Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Angel Tree

Though we've not officially hit December I suppose the holidays are truly upon us. I’m a big fan of this time of year, as are most people, I guess. 
The lights. 
The snow. 
The tradition. 
The stories.
Driving home from one of the grain elevators the other day I began thinking about Christmas shopping. While I typically pull off (fairly) good gifts for my loved ones, these gifts are usually derived from a random thought I have at about 11:47PM on a Thursday the week before Christmas. I suppose I work well under pressure.

On that same drive home from the elevator, I thought back to a story that was told to me several years ago while I was not yet in high school. It struck me back then, and I’ve thought of this exact story every single holiday season since. I can walk into the Hagerstown Food Market and forget why I’m there; for me to remember this story after more than a decade is a big deal! A story that certainly changed my way of thinking, perhaps it will yours, too. 

The Storyteller:

I remember that Christmas well. I was 12. But I was the oldest and sort of a second mother in my family. I was mature for my age, and just getting into a place where I realized there was much more to life than what I had experienced.

I remember Dad got laid off around Halloween. I wasn’t too scared or worried about it. We still had Halloween. We went to church, we prayed. Mom always had food on the table and I always had clothes to wear. We all did. 

That Christmas I remember sitting in church and hearing a lady talk about the angel tree that was going to be set up at the back of the church. The point of the tree was to take a tag that described an anonymous needy child and their wish list for that Christmas. We were to buy the gift then return it to the church, who would make sure Santa delivered it Christmas morning. 

What a great idea. 

That summer before that my allowance increased to $4.00 a week. I never spent my allowance; secretly I saved every penny. I kind of figured if I wanted a car when I was 16 I was going to have to pay for a big part of it. So, I saved.

And it was because of that frugal attitude at 12-years-old that I was able to make the decision to choose a tag from the angel tree. But I wanted to wait until the next week so I could go home and count my allowance savings - then I’d pull the perfect tag. 

I remember driving home after church that Sunday in our minivan and both Mom and Dad discouraging me to choose a tag. They said that tree was more suited for people who had steady, full time jobs, who could spare the change to buy extra gifts. I shrugged off their advice - though I was a bit taken back by it! At that point, they had no idea the money I had saved, almost $77 dollars, from my allowance. I wasn’t about to tell them; I had two little brothers in the van. 

The next week I chose a tag from the tree. 

I went to VAL in Cambridge City that December and bought a funny VHS movie for the needy child. Feeling really good about the decision I made to help out another kid, I remember tucking a note inside, written on Lisa Frank stationary, encouraging them to keep their head up; better times for their family were just around the corner. It’s funny now, looking back, how I thought I was some kind of motivational Secret Santa! The next Sunday, feeling quite proud and maybe a little mature and special, I dropped the gift off in the angel tree bin. 

Two weeks passed before Christmas finally came and I had forgotten about my good deed.

Until Christmas morning. 

It was then that I unwrapped a funny VHS movie from Santa - with a note inside, written on Lisa Frank stationary, encouraging me to keep my head up - better times for my family were just around the corner. 

I never, ever had any idea we were poor until that moment Christmas morning. 
And I was never so thankful for parents who worked hard to never let us kids know how bad things really were for our family. 

They raised us to understand that there are people so poor, the only thing they have is money.

I’m merely Facebook friends with the gal who told me this story years ago. I think of her often, certainly more during the cold winter months. I smile each time I remember her story that embodies the holidays, the irony in life, and the blessing of having selfless parents. 

I still appreciate the thought that 
there are people so poor, 
the only thing they have is money. 

That thought sure makes the mouse trap in our silverware drawer more tolerable.


  1. Great story. One of my favorite parts of this season is not only buying for my family and friends but for others I don't know. I usually try and find someone in an age range that I normally don't buy for (this year girls in grades 4-6) so I can shop for something different that I hope they will like!

  2. Lindsay, I've only been reading your blogs for a few weeks, but I think you have great talent and a keen sense of what's really important in our lives. It has been a joy to get to know you better through your writings. Keep up the excellent work!