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Checking the biggest gifts under my tree

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At some point during the night, the neighbor’s motion-sensor light triggered, and I noticed for the first time how it cast a sharp silhouette of the crape myrtles onto the wall of our bedroom. There was no wind. Each trunk and branch was crisply, artistically detailed.

Beyond that wall and out through my bedroom doorway stood the unlit blur of our Christmas tree. Gifts have begun to accumulate under that tree.

I began to think of gifts ... in particular I began to think of people-gifts. One by one, I imagined my people-gifts under the tree: All of the people who’ve opened their hearts and homes to me over the years, allowing me to write about them.

My wonderful , supportive, guiding “old” boss at the paper as well as my wonderful new boss. My kids, of course – each one. Young Tarnation. And certainly the Breadwinner. I opened up each of these people-gifts as I lay there last night.

But the people-gifts I want to write about today are the Old Fellers.

I understand that everybody doesn’t have great parents. I get that, and I’m sorry. But in terms of who I am, my parents have probably been my life’s greatest gifts.

My mother has endurance. She has kindness and goodness and an unfailing sense of humor. She has accepted me and she has had my back when others didn’t.

She has labored endlessly on my behalf – sewing, upholstery, yard-work, you name it, she participated. So far as I’m aware, she never even really wanted to say no, rather she launched herself into whatever it was I asked her to help with.

She has always laughed at the Breadwinner’s terrible jokes. She has always baked her famous sheath cake when it’s requested. She has kept going when I wondered how she could keep putting one foot in front of another.

She has taught me lessons that are so deeply embedded in my person that I don’t even know what they are. I just know they’re part of the fabric of who I am.

My father has intuition and wisdom. He possesses a certain command and power that he has never used in a negative way. He demonstrates a commitment to the things he believes in.

He understands people and situations – and he’s always used that for good rather than for bad. He has been flexible enough to learn to help my mom with housework as roles and times changed.

He cares for others and suffers when they suffer. His ability to sit by a child’s bed, uttering soothing words, is still strong in him, although now it applies more to adults rather than to kids.

He is a very, very smart man who took good care of his family – and also took them on some fairly reckless adventures – both of which were invaluable in our lives.

He was always fair. He was unfailingly supportive.

Last night, as the light shone through my window, casting perfect shadows on my wall, I looked instead to the dark, fuzzy outline of the Christmas tree. I thought about, and unwrapped, all of my people-gifts.

I have plenty enough people-gifts under my Christmas tree this year, but the greatest among them are the Old Fellers.