One evening earlier this week, several of us were at the tree lot. It was dark and getting bitterly cold. We were just beginning to start shutting down when a couple drove up in a truck. They asked how much longer we would be open and in true Optimist fundraiser fashion we assured them that there was no hurry, to take their time and look around.
They were waiting for their daughter and grandchildren to meet them there. As we waited with them, we started talking. They told us that their daughter was going though a nasty divorce and she and the children were living with them. They apologized several times for keeping us late. Soon after, the rest of their family arrived.
The two preschoolers had a wonderful time helping their grandfather pick out a tree. Their mother and grandmother snapped pictures of them posing with our blow-up Christmas train complete with Santa, snowman and penguin that club president Cheryl Hughes had rescued from a discount store's bargain bin.
Then the little family went next door to take pictures in front of Gallery Furniture's extravagant holiday display. It suddenly hit me that these wise grandparents were doing much more than just buying a pretty tree. They were creating memories.
It would have been much easier and quicker to just toss the tree in the back of the pick up and meet the daughter and grandkids back at the house. But easy and quick wasn't the goal.
I started asking around: what is your favorite Christmas or Hanukkah memory? Almost everyone recalled activities, not specific gifts. They could remember in exquisite detail a family gathering, but seldom what actual presents they opened at that get-together.
One friend talked about her first Christmas with her husband. The struggling newlyweds drove to downtown Gainesville to see the Christmas lights and then ate their Christmas Eve dinner at Waffle House. Even now, 35 years later, when they can afford far more extravagant fare, you'll still find them in a Waffle House booth on Dec. 24, feasting on scrambled eggs, scattered hash browns and love.
My friend Carolyn talked about growing up poor in a large family in Jackson County. She recalled the year "a white lady came to our house with all kinds of apples and oranges and a doll for each of us." She remembered the kindness of the donor, the relief on her mother's face and the happiness of her eleven siblings rather than the specifics of the presents.
Today, Carolyn is one of the most giving people I know, both in terms of her bounty and her time. I don't think it's any coincidence.
I posed the question to my daughter, Rachel, and then held my breath. I already had this column half-written in my head and it would negate the point if she replied, "I remember the year Molly got an iPod and I didn't." But as usual, Rachel didn't disappoint.
She talked about Hanukkah 2002, when the first night of the 8-night celebration fell on November 30th. We were at her grandmother's house in New York for Thanksgiving. For the first time ever, we were able to light the menorah with the whole extended family in attendance.
According to the Hebrew calendar, today is 25 Kislev 5770. Tonight we light one candle to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah.
The gifts aren't as fancy or as expensive as in previous years. There won't be a December trip to a tropical locale. Nobody's getting a car or a new laptop.
There's not even an iPod or an iPhone among the packages. I suspect the same will hold true later this month for many Christmas gatherings. I say don't worry about it.
These lean times will make the more prosperous years, when they come, all the more precious and enjoyable. We'll all have a better perspective on what really matters.
Toys break. Clothes shrink. Candy gets eaten. A book, once read, is often put on a shelf and forgotten. In the final analysis, all we have are our memories. Let's make some really good ones.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears regularly on Fridays and on gainesvilletimes.com.