissue and placed it in the original box. When I was no longer physically able to do it myself, I oversaw the project each year. I remember looking at the scene with the light inside shining on the Christ child’s face. Then for many Christmases it was displayed in my home.

When I moved to the nursing home, the Nativity scene was packed away in a storage unit. A few years later I gave it to my niece with the hope that she will love it just as I do. Each Christmas I miss that Nativity Scene. To me it was a reminder of my family’s faith, love, and hope. Almost 50 years later that symbol still shines in my heart.

Merry Christmas.

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