Organics potatoes

I studied a modest home and its fields from my window seat in the school bus and felt uneasy. People disliked the family that lived there; I didn’t know why.

World War II had ended, and the farmers in the rural area where I was raised worked their fields and tended their crops with renewed energy, anticipating a good yield. Then the rain quit falling.

Sugar beets, alfalfa, and corn withered under an unrelenting sun. Folks watched the sky and worried — with one exception: the Japanese man who’d recently rented the Peterson place.

As larger crops failed, his vegetable gardens grew green under a patient hand and judicious irrigation. He and his family tended lush rows that contrasted with the desolation of the surrounding acres owned by others.

But as his produce prospered, his family suffered. Perhaps because the war was recent, or because he succeeded where others failed, the people of the small community shunned and scorned him and his loved ones, turning their backs to him at the gas pumps, refusing to sit by his children on the bus.

A meager harvest was taken that fall, and as winter gained momentum, families prepared for hardship. Fathers searched for part-time jobs and Santa Claus exercised thrift.

Then, in the bleakness of January, the gifts appeared. A mother of five, investigating a noise on her back porch, found a sack of potatoes leaning against the railing. An elderly couple, expecting a Sears’s catalogue, discovered a basket of winter squash beneath their mailbox. A young husband, lowering the tailgate of his pickup, saw a cardboard box filled with carrots.3ec02bce-b49b-4fae-a353-642087404172

Finally, winter gave surly way to bird-singing, flower-bursting spring. Once again, farmers wheeled tractors around fields, believing this year would be better. And as summer followed spring, the rains fell; the crops thrived; hope soared.

No one noticed that the Peterson place stood empty once again.

As nature continued to reward hard work, pride softened. Soon, with averted eyes, men broached the subject of the winter gifts. In hesitating sentences, passed awkwardly, they mentioned what they’d been given and asked if anyone knew the giver. One among them had the answer:

“I can tell you who it was. Early on a March morning, unable to sleep, I was standing in the dark kitchen, staring out the window, when a beat-up car I recognized approached. It stopped briefly by my barn, dropped something off, and drove on.”

“I ran outside, bathrobe blowing in the breeze, and found a sack of root vegetables by the milk cans. Each one looked like it had been handpicked and scrubbed, just for me. I ran a few steps, yelling, ‘Thank you,’ after the disappearing tail lights. Hell, I couldn’t even call out his name; I had never bothered learning it. Later, when I drove by to shake his hand, he and his family were gone.”

In subsequent years, I heard the story of the Japanese farmer and his winter gifts many times. And each time, I knew I was hearing how to give: share what you have with those in need without judging the recipients and without expecting recognition — whether or not it’s Christmas.

Blessed Moments

I once read descriptions of love written by children. The words of one young boy became part of me: “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas, if you stop opening presents and listen.”

When you think about all your Christmases, do you remember moments when you felt such love?

I remember riding home in a crowded car from my grandmother’s Christmas Eve party. A glossy meringue of snow swirled across moonlit fields as I searched an unending sky, hoping to find the Christmas star. I held a sleeping baby, my brother Blaine, in my arms; he stirred, then melted back into me. I felt joy: unbidden, complete, unexplainable.

When I was older, Dad, Barbara and I danced wildly to Fats Domino singing “Blueberry Hill” on the record player Santa brought. We held hands and twirled and laughed. At one point, a self-conscious teenager, I ducked my head so the others wouldn’t see the love of family that suddenly swept me.

Home from college for the holidays, I took a late walk with my mother on Christmas Eve. A car crept along the snow-bound street. Its headlights battled snowflakes; its trunk lid bounced high; and a giggling woman drove carefully. As the car passed, a man wearing a grin and a Santa hat, yelled, “Merry Christmas,” from inside the open trunk where he sat, anchoring a pair of bicycles with bright red bows attached.

Mom and I joined their laughter, happy to be part of the Norman Rockwell moment: parents sneaking home with their children’s Christmas bicycles.

Many years later, our 10-year-old grandson showed his friends a Christmas card with two photographs: a young girl deformed by a cleft palate and the same child with a radiant smile. We’d made a donation in the names of our grandchildren to Smile Train, which sponsored her surgery, and wondered how they’d react.

“Look at this,” Jack said to his buddies, “This is the best. For Christmas, we helped the doctors fix her mouth. That’s pretty cool.”

No other holiday scatters sparkling snowflakes of hope and love and faith among us as does Christmas: moments when we recognize our blessings, feel love for one another, and believe in the goodness of others and ourselves.

Have a
blessed moment of your own?
Please share.

Recap of Comments on “The Fine Art of Giving”
A common and important theme about gift giving emerged in the comments and spilled over into a discussion on Facebook: The best Christmas present we can give is our presence.

No words of mine can improve that thought. Please read the compelling comments left by Blaine, Janice, Mercy, and Dawna and consider making presence more important than presents next Christmas.

The Fine Art of Giving

ca-packagesThe following post is adapted from a newspaper column published in 2011 and included in my book,
A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns.

Once again, Christmas commercials feature folks exchanging perfect gifts, joyfully given and joyfully received.

I have never given a gift that caused such jubilation.

No matter how much thought, money, and time I spend on a present, I doubt myself: What was I thinking? Did I buy the needlepoint pillow kit for my outdoorsy friend because she would like it; because I wanted it; or because shopping made my feet ache?

I’m particularly inept at choosing gifts for group exchanges or Secret Santa festivities.

I remember purchasing a book of Life Savers for a gift exchange at a friend’s Christmas party in 8th grade. With Santa on the cover, it looked festive, and—what the heck—everybody likes Life Savers.

As the party approached, I began to worry. One friend was taking Cheery Cherry lipstick; another chose a ponytail barrette shaped like a butterfly. What was I thinking with my babyish gift? After much fussing, I stayed home and crunched Life Savers until my teeth ached.

I’m also plagued by gift exchange rules: a recommended price or the specification of a white elephant or joke gift. When I comply, others don’t; when I don’t, others do. Either way, as my gift is opened, I stick my head in a houseplant.

I once attended an all female Christmas party where we were instructed to bring joke gifts. The guests smiled happily over the exclamations of others as they opened their gifts: decorative candles, See’s chocolates, and holly-bedecked hand towels.

An appalled silence greeted my contribution: a dead gold fish afloat in a quart jar.

A rough-and-tumble child once gave me the best lesson I’ve ever received about giving.

The day before Christmas vacation, I stood on an icy playground, braced against a snow-flecked wind, keeping an eye on children bouncing with excitement. Feeling a tug on my sleeve, I looked down at the beaming face of Freddy, a young boy of exuberance, who sometimes visited with me in my office about the need for rules.

He opened his hand and revealed a soggy piece of fudge melting in his sweaty palm. “Here, principal, my mom made this, and I saved one of my pieces for you because I really like you.”

A humble offering from an open heart: the perfect gift, given and received with joy.

Have some thoughts about
the best or worst Christmas present
you’ve given or received?
Please share.

Summary of comments about “See to Your Siblings.”
Last week’s post seemed to resonate with readers of all ages. Dawna said, “This post brought tears to my eyes and a longing to go home to be with my siblings and parents;” Bonnie wondered if that longing ever goes away and feels that every moment with her siblings is precious. Janice wrote that she has always admired the affection my siblings and I feel for one another — what a lovely comment. And, finally, Jeannie wrote a delightful description of the bond between sisters that any reader who is a sister should read in its entirety, if you have the time.