Here comes the final rush to get those special gifts for family and friends.
In my family, on my Daddy’s side, the most special gift of all was a box of raisins.
Still on the stems.
The tradition began in the 1930s. Depression was in the land. Even though Christmas was lean in the Jackson household, mother and father (my grandmother and grandfather) found a way to put an orange or apple in the toe of each stocking. Fruit was a special treat. And for his baby girl, my Aunt Anne, her father always had a box of raisins, still on the stems – which was about the only way they came back then.
Year after year, no matter how hard things were, on Christmas morning the raisins always appeared.
Even when sickness forced her Daddy to quit work, even as his health failed, he managed to get the gift for his little Anne. It was the bond between them.
Then he died.
Aunt Anne was a teenager and the only one of the children still at home.
My father came from college to help with the arrangements and when he tried to comfort his sister, she put her head on his chest and sobbed, “No more raisins-on-the-stems.”
The bond was broken.
Only it wasn’t.
When Christmas came, the raisins were there.
My Daddy, her big brother, had gotten them for her.
The next year, the same.
So it continued. When my Daddy went off to war he asked my Mama to take some of her precious ration stamps, buy raisins-on-the-stem, and send them to a now grown-up Anne, so she would know that her brother remembered.
Every year, no matter where he was or what he was doing, my Daddy would go out, find the raisins and send them to his sister.
There wasn’t anything particularly ceremonial about it. The raisins were not gaily wrapped and handed to her at a family gathering. The gift was quietly sent and quietly received. I doubt if any of their brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, nieces and nephews ever knew. It was just between them, and because it was, with a bit of Christmas memory, it could also be between daughter and her Daddy as well.
I am not sure when I learned of the tradition. Certainly it was after I was grown up and gone away. Aunt Anne told me the story.
And when she did, it came to me why, among the Christmas delights scattered about our kitchen when I was a child, the stuff bought to make the fruitcake cookies and such, there was always a box of raisins-on-the-stem. And then I knew why the box disappeared with the other ingredients, though the raisins never appeared in the goodies my Mama baked.
Daddy had sent them to his sister.
Daddy did this for 70 or more Christmases.
Until he didn’t.
Daddy died on Dec. 18, 2010.
But the tradition did not die with him.
My Mama, despite all that was going on, found raisins-on-the-stem, wrapped them and sent them.
Today, Daddy, Mama and Aunt Anne are no longer with us. But if Heaven is anything like I hope it is, come Christmas morning there will be raisins-on-the-stem under Aunt Anne’s tree.
And the rest of the family will be there with her to celebrate.ν