The Best Christmas Gift a Mother Could Give

A writer’s memory of her mother’s generosity during a stormy Christmas Eve remains indelible.
The Best Christmas Gift a Mother Could Give
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Christmas vacation had already begun for us kids: two weeks including New Year’s. Christmas was always a time of giving in our home. Besides being a busy single working mother of three young children, my mother organized a holiday food basket for a needy family in the community at her workplace.

One rainy winter night in the week before Christmas, Mother was driving home from work and stopped short of missing a man trying to navigate a bicycle in the storm. Not properly clothed for rain, he was drenched to the bone, and she stopped to offer some help. When the dripping man approached her car, she recognized José, a man she worked with. She insisted on taking him home and loaded his old bicycle into the car.

Mother arrived home late that evening, and I remember her telling us the story of José and his bicycle. He could not afford a car and had just lost his wife and was now left alone with three small children. She had not known the extent of his circumstances. When Mother pulled up in front of José’s dark house, she could see the sad little faces peering out of the window waiting for their father to get home. There was no sign of Christmas at this house.

As she continued to talk, I could see that she was upset and thinking about José’s troubles. Mother shared everything with us. I could already see her mental wheels turning. Mother was a problem solver, organized, and determined. Plans for José had begun to form the minute she saw the small faces in the cold window. She did not want José nor his children to be among the forgotten.

Each year, her company decorated a large, white flocked tree with red ornaments; the tree was lit with tiny white lights. My mother loved that tree. It was upsetting to her that it was left to die when they closed for the holidays.

The following day, Mother asked the owner of the company to give the tree to José when they closed for the holiday. She would load the tree, José, and his bike into her car and take them home on Christmas Eve. She had also rallied for the Christmas charity this year to go to one of their own, so José and his family would receive the collection of food for the holiday, including a big turkey.

This Year Was Different

Mother would get the week off between Christmas and New Year’s, and her last day at work would be Christmas Eve. We would leave early for Grandfather’s and spend that evening and Christmas day with family in Santa Rosa, as we did every year.

Christmas Eve came, and it was getting late. Mother was not home yet. We were worried about her driving on a stormy evening, and we still had a long drive ahead of us.

After work, Mother and José had loaded up the tree and bicycle and headed for his home. After the tree had been unloaded, and Mother had put the finishing touches on the decorations, she looked around the bare room and realized there was nothing to put under it. José was just grateful for the tree and the ride home. The food was enough of a gift; they would have a nice meal.

Mother told him she had forgotten something and that she would be right back. Perhaps her own children were too old for Santa Claus, but these innocents needed something to believe in now, and that would be her gift to them.

The door blew open and in rushed Mother with a gust of wind following her. She asked us for toys we no longer used and announced she was going out again. Rushing through the house, still dripping from the rain, she went to her hiding places where she kept little treasures she had hidden for last-minute gifts. She grabbed wrapping paper with one hand and a few small packages not yet under our own tree with the other. We certainly had more than enough under our tree and far more than José and his family.

By the time she had wrapped the little packages for the children and made a second trip, it was late, too late for us to drive to Santa Rosa now. We decided to stay home, and it turned out to be the best Christmas we ever had. It was the first time I had seen my mother that full of joy, just satisfied that we had been able to share the true meaning of Christmas. She felt blessed with our humble home and thankful to bring the spirit of the holiday to someone else. We could spend Christmas in Santa Rosa next year; the gift of giving was one she had wanted her children to know, too.

The Gifting Continues

We didn’t speak of it again, although I wish we had celebrated her more for her generous spirit. I think that the tree tradition continued as long as Mother worked with José, but we never heard any more about it. She had the true spirit of giving, not for the attention but for the sheer joy of it.

I have never forgotten that Christmas. Each year on Christmas Eve, I bring flowers to Mother’s and neighboring graves. I thank her for that Christmas so long ago and what she gave to all of us. To José and his family, she gave a reason to believe; to her family, she gave the best gift of all: She taught us about the gift of giving.

This article was originally published in American Essence magazine.
Debra Amundson is a writer, blogger, and world traveler.