Miss Esther’s husband passed away years ago. I never met him even though I had known her for over twenty years before her recent death. Miss Esther’s son was in his sixties and lived two thousand miles from her home in the Southern Highlands. She didn’t see him much and talked with him infrequently on the phone. She had no other living relatives that anyone was aware of. Her few surviving friends were in their eighties or nineties and, like Miss Esther, didn’t get out often. Some were in nursing homes. That’s why my wife Jean and I felt led to give her presents during the Christmas season – to let her know we were thinking of her.
I drove Jean to a local nursing home to visit her ailing mother. The plan then was for me to go by Miss Esther’s house for a few minutes, give her the presents, and come back to join Jean and her mother. My few minutes with Miss Esther turned into two hours. I had phoned her that morning to see if it was convenient for me to drop by. She was delighted – and well prepared for my visit when I arrived in the afternoon. She had baked sugar cookies and brewed spiced tea. Her home had an old-fashioned, enticing aroma. The tea hit the spot on a cold, blustery day. The cookies, topped with green and red icing, with a pecan in the center of each, were absolutely delicious.
We talked about a lot of things that afternoon, with Miss Esther doing most of the talking. I suppose I egged her on with questions, but she relished them and enjoyed answering in depth. She told me about the first Christmas she remembered as a little girl and how she, her brothers, and sisters each got an orange, apple, and some stick candy. Fruit was a special treat, and candy was almost unheard of except during the holidays. She said Christmas always held a magic quality for her as she was growing up, regardless of how hard the times were or how little she received.
She described the first Christmas she and her husband Abner spent together. It was in a one-room cabin on a mountain farm. She took care of most of the farming and Abner worked long and hard at a lumber company. She said she could still recall the fresh smell of the Christmas tree they cut, dragged into their home, and decorated. “Mercy,” she exclaimed, “living in that little cabin during the holidays was like camping in the woods, except the pine fragrance was stronger inside because it was so contained in that small space!”
Miss Esther talked about how her son Matthew had served in the military and then worked in electronics, but she didn’t know exactly what he did in either occupation. And even though he didn’t get home or phone her much, he sent cards and gifts on special occasions. His marriage ended in an early divorce and he never remarried, but he was dating a divorcee with a couple of grown children. Matthew never had children of his own, and she hated that because she would have loved to have a grandchild or two.
But the thing I remember most about my visit with Miss Esther was her poignant remark as I was departing. There was a glow on her face, excitement in her expression, and sparkling moisture in her eyes as she touched me with the words: “I want to thank you again for your presents – but I want to thank you even more for your presence.” As I drove away, I remained fixated on her unforgettable look and soul-stirring words – the last words I ever heard her speak.
Francis Balfour (1851-1882) wrote, “The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to your father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all humankind, love. Miss Esther reminded me of the significance of love being expressed through presence rather than presents.
Carl Mays, author of over a dozen books and speaker at over 2500 events, can be contacted at email@example.com or 865-436-7478. His books, including People of Passion, a top seller during the holiday season, are available in stores, at www.carlmays.com, and on www.amazon.com.
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