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12 gifts in 12 days: Love really is the gift

December 22, 2018

I wrote a picture book this year about a little girl named Loretta trying to find the perfect gift for her new baby cousin, Gabe.

She looks and looks, but nothing is just right. Until she realizes that her love is all that baby needs.

It’s a lovely sentiment, and one I believe in wholeheartedly.

But …

My family holidays can get as crazily commercial as anyone else’s. Case in point: My family got presents from our cat when I was growing up.

Usually, the gifts were something practical, like socks or mittens, accompanied by a note saying, “So your paws will be soft and warm, just like mine. Love, Smokey.”

Now we all knew that a cat, no matter how wonderful and talented, couldn’t go shopping. It had no place to carry its wallet. But we overlooked this fact annually and carried on to extremes about how good it was of Smokey to brave the winter elements and shop for us.

We went on and on about how he must have picked up the presents in his little teeth and carried them to the cashier, and we wondered how the fuzzy feline managed to get five people’s worth of presents home and wrapped.

It was strange, but it was tradition.

My mother got our kitty gifts started. (She admitted to helping Smokey sign the cards.) She was also responsible for most of the other unique things that happened during our family holidays.

One year, my father’s present consisted of a rubber pail filled with rolled-up dollar bills tied with ribbons. He had wanted a sun roof for his car, but my mother thought it was too unromantic to just hand him a check. Another Christmas, she enclosed a can of Mountain Dew in each of my caffeine-loving sister’s presents.

But one year, she and my father outdid themselves, using altered carols to provide clues to the location of our presents, which were hidden around the house. My brother, sister and I didn’t know this, of course. We thought we’d just be wrecking wrapping paper like normal people.

It started when my sister received a small box. “It doesn’t feel like there’s anything in it,” she said. But there was – a slip of paper.

“Sing it,” my mother said. So, to the tune of “Silent Night,” my sister began:

Silent night, holy night.

In the closet, on the right,

is a present just for you.

You can keep it, and if you do,

you can sit and study all night,

sit and study all night.

She trooped upstairs with us behind her. Sure enough, in the closet on the right side of the hallway, was the large rattan chair she had requested, because she wanted a comfortable place to read.

The fun continued. My brother found a step ladder in the basement after belting out, in baritone, my mother’s version of “Jolly Old St. Nicholas,” and my sister found a suitcase in another closet once she sang: “Joy to the World, The Present Comes.”

When my slip of paper came, I was prepared. I unfolded it confidently and performed a parody of another carol:

Up in the closet of our house,

there stand quiet as a mouse –

two little presents just for you.

Packed with love and good luck, too.

My song didn’t let me down either, as I found matching luggage in yet another closet.

Our family songfest wasn’t normal, but it was fun. The cat enjoyed it, too. He got to attack the bows and wrapping paper while we were off in various corners of the house, and for once, the focus was off him.

He didn’t have to shop.

Now that I’m grown up, I realize something. The gifts weren’t what made those holidays so memorable. It was the love my parents put into the cat presents and song lyrics and the fun our family had keeping our traditions alive.

This year, I wish you the gift of love.

I hope it’s as strong and enduring as Loretta’s love for Baby Gabe.

I hope you give it, and I hope you receive it.

Because, really, that’s all you need.

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