My favourite childhood Christmas gift showed up beside our scrawny tree on Christmas morning, unwrapped. To Beverly and Kathy. Love, Mommy and Daddy.
My father spent part of his adult life as a construction worker. He built churches – a prelude to the later decades when he and Mom propped up churches, not with timbers and steel, but with prayers and presence and pastoral support.
Dad loved spending time in his basement workshop in our 2910 Murray Street home. Something always needed building, fixing or renovating. He had no fancy tools, no digital displays, laser lights or rechargeable batteries. The tools of his day were straightforward, honest and hardworking; crafted in a time when simplicity brought no shame; when certain brand names still had reputations for quality and certain men did too. Good men, straight and honest. True to God and family. Not too proud to be taken down a notch or two when needed, like the wood he worked with, but with an edge of steel that kept one upright.
I recall most Dad’s hammer, drill and table saw. He also had a massive vice attached to his solid downstairs workbench, and numerous clamps for gluing things that often ended up also secured in the vice. Clamps poked out at odd angles, like an upturned giraffe.
Mom spent some of her single years working for a tailor, honing the skills that would later serve her well in the making, remaking and repurposing of clothing for her children. Our clothes were always serviceable and attractive, often reflecting the loving individual touches only a mother knows will warm a particular child’s heart – or arms. She made me a green velvet coat trimmed with white fur once. To this day, give me anything soft, and I’m all over it.
I know now they worked late at night, sacrificing sleep to keep their project a secret. But that Christmas Dad’s carpentry and Mom’s needlework fashioned a gift we played with for years; a small wooden piece of furniture, part kitchen and part bedroom – a dish cupboard on top, stocked with child-sized dishes, and a dresser on the bottom, every drawer filled with handmade doll clothes. I recognized the fabrics and laces as remnants of our larger garments; the fancy stitches as those made by her old green Elna. The dresses had smocks and gathers, Peter Pan collars and puffed sleeves, petticoats and pretty buttons.
Beverly and I played with that cupboard for years. When we grew too big for it, Dad sliced it in half, and both Bev and I had a new piece of bedroom furniture. We both still have some of the doll clothing.
That Christmas gift, suffused with love and sacrifice, has influenced every one of my Christmas celebrations since. Until I’ve made something for someone I love, sacrificed something, however small, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas.
That’s not surprising. For those who follow Jesus, love and sacrifice form the core of our celebration – the love of God, the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ, who arrived as an infant wrapped in flesh and blood. Like you and me.
To the world. Love, God. Only believe.