Two years ago I hit a home run with one of my smaller gifts, a beautiful collector’s edition ornament that I bought on the final day of shopping. That was back when Margie and I were living in Mom’s duplex while workmen continued to restore our house from a fire that disrupted our lives a few months earlier. The fine ceramic ornament shows a pleasant old home with the line: “Home is where the heart is.” After we lost most of our collection of Christmas decorations in the fire, the ornament proved to be one of several real tear-jerker experiences for Margie that Christmas. (I think she cries more for than joy than she does for grief.)
The second gift that evoked tears of joy two years ago were a Mr. and Mrs. Snowman crafted out of foam balls and clad in matching crocheted outfits. The couple was an almost identical match for one that had been crafted by Margie’s mother, Dolores maybe 30 years earlier. They were always given a place of honor when Margie would decorate our home for the holidays and they might have been our greatest loss in the fire … although the old boat motor handed down to me by my late father would have to rate a close second.
Our daughters Hannah and Jessica understood the meaning of that loss to their mother and they decided to do something about it. So one Saturday during a hectic holiday season, their grade books were set aside, Hannah’s children were handed over to grandpa for the better part of the day and our girls set out to recreate Mr. and Mrs. Snowman. Relying only upon family photos with the “couple” in the background, Hannah and Jessica secured the foam balls, the yarn and some helpful crochet directions and set to work on a gift for their mother. I don’t think they finished in one day, but they got off to a good start and completed the project before Christmas.
On Christmas Day as we opened presents, my daughters, my son-in-law Brian and I were all on pins and needles as we waited for Margie to open the box with Mr. and Mrs. Snowman inside. Her reaction will remain one of the great memories of my life, ranking right up there with wedding days, and the arrival of our daughters and grandkids.
I took no joy in seeing my wife sob, even if it was for joy. But I did take great joy in seeing her eyes beam through the tears and see her face turn from sobbing to a bright smile. That Christmas Day I was treated to seeing that reaction replicated in my daughters, as well. I think they well understood the joy they had brought to their mother’s heart. And I believe that they took that same amount of joy from knowing what they had done for their mother’s spirit.
I’ve never really gone back to look at the old photos to compare our new Mr. and Mrs. Snowman to the couple that perished in our fire. I’m willing to bet that the replicas are about as close as one could ever get to the originals. And I’m convinced that Dolores English, the jolly woman who was loved by all who knew her, was looking down that day and enjoying the deepening bond growing between her daughter and granddaughters. She might have even thought to herself: “My three angels.”
This brings us forward to Christmas 2012.
I am posting this blog late on Christmas Eve so that few people will see it before morning comes. If anybody who knows Margie happens to get up early and read this, I implore you not to call her right away to talk about it. I want this to be a surprise. I want her to read a hard copy I am about to print out and place in an envelope to be packed with the smallest of the Christmas gifts I am wrapping for her at the last minute.
When I was shopping the other day, using Margie’s Kohl’s charge card and her handful of coupons, I found the last of a particular design of wooden angels sitting all alone on a shelf. It is part of a series that I have bought from before, including one to honor Margie’s commitment to our troops for seven years as the founder and leader of Operation Appreciation. As I was scanning the shelves for possible stocking stuffers, I saw this angel art and knew in my heart it was the perfect gift for my soul mate of 38-plus years. It is an angel – a mother angel, if you will – flanked by two slightly shorter angels.
I looked at that gift and I immediately saw my three angels … my wife and two daughters who have given me a lifetime of joy and give me every reason to look forward with the expectation of more joy to come.
People sometimes ask Margie and me how we are able to maintain our sense of joy in the face of the adversity we have experienced since I was laid off four years ago, ending a 30-plus years as a newspaper editor. In the years since then, we have seen a fire heavily damage our home, Margie has been diagnosed with a heart condition and adult onset diabetes, I have had to cope with serious back and hip pain and I have struggled to find a decent full-time job or anyone to publish the mystery novel I wrote in my first year after the layoff.
We tell people it is easy to maintain joy because we look around every day and realize how blessed our lives have been and how blessed they continue to be. Our daughters are both impressively strong, intelligent and loving young women married to a couple of fine young men. Our grandchildren bring joy every time they come spilling noisily through the front door. We have made some wonderful new friends in the past few years and have built upon some old friendships. I have tapped into one old friendship that has produced a wonderful opportunity to earn some money as a freelance writer for trade magazines. And we remain warm and well-fed in our now repaired home.
One of my favorite short passages from the Bible is from 1 Corinthians 13:13 where Paul writes, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
I read that verse once as part of the Gospel reading at my brother’s wedding. It struck me then as it strikes me now that as long as I have the love of three angels in my life, I am a rich man. I know that the people who have met these angels would agree.