A white Christmas -- so close, but yet so far

Published Thursday, December 23, 2010
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Christmas brought the Lowcountry a most unexpected gift 21 years ago.

It was snow, and it stuck, even forming what a New England Yankee would have to call snow drifts.

We'd just left for Christmas with family in the Upstate, where not a creature was dancing or prancing through the snow, because there wasn't any.

We had to enjoy the Lowcountry's white Christmas through the miracle of photography. It's kind of like shaking a snow globe. But we still have a snapshot on our refrigerator of a neighbor frolicking in our yard blanketed in snow.

It's almost as if we were looking in the wrong place for the special cheer of Christmas.

When I was a child, my mother did all she could to get her three children something they wanted in their handmade stockings.

Looking back, it's as if I wanted Christmas to magically make me something I was not. Apparently, I thought it could whip me into a husky football player like Lenny Snow, Craig Baynham or the other Georgia Tech stars playing not far from our Atlanta home.

Truth is, I was so skinny our neighbor Sam Sisselman worked overtime to plump me up. He was a retired pharmacist, who bottled a concoction guaranteed to give one a lusty appetite. To the best of my knowledge, I've never sipped prune-flavored motor oil, but Mr. Sisselman's magic potion had to be close.

It didn't work.

One Christmas, I begged my mother for a genuine leather football. It came, with white laces and stripes and a special needle to keep it inflated just right.

On another Christmas, I got a whole football uniform. Turns out, there's not much to do with a football uniform as a team of one. But when we played two-hand touch in the park, I could run into trees with no problem.

Then there was the most special Christmas Eve.

I had asked for a set of weights -- barbells, dumbbells, the whole Charles-Atlas works. As I lay in bed, too excited to sleep, I could hear my dear mother. In trip after trip up uneven concrete steps from the basement, she lugged up hundreds of pounds of weights. I'm sure she was trying to be quiet, but the ghost-like sounds of Mama dragging those weights remains seared in my heart. It's a symbol of her love and sacrifice for me, none of it deserved.

Like a Lowcountry snow, the weights are long gone. I still can barely lift a pencil. But now I know to find strength in the unexpected gifts ... the ones that bring joy from within.

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