A pre-holiday malaise had settled over my sixth grade class after lunch. Our teacher worked up a sweat just trying to make everyone open the right workbook. When we filled out of the school building for our last recess of the day, we gasped at the unexpected chill in the air. Like sheep and goats, we separated into groups predetermined by our adolescent hierarchy.
Half of my classmates huddled for warmth near the school doors. The group’s nucleus was made up of popular girls. The other half of the class raced, chasing each other, across the frost-bleached playground grass. I tried running but my heart wasn’t in it and ended up standing with the girls that formed the huddle’s outer ring.
The afternoon sun looked small, hard, and cold. Crisp-edged patches of snow that survived several days of thawing afternoons and freezing nights huddled against the shady side of the school. I searched the sky for a cloud, and was disappointed to realize there were none to see. Christmas would come, I knew, snow or no snow. It just didn’t feel right, though.
On my school bus ride home, the late afternoon sun looked softer than earlier in the day. The golden disk dropped quickly, as though invisible weights were pulling it down. I stared at the dusky countryside as it passed, and wondered if our mailman had delivered Aunt Tressie’s annual Christmas gift box yet.
“No, nothing has come from Tressie, yet.” Mom said, when I arrived home. “Maybe she won’t send anything this year. You kids are all getting too grown up.”
I quickly looked up from setting the table. The fork tumbled out of my hand and clanked loudly against the dinner plate. We, as in all of us…were too old? The curse of being the baby of our family struck again. I WASN’T too old!
The next afternoon as I rode the bus home, a light snow dusted the countryside. When I stepped into the house, Mom said, “Look what came in the mail…Tressie’s Christmas box!” A brown, paper-covered box the size of a milk crate sat on the floor in the hallway.
I dropped to my knees beside it. Joy beat a happy tattoo within my chest. Dear, sweet, Aunt Tressie! She KNEW I wasn’t too old for special Christmas treats. I affectionately rubbed my hand over her distinctive handwriting…then hefted the box up to check its weight. Our gifts were quite heavy…and I could tell they hadn’t been in the house very long…they were enveloped in an invisible bubble of winter cold.
From years past, I knew that my Aunt had packed individually wrapped gifts for everyone. “I want to open it.” My request came out sounding more like a demand.
Mom said, “Change your clothes first, and then take the cat scraps to the barn. You can open the box after supper.” Satisfied that I’d soon get an early taste of Christmas, I raced off to do what I was told.
An hour and a half later, while the others watched, I tore the box top off. Like a magician, Tressie had fit more into the box than what seemed possible. Most of the packages were small and mysterious… except the one with my name.
The paper on my package was thin, and its outline was unmistakable. Holding the gift lovingly, I settled back with a big smile on my face. I’d be able to use Tressie’s gift for Christmas Eve Mass…I couldn’t wait!
The wrapping paper on Tressie’s gift was thinner than ever by Christmas Eve because I had picked it up and caressed it so often. The paper fell away to reveal a beautiful, black jacketed Latin-English Missal. It had five colored ribbons…red, green, yellow, blue and black. Each were there to help me easily find certain pages…the Mass, special prayers, current readings, holy days, and prayers to be said at a funeral.
In the days that followed Christmas, I studied my brand new Saint Joseph Daily Missal, total unaware that in a few years it would be obsolete because of the Second Vatican Council. When I discovered the book’s four-page table of movable feasts, I laughed. Summoning a sister I chortled, “Come and look at this! My missal dates go right up to the first Sunday of Advent in the year two thousand! Isn’t that silly? The year two thousand is as far away as forever!”