The Gift (a short story republished with permission from the author)
The Gift by Wilma Seville
I’m decked out with silver and gold paper and a large golden bow. I’m looking forward to being unwrapped, bigger container, then smaller, then smaller until the receiver opens the last one, the card with its treasure inside.
I myself, the actual gift, am enclosed in a Christmas Card, lovingly picked out by Oma. Tucked underneath me, with a big note, “Read me”, is an article taken from the newspaper about Civi-Side, a company who helps returning military personnel find jobs in the civilian world. I’m giving myself away by letting you in on that clue.
Oma placed me right in the front of the Christmas tree, beside other gaily wrapped parcels. Small ones wrapped in red, larger ones in green, a tiny box in multi-coloured paper, all look intriguing to me. The freshly cut pine tree above me, hosts delectably decorated ginger bread men, with raisins for eyes and white icing for eyebrows and mouth. Stringed popcorn grace its boughs, and red and white bows bring contrast to the green branches. I watched, from a distance, as my humans gently put each glass ball on the branches. So much family history. The Star of David, hand carved from Olive Wood in the birthplace of Jesus, the Messiah, tops the tree.
I love the candle holders with their red candles on it. Oma brought them from Germany as a young bride. My larger outer box has seen them for many years and told the rest of us boxes about them. Oma is a great believer is reusing things. The family doesn’t light them anymore but we still put them on the tree.
When the electric lights are lit, I seem to glow more than the other presents. I hope that they won’t be jealous of our good looks. I know they will resent me when Danny opens me up, but what can I do?
As Oma was wrapping me up, I heard her talking to herself. She’s alone so much of the time and I think she’s lonely.
“I hope Danny hasn’t changed too much. He loves opening surprise boxes. Will he be too old for this now? He was in Afghanistan on his 21st birthday. I hope he doesn’t think I’m a silly old lady doing this. We all were so worried when he signed up right after high school. At nineteen, what does he know? It took almost a year for his basic training. He’d come home so exhausted, every muscle aching. He’d flake out on the sofa and just lie there, I hated to see him like that, but Hans said that the Army will be the making of him, so what could I say? He’s his Dad.
Our worse fears were realized when he was sent overseas for a three year stint in Afghanistan. We’d get the newspaper and watch the news on T.V., always hoping that all our boys would be safe.”
A big sigh from Oma accompanied those words as she sat down in her favourite chair and picked up her crocheting. Oma is my favourite, she is so kind and thoughtful. Danny is her only grandson. She has been counting the days until he arrives back in Canada.
Seventeen year old Marita spends a great deal of her time on the family computer and she was the first one to get an e-mail from Danny from Cyprus.
“Dad, Oma, there’s a message from Danny here.”
“Hi Sis, could you pass this e-mail message on to the family and let them know that our platoon is now safe in Cyprus? We are having an awesome time! Surfing the waves, playing soccer, swimming and hiking. Sis, can you show the family where I am on the net? It is such a beautiful place and full of history, not to mention pretty girls! We will be flying out in a few days back to Petawawa. I can hardly wait to see all of you. Danny”
That e-mail brought so much happiness as it meant that Danny would be coming back to Canada in about a week or so.
s one of the gifts, but I think I am the most special, I can’t wait till he opens me. The girls are so excited right now and anxious to see their brother come down the path in his uniform. They think he’s so brave.
I, and the other presents will be left alone for a few hours, as the family is going to church for the Christmas Eve family service.
One more sleep for the family and then Danny will be here. I hope he likes what’s in me. Oma thinks it’s such a good gift. She kept it a secret from the rest of the family, so they are as curious as can be and the girls keep shaking me, hoping to hear me rattle. That amuses me!
I have to tell you that Oma saved really hard to get enough of me. She didn’t buy anything for herself for quite some time.
It snowed overnight, the path up to the house looked fresh with no footprints to mar the delicate pristine scene. The sun picked out the crystals of snow and made them sparkle like a diamond on a newly engaged woman’s finger.
The snow plows had already been and the banks of snow were piled at the side of the road.
“Dad, Dad, Danny’s coming. I saw him get off the bus at the corner. He’s got his knapsack over his shoulders. He’s carrying lots of things.”
“No, Sarah, it’s called a CadPat. See, it matches his uniform. It sure looks heavy. I’ll go out and help.”
Hurriedly he slipped on his jacket and ran out. “You and Marita stay inside, it’s cold out there.”
“Mom, I’m just going to meet Danny and help him with his things.”
Hans, plowed through the snow on their path and hurried to the corner, almost slipping as his feet slid on the patch of black ice, hidden under the newly ploughed snow. He met Danny half way.
A big hug, back slapping was what the family saw from the sitting room window. What they didn’t hear was the loving tone in both men’s voices as they both talked at the same time. They also didn’t hear Danny’s comment about “war being hell”.
“I can’t get those images out of my head Dad, they haunt me even when I’m awake. I keep having flashbacks. My buddy John was killed right in front of my eyes. I heard the bullet whiz by my ear and saw him struck down. It was horrible. He had a wife and two children and now they are alone. Dad, I saw what the bombs did to civilians. How can I ever get that out of my head?”
“Son, I think I know what you went through, remember I was in the Korean War. We’ll talk about it once we are alone. Best not to mention it to our womenfolk.”
One last hug and the two men walked up the stairs.
The door flung open as Sarah and Marita raced to greet him. Oma, her cane tapping on the ceramic floor, was right behind them. Danny, his smile as large as the man in the moon, hugged each one as they clung to him.
