IN both fiction and reportage, I’ve always made known that the winding down of autumn and ushering of winter put me in a heavy and philosophical mood. I’m thinking about the deep and very private personal needs of people — a need that when met, gives us a sense of well-being, one of them the best Christmas gift we could give, or perhaps receive.
Once it was just an ordinary Christmas box, decorated and given to me by my eldest daughter. But soon, it became the repository of other relics, sacred and outrageous given to me by the other three. It became my treasure box which I kept inside my camphor hope chest. Its components were standard: four coloring papers (orange, red, blue and green); wrappers of Toblerone, some little crooked white hearts with scribbles on it; four crayons, short, fat, thin and thick. This white box was held together by a lot of white paste, smeared with chocolate and wrapped in a Christmas wrapper. It also contained a handmade rosary that glowed in the dark, a match, a golf ball and a dried up frog!
Anyway, my Christmas Box isn’t looking too good now. It is a little shriveled and moldy where the chocolate and chewing gum (called and used as hairclip by the youngest) run together.
If you lift the cover, however, anyone will realize why I kept it and took it with me to every place I’ve ever lived. On folded, faded, and fragile pieces of large lined school papers were words, “hello, Mami”, “Hapi Valemstimes” and a whole lot of “I love you” and “Meri Christmas.” It had snapshots of their first splash on the deep waters of Hong Kong Shek O beach as I gasped from a nearby yacht, clutching the loving hands of their grandmother.
As they grew older, when overcome by feelings of joy, anger or neglect or whenever emotions ran high, someone was apt to put pen to paper and vent! “Why can’t I bring Papa’s horse to school as my pet?” Please don’t forget to come to my Christmas party or I’ll be “ulila” (orphan) was a note safety pinned on the Christmas Baby’s chest, as I looked in one night coming from a late press conference dinner. “Ate stayed on the phone for 19 minutes, please don’t tell anybody, even papa” “Mamatay and mauna sa peanut butter! (death to the first one, who gets to the peanut butter.) “Thank you for letting me wear your red taffeta but forgive me for sleeping on Porgy and Bess” was a note tied with four (4) tickets from Radio City. Cut out menus from Broadway tickets, playbills, an autographed picture of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and a handmade Niagara falls postcard. I have counted them more than once. Also, scrawled in several places were names they called themselves: Wonder Woman, Sleeping Beauty, Cockroach, Mus-Mus. The treasures of the Pirates of the Caribbean are nothing compared to this.
Does anyone have that magic of unexplained joy that envelopes you when you need it most? Like an evidence of love in its most uncomplicated and trustworthy state? One can live a whole lifetime, you may receive Christmas gifts of the greatest value and beauty and experience tremendous love, but you will never believe in it quite as much as when I look inside that Christmas Box. It makes this world — with so much pain, stress and mess — worth all the trouble.
The four girls are all grown up now. They still love me, though it is harder at times to get direct evidence. You see, it is a love that is complicated by age and knowledge, confusing values and the men daughters marry (creatures called sons-in-law.). To be sure, it is still love, but it is no longer simple. “The love of grown-up children is not something you can put inside that magic Christmas box.”
That magic box is now nestled in my favorite suitcase. Nobody knows it is there, except me. It is a talisman: a kind of cairn to memory and I think about it each morning as I dress. This Christmas box was what flashed in my mind one sad day in the spring, when like some horror movie in slow motion, my piercing, helpless wail ripped the night as I saw the huge and heavy ceiling-length entertainment center, crashing down on me, shattering my leg, but not my spirit.
Once in a while, I take the box out and open it, and nothing can match the joy and bliss it gives me. And it makes me lift my eyes heavenward in praise of the wonders of the Lord. It is something I can touch and hold and believe in, especially when love gets difficult and there are no longer the small hands around my neck.
My gentle reader will perhaps find this piece as the worst kind of simple-minded heart ranting mothers drivel about what is the best Christmas gift one could hope for.
But the truth is: no mood rings or mantra can soothe me more than gazing at the box’s contents. It stands for my kind of glorious peace like no one else could.