It's just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our
Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has
peeked through the branches of our tree at this time of the year for
the past 10 years or so.
It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas. Oh, not
the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of
it. You know, the overspending, the frantic running around at
the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder
for Grandma, the gifts given in desperation because you couldn't
think of anything else.
Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual
shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something
special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.
Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior
level at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, there was
a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner city church.
The kids were mostly black.
These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings
seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp
contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and
sparkling new wrestling shoes.
As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was
wrestling without head gear, a kind of light helmet designed to
protect a wrestler's ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously
couldn't afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every
weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he
swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street
pride that couldn't acknowledge defeat.
Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, "I wish just one of
them could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but
losing like this could take the heart right out of them." Mike loved
kids-all kids. He understood kids in competitive situations, having
coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That's when
the idea for his present came.
That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an
assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously
to the inner city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on
the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this
was his gift from me.
His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in
succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the
tradition - one year sending a group of mentally challenged
youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of
elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before
Christmas - on and on...
The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the
last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring
their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad
lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.
As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents,
but the envelope never lost its allure. Still, the story doesn't end
You see, we lost Mike last year due to cancer. When Christmas
rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the
tree up. Yet Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree,
and in the morning, it was joined by three more. Each of our
children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the
tree for their dad.
The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further, with
our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed
anticipation, watching as their fathers take down their envelopes.
Mike's spirit, like the spirit of Christmas, will always be with us.