He used everything he had to buy gas from the corner store. He needed his twelve-year-old car to go seventy-four miles to see the girl that he couldn’t get off of his mind. Their romance managed to survive a time of wall phones and letter writing. And he was going there for Christmas dinner.
It was intimidating to drive through her neighborhood. His family were musicians and blue collar laborers. Her father was an ivy league lawyer. His car was rusted, theirs were garaged. His family used the fireplace for heat. They used theirs for ambiance.
The dusting of snow was a meager attempt at a white Christmas. The ride wasn’t too slippery, but he was going to have to keep an eye on the weather. His balding tires could only handle so much. Warm light streamed from the windows into the wet winter evening. Before he rang the doorbell, he enjoyed the aroma of the balsam wreath with it’s perfectly tied red bow. He hadn’t had a real tree since he was a boy because his dad “invested” in a fake forever tree.
His beloved’s father answered the door. He was welcomed in with a handshake and a hug. The house smelled like Christmas, with hints of cinnamon and yeasty bread baking in the oven. The tree in the living room was dripping with tinsel, and there were countless perfectly wrapped presents under the tree. He felt grateful, but inferior. His hand held the ring box that was wrapped in brown paper tied with a plaid ribbon. The father surveyed the tiny box and winked at the young man.
She greeted him with her signature smile. Every time he saw her, she grew more and more beautiful. Her eyes met his, looked at the small gift in his hand, and met his gaze again with a smile. The two enjoyed each other’s company as well as the company of her sisters, parents, and many other relatives over a delicious dinner. Gift after gift was given and everyone enjoyed the celebration of Christmas. He was so thankful for his new sweater, a package of new socks, and a scarf. He hadn’t had his own scarf since he lost his in high school.
The weather forced him to leave earlier than he wanted to. He went outside to warm his car for the journey home. He sat for a moment, listening to the engine hum as he held the ring box in his hand. Like his courage, it was slightly crumpled now. How could he even give her this 0? She was used to abundance, especially at Christmas. How would she ever accept a gift like this?
The tapping on the window startled him. He immediately got out of the car and was alone with the woman that he wanted to be his forever wife. There was one last Christmas gift. As he looked down at his brother’s borrowed dress shoes, she eagerly, but courteously, tore the paper and opened the box.
It was empty.
She stared at him, wondering if this was some joke.
It was all he had to give her. Love. Trust. Faithfulness. Partnership. Friendship. Laughter. Honesty. Commitment. That’s what was in the box. He asked her to marry him. And without a ring, or a snow-covered knee, she said yes.
He told me this story while sitting on a bench at a piano store in Maine. He wore both of their wedding rings on his finger though she had passed almost ten years earlier. Once he loved her, he always loved her. And he gave her the same gift over and over again for every day of their forty-two-year marriage.
And with that, he said, “Sometimes the best gifts are the ones that can’t be wrapped.”