Wednesday, December 21, 2011

an almost priceless gift

A Time for Giving    Because the young black clerk at the post office had told me the amount of my postage stamps on my manilla envelope was short by $1.73, I’d returned to my store to find and stuck four more to my pattern of six alternating American flag and Statute of Libertys I’d already attached. Why I liked the look of them, neatly arranged on my envelope, is hard to say. I usually don’t care. But this time, since I hadn’t brought folding money or change with me, it didn’t concern me that I was determined to use only stamps rather than a sticker the clerk would have printed and used. However, what she told me as I handed her my envelope a second time, now with ten stamps, surprised me.

“You’re seven cents short,” she said.

“But I added $1.76 worth of stamps,” I pleaded, more amused than upset.

“It’s the added weight of the stamps,” she told me. “Don’t worry, I’ll use some change I have in my little box.”

Before I could thank her for her kindness, a man in line behind me, the only other person there, and just as friendly as the clerk, handed me the change. “Use this,” he said, with a smile on his face.

After I passed it to the clerk, I greeted Ed, the lanky 6’4” man who had helped me.

“Still playing golf with Tyrone?” I asked.

“Played yesterday, at Goodyear.”

“He still hitting the ball long and straight?”

“Yes, Freddy was with us too,” he said,  as he handed the clerk his letter.

“I’d love to caddy for you guys one day,” I said, and meant it. Their threesome, among the best golfers in our area, were black. Years ago, I’d invited them to play with me at our segregated club’s member-guest tournament when I was making a stand for integration at the whites-only Tuscarora Club. We’d had a great time, although, as a very high handicapper, I was a detriment to our team.

I said goodbye, then stepped out into that bright Tuesday morning before Christmas, ready for whatever came my way. First, however, I returned to my apartment for my wallet. Minutes later, I left for RDU on a route through Hillsborough for a short stop at Matthews Chocolate Shop, the only place closer to Danville to find exotic handmade chocolates than the fudge makers near Gatlinburg.

To say the least, I was excited, like a kid, well, in a candy shop. And my reason for going, other than I really wanted to, had to do with my conversation with my mother the night before.

”Forgot to get hot choclate,” she’d told me, “and marshmallows.”

She was reviewing her grocery list, found that item hadn’t been added. “She started drinking it when your Dad did, near the end,” her sitter said. “Your Mom and I have some almost every night.”

“I’ll get it,” I said, happy with an excellent reason to return to Matthews Chocolate Shop. “It’ll be your Chanukah present,” I said. “You’ll love it!”

When she asked how I knew about the hot cocoa there, I told her that I’d been to Matthews on Sunday, “To get some for gifts along with bags of their scrumptuous hand made marshmallows.” I told her that I’d sent them as gifts to my brother and my sister for Chanukah.

What I left out telling her was about the note I’d included. It explained my reason for choosing to send what I did:

Since this is our first Chanukah without Dad, I tried to think of a gift that would remind all of us of him, and of his influence on our family.

That proved difficult not just because of budgetary constraints, but also because an expensive gift wouldn't have captured his significance to all of us, to the sacred unity he dedicated himself to nurturing and preserving. In all honesty, I didn't know what to get. Nonetheless, I never worried that I would find something that was reminiscent of Dad's goodness and sweetness, his constancy and love.

How I wished I could build each of you a warm fire in your fireplace on a cold Chanukah night. To each of us, Dad gave such warmth, so pure and simple and direct.

What I'm sending is something I hope you'll share and enjoy sharing as your menorah's candles brighten your nights.

Little did I know then that Mom’s gift would serve the same purpose.

                      Happy, happy Chanukah!

                                       B.Koplen 12/22/11

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