Memories can prove better than our gifts

Tomorrow: Christmas. I know my non-Jewish friends will be opening many gifts. I hope they will enjoy them. But I also know that few of them can possibly be as precious as two that I received this Hanukkah.
The first: a plump pillow, 15 inches square, featuring on the fabric of its face the images of treasured family photos — my two children and my five grandchildren as youngsters, and baby pictures of my two great-grandsons, now just 4 and 2.
The second: a book of photos taken years ago, when three friends and I took two magical trips together. We had all been neighbors once, but later we had separated geographically — one each in Illinois, Arizona and Colorado, and me here in Texas.
The pillow needs little explanation; I’ve given it a permanent home on a small chair of its own in my living room, where every visitor can see it. I view it as a family icon, like the two hanging on my dining room wall: the hand-colored photo of my mother at age 6 and her sister, age 4, sitting on the front stoop of their home in 1911; the stretched and framed antimacassar crocheted by my beloved Boubby the Philosopher, who could not read English and counted wrong when she copied this pattern: a house, a tree, and the words “Home Sweet Home” — but hers reads “hoNe sweet home” instead!
The photo album takes me back to the day we four reunited at the Albuquerque airport to begin a summer week together. We chose the time when Dawn Upshaw would be singing at the famed Santa Fe Opera; all of us had daughters who had been her classmates and friends in school many years before, and one of us had been their Girl Scout troop leader. She always sang; that night, we heard her glorious voice ringing out under the New Mexico stars.
And here we are in this little book, caught forever at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum — in front of the Palace of the Governors — at our Teatro Flamenco table, mesmerized by Maria Benitez’ dancing — and saying goodbye to our motel, where we returned exhausted each day to play bridge together each night.
Those pictures are dated 2002. A year later, we gathered together again in Boulder. And again I see us: having lunch in the Dushanbe Teahouse, enjoying a cool drink on the wrap-around porch of Chautauqua Park’s commodious dining hall, exploring the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and — of course! — shopping the wonders of Pearl Street Mall.
Now, after another dozen years, two have passed away, and one has late-stage Alzheimer’s. “Mother sleeps more and more,” her son writes to me. The daughter of one who died sent this note with the album: “It has taken me this long to be able to go through mother’s photos. But she wanted you to have these.”
I’m grateful, because they reinforce my memories. But I’m also sad, because I’m the only one to have those memories now. There is nobody else left to recall the good times.
In those quiescent years after World War II, when I was a high school student, I wrote this juvenile verse for publication in our holiday issue newspaper:

Today I wrapped a Christmas gift and sent it off to you.
It needs some explanation, so I send that with it, too:
Inside the package, something you won’t find in any store,
But something that I’m certain you will value even more.
So if the box seems empty now, please look again, and see
That Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men, are your true gifts from me.

We need these gifts more than ever now. But, failing to get them, I treasure pillow and photos, and wish for my Christian friends tomorrow what I have received — true “presents” that carry the past into the future.

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