His biggest hug was for Oma though. He had been twelve, Sarah nine and Marita seven when their Mom passed away from cancer. Their Oma, his Father’s Mom, had come to live with them a few months later. She had steadily taken over, her quiet strength sustaining all of them as the little family tried to cope with their loss.
Loss was very familiar to her. Arthur, her husband, had passed away when their grandchildren were very small. When her daughter-in-law Gisela died from cancer, she had been devastated as they had been very close. The grief that she felt was nothing as compared to the grief of her son Hans. With three small children to raise by himself, and a demanding job which took so much of his time, he felt overwhelmed.
“Mom, I don’t think I can do this by myself. Can you come and live with us? We need your help.”
Ten years had passed since Oma had come to live with them. Danny had finished high school and enrolled in the Armed Forces, done his three year tour of duty, Sarah was nineteen and working and Marita was 17, still in school.
Why am I telling you all this? I want you to understand why this family is so special to me. I am so proud of all of them. In spite of their great loss, they have pulled together as a family and made the best of things.
I could sense the excitement in the air as the family gathered in the living room where we presents were waiting to be opened.
“Swish” as ribbons came off. “Crackle, the sound of wrapping paper being crunched up by impatient fingers. It all added to the excitement. Gradually, the green carpet began to resemble a sea of gaily coloured wrapping paper, the gifts floating on top of it.
It was so much fun for me to see, as Danny and his sisters opened up various presents Finally, it was my turn, as Oma wanted me opened last.
The outer box, who was the oldest and wisest of all of us, was set aside gently ready to be used for another year. Then the next size lid was popped off, showing another smaller box and on it went.
Danny’s voice boomed in the small sitting room as his fingers explored the many boxes inside my large box. “Oma, you remembered how much I love surprises!”
“What’s this? His blue eyes quickly scanned the words “Read this article first before opening the card.”
Danny skimmed over the article quickly, more anxious to get to the card then read a newspaper clipping.
I could feel his eager fingers tugging at the gummed surface of the envelope. His fingers were clumsy but he finally got the card open. There were two other small gaily wrapped slim parcels inside..
“What’s this Oma? You’re really making me work to get to the present! This must have taken you a long time to wrap all these things.”
“Danny, I had lots of fun doing it but open those two parcels very carefully or you might do some damage,” Oma said with a big smile.
By this time, the whole family eagerly awaiting the surprise. Oma had done a good job of keeping her secret and now it would be revealed.
Finally, or so it seemed to Marita and Sarah, Danny had it open.
“Wow, look at that, would you? Oma, you shouldn’t have!”
Oma, her face wreathed in a big smile, just smiled as he read what she had written. Inside the card was enough money for a new business suit, two shirts and two ties, not to mention socks, underwear and new shoes. Oma had included $50.00 on top of that labeled “have fun”. This card was nestled on top of the article from the paper which said “read me”.
“Oh Oma, you think of everything. What would we all do without you? Thanks so much for that money. I never needed business clothing before but I intend to use my skills that I learned in the Army and I have to look “professional” when I go on job interviews. I’ll register with that company once the holidays are over. The article sounds really interesting.”
A big kiss for his Oma, a hug for everybody else was his way of thanking all of them for their presents.
After a lovely dinner of roast duck, the family gathered in the sitting room and sang Christmas carols and talked about everything, but the war.
Danny’s room was the way he left it, three years ago. For him it was like stepping back into a more peaceful time when all he had to do was study, his chores and go out with his friends.
Shirts and slacks hung neatly on hangers, underwear in drawers and a quick look around to see the familiar things in his room satisfied him that all was well in his little world. Things he had had as a boy, his baseball bat, his Blue Jay cap, his trophy for best baseball player in the league, all were surveyed as he stretched his tall lanky frame on his single bed.
“I’m so lucky. I’m here with my family, not like so many of my comrades who came home in a wooden box. John, my buddy, shot before my eyes. How will I ever forget that? The little fellow, only about 10 if he was a day, killed when a bomb went off near him. I still hear the high pitch wail of his mother as she raced to where what was left of him lay. I saw the anger and hatred in his father’s eyes as he shook his fist at the departing airplane. Their mangled child, the image burned in their minds, a living nightmare which would never depart.
I went away as a boy and came back as a sorrowing man. Jesus, the Messiah, was known as a “ Man of Sorrows” and now I understand better. I will never be the same again.
We celebrate the Prince of Peace’s birthday on December 25th yet we still kill each other and discriminate against others. When will we ever learn?”
His eyes staring up at the ceiling, he pondered Christmas past. This has been a much better Christmas than the last ones he had spent overseas. Nobody would take a potshot at him or throw a bomb just because he was “the enemy.”
Sleep overtook him, his eyelids slowly drooping as Oma came up to check on him. She covered him with the heavy crocheted blanket she had made for him as a boy and turned off the light so he could sleep.
Me, his Special gift of money, in tidy stacks, was weighed down by a glass paperweight with the newspaper article beside it.
Safe and physically sound, back home among his family and friends, Danny slept like he hadn’t for several years, his face in repose.
I, the money gift, knew my time would come when Danny and I would go out shopping for new clothes and spend some time together. I could wait, while he rested. Me, the gift from Oma, would give him a new look as he exchanged his uniform for the uniform of industry.
Stille Nacht – German language - Silent Night in English
Oma - a familiar way of saying Gran or Grannie
Cad Pat - a heavy camouflage backpack that all soldiers carry which matches their uniforms.
Note: After deployment in Afghanistan, the Canadian troops are sent for rest and recreation to Cyprus for five days before returning to Canada.