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Memories and meaning in a box

Nov 29, 2012 - By Betty Starks Case

Operation Christmas Child provided the avenue

What do you think about Black Friday reaching back into Blue Thursday (otherwise known as Thanksgiving) for an earlier foothold on Christmas buying?

For some, it appears to have gained respect. If I didn't finish my Thanksgiving dinner before adding a credit card charge to my digestion problems, I'd really have a blue Thursday. And a blue Friday, too.

So am I related to Scrooge? I don't think so. My early participation in gifting brought rewards I'd never find in a head start on shopping.

A couple of weeks ago, I joined with many others in our town, state, and across this nation in Operation Christmas Child, otherwise known as the Shoe Box Project, to provide a fun and caring Christmas surprise for needy children around the world.

If you're going to participate, we're told, you must give careful consideration to what meaningful things can fit in a shoebox.

I love boxes -- fancy ones, plain ones, round ones, square ones. I save many sizes and shapes. Such containers were scarce in my childhood, and usually had meaning. Our grandfather gave my sisters and me his little wooden cigar boxes to keep our "treasures" in -- treasures like "rubies" gleaned from the sand pile near our house, colorful stones, a dried flower or a pretty bird feather found on the South Dakota prairie where we lived.

Remembering that childhood now, I searched for gifts that might inspire, stir a sense of creativity or wonder about the world around us. In the process, I visited a world of memory.

In those "little house on the prairie" days, my aunts from faraway states sent such gifts as paper dolls to color, paper clothing to cut out for the dolls, story books to take us on imaginary adventures, and art materials of any kind, along with clothing items like mittens, a scarf or cap.

Today, we have more choices. Yet I found my selections still leaned toward gifts similar to those I'd received in my own childhood -- water color paints and a brush, a book of special paper for painting, modeling clay, books, and finally, a soft, brown toy dog with a funny facial expression, to hug and make my Christmas Child smile.

I didn't realize until I'd carefully filled the box that a part of one's heart also snuggles in with the gifts.

It is suggested that Shoe Box children might like to see a picture of their gift givers. I found a snapshot of my mate and me standing under a tree, smiling and looking a lot like loving grandparents. I stuck the picture in a pretty Christmas card along with a personal note to my mystery grandchild and tucked that into the box too.

And I felt a feeling I'd never felt before.

I didn't need to rush out into a crowd determined to take advantage of the best deal out there before Thanksgiving Day ended. And I didn't allow someone else to alter my sense of what Christmas is about.

What I did know was that I'd been allowed to participate in a very special activity, reminded by a simple shoebox that the original Christmas Child was cradled in a humble box-like container himself.

It's called a manger.

In the gifting process, I'd also enjoyed treasured memories of a childhood Christmas on the South Dakota prairie lands, where our stockings were pinned to the backs of a chair in a small house decorated by a big red tissue-paper bell my mother had saved from her school teaching days, where the cold was pushed away by a little pot-bellied stove, warmed with corn cobs my sisters and I gathered from the pen where pigs had feasted on the bright yellow kernels.

It was a time when cookies and candy were a special treat, as was the sweet orange at the toe of our socks, a time when each would likely find an article of clothing our mother had sewn by the light of a kerosene lamp on the old treadle sewing machine after we'd gone to bed.

The Shoe Box project for children kept my Christmas spirit in proper perspective.

And I didn't have to cut short my day of gratitude for the wonders of life in America in lieu of a half-day's head start on shopping.

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