Cherishing a gift of love and light

By Joanne Peterson | Dec 11, 2013

Every year on the weekend after Thanksgiving, I drag my three-piece, tall, narrow tree out of its box (after I lug it upstairs and more stairs from storage) and spend an evening decorating it. Somehow I’ve lost track of the box containing some of my favorite tree ornaments—including a number of my mother’s tree trims.

I feel sad about that—until I remind myself that it’s enough to treasure the memories of years of tree-trimming with her and the more recent years when I unpacked a box of her ornaments.  Anyway, I still have a few of her Christmas decorations.

One small box brings memories that take me back to my fourth Christmas, spent on the family fruit ranch in Yakima. That year, my maternal grandparents lived in a small house in Lake City, so my grandmother mailed a box of gifts for my parents, my brother and me. (In a couple of years, my family left the ranch and moved to Lake City for a scant two years, after which we moved to Edmonds. My dad bought the Edmonds Western Auto store at Fourth and Main, later transitioning to TV and Appliance sales and service. I never heard him talk any more about ranching.)

Back to my grandmother’s box of gifts—the first thing that came out of the box that year was a package with a note telling my mother that we were to open it together, right away. I was ecstatic—an early Christmas present? What fun!  Together, my mother and I opened the box, unwrapping three objects cushioned in newspaper.

My grandmother had sent us a three-piece nativity set-- a painted plaster Mary, perhaps three inches high, wore robes of blue and white paint. The infant Jesus rested on a plaster bale of hay, looking cold. Joseph knelt beside them.

The baby Jesus, according to a penciled figure on the bottom of his bale of hay, cost 10 cents.  I was too young to catch any theological significance of the infant Christ being sold for a dime. I simply loved him, loved holding the hard plaster bale of hay in the palm of my hand, loved gazing upon the cheap sculpture of the infant.

And Mary! She was a beautiful mother, I could tell, despite the lack of detail. Joseph? I didn’t care so much about him. He knelt next to the baby, and I left him there, while I admired his family.

Those dime store figurines of Mary and Joseph and the small Christ child became part of my Christmases ever after. When my family moved to Lake City, Grandma took me shopping at Woolworth’s in Seattle and let me choose figures to add to the nativity set.  First, an angel and a camel. The next year, three wise men.  Finally, a shepherd and one sheep.  I still have them all—along with the memories of a 4-year-old girl opening a package and finding—molded into cheap plaster—a gift of love and light.

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