Treasure gifts that last a lifetime: memories and family

I know that this is the education page and, therefore, most people expect to see a column related to education.

But today is Christmas Eve and it's my page, so I thought I would share a few childhood Christmas memories and lessons of my own.

As the holiday approaches, you hear one phrase on the lips of everyone you meet. "So, have you finished your Christmas shopping yet?"

Two mothers got into a fist fight at a Jackson mall this year over the last, sale-priced scooter. Parents across the country are frantically searching for the new and elusive Play Station 2. In previous years it has been much the same story with Cabbage Patch Kids and Tickle Me Elmo.

Why do we do this to ourselves every year?

Kids may ask for the hot and trendy toys, but they are forgotten almost as soon as the wrapping paper is ripped off them. When I look back at my Christmases as a child, I rarely remember the presents I received. What I do remember is my family.

We used to spend each Christmas Eve with my great aunt Ann. Dinner which was always ham was served on her blue and white plates. She always made a rum cake for dessert. For a few years, she strayed into making her own fruitcakes. They were soaked in brandy or bourbon.

Ann liked desserts with a kick. On one memorable Christmas Eve, she made a rum cake but didn't pay close attention to the recipe. She ended up with a cake that was so heavily soaked in rum that the youngest of us six children couldn't stand the taste to eat it.

My grandmother, always a stern and somber woman, liked the cake. She liked it a lot. She ate her piece, my piece and one of my brother's pieces. By the end of dinner, she was smoking a cigarette and giggling the only time I ever saw her do either.

Christmas morning started early, of course. Mom would never let us start right into the presents. We had to lay out breakfast, which usually was an assortment of cheeses, crackers and fruit served buffet style. Then we had to wait until everybody was up, which seemed like an eternity since I was the youngest.

My oldest brother Gordon always knew how to make Christmas weird. He was 14 by the time I was born and I looked upon him as a father figure.

He would give me a gift and mark it from "Insanity Claus." One year, he gave me a jigsaw puzzle and marked the box "fragile." I walked slowly back to my seat, listening to the pieces rattle around inside the box, afraid that whatever treasure waiting inside was already broken.

There was the year my brother Robert decided to mold a cheese ball into the shape of a bull and use Funyons for horns. There was the year I gave everyone battery-operated water guns, which led to an immediate water fight outside in the snow on a day when the temperature never topped 20 degrees. There was the year Ann knitted my brother Colin a sweater that was six inches too short in the waist and six inches too long in the sleeves.

We're all grown up now at least physically. Robert has a son of his own. My grandmother and Ann died many years ago. Most of the presents I received have been forgotten with the passage of time.

But at this time every year, my lost relatives, the laughter and the love return as if almost by magic. I am once again reconnected to my past and our family through memories and traditions. I now make the rum cake, but I use Southern Comfort instead of rum and I follow the recipe!

I've forgotten about the material presents, but I cherish the memories. Think about your own childhood, and it's probably pretty much the same.

Don't worry about the gifts you give your child during the holidays. They wear out or break. The gifts that last are love, family, a happy childhood and a sense of belonging that can never be bought in any store.

Merry Christmas. Now go make some memories of your own.

Jennifer Ginn is the education writer for the Daily Journal.

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