It seems that the older I get, the harder it is for me to answer the question, “What do you want this Christmas?” I know my usual answer of “nothing” isn’t helpful, but it really is truthful. My father use to say the same thing to me when I’d ask him, and out of frustration, I usually bought him a box of gold toe socks. After he died and I cleaned out the house, I found a treasure trove of gold toe socks, many of which were never even taken out of the plastic boxes. I realize now, I probably should have just listened to him when he said he needed nothing.
A few years ago, however, I did think of two things I really wanted for Christmas. One was a photo of my great-grandfather, and the other was a postcard photo of my grandmother, as a young woman, with her cousin Willie posing in an automobile in a photographer’s studio. My grandmother’s uncle was the photographer and studio owner, which gave the postcard added meaning. The reason these items were special to me was because when I would visit my grandmother, she would often show them to me when relating her family stories. I decided to ask my uncle, Jimmy, who still lived in the family house, if he could either give me the photos or make copies of them for me. I informed him that they would make the perfect gifts for me. My uncle, who was a life-long bachelor, was not much of a housekeeper or well organized, and because of that, I had little hope of him fulfilling my wish list. He informed me that he thought they had probably gotten damaged somewhere along the line, and we just left the conversation at that.
Last Christmas season when I visited with my uncle, he gave me a plastic store bag with papers in it. He said he thought I might find the contents interesting. I looked through the bag but after seeing a cremation certificate for a dog, another uncle’s old resume, my mother’s Pitman shorthand award, and other miscellaneous items, I am ashamed to admit that I just placed the bag and its contents into a back bedroom closet. I hadn’t gone through it again until my brother asked me last week, if I had a particular family document. I pulled out the plastic store bag my uncle had given me, I went through it again. This time I was more than pleasantly surprised, because a postcard slipped out from between two sheets of paper. It was the very same postcard I had asked my uncle for, the postcard of my grandmother and her cousin sitting in an automobile. I suspect he didn’t even know it was in with the items he had given me. My uncle died several months ago, and if I were the type of person who believed in holiday magic, I might think my uncle were saying to me, “Here’s your Christmas present.”
So, maybe the best gift I will get this year came wrapped up in a plastic supermarket bag. Thanks, Uncle Jimmy! Here’s hoping that the readers of this article will also receive a family history gem this year. Happy Holidays!