I didn’t even know what it was when I first saw the bag. I was digging through our storage house looking for Christmas decorations when I came upon it. I grabbed the crumpled and aged bag, curious as to what was in it. It was gathered up at the top like Santa’s bag before he throws it over his shoulder. A bread wrapper twisty-tie was used to make sure the bag stayed closed. It was clearly evident it had been many years since it had been opened. I couldn’t wait to see its contents.
I grabbed the twisty-tie to undo it and part of it disintegrated in my hand leaving only the rusted wire that runs down the middle. It was very hard to open, but I was determined. Finally it let loose and the gathered up portion of the bag began to slowly un-twirl. Being impatient, I helped it along. Like opening a Christmas present, I peeked down inside the bag.
The first thing I saw was a series of white branches that had, upon closer examination, almost poked through the plastic bag. “What is this?” I asked myself as I continued on my search and retrieve mission. The sticks seemed to be all connected so I fumbled around in the bag trying to be sure and get the entire thing all at once. It appeared to be snowing as I freed the arrangement. Still puzzled, I saw something that shook my memory like someone trying to wake another person from a deep sleep. There, perched amidst the branches, were two tiny plastic elves. As if it were yesterday, I flew back in time to when I was a little boy.
I had asthma as a child and spent many nights in the hospital receiving breathing treatments. One of my asthma attacks happened very close to my birthday which is the week before Christmas. Just like anyone, I didn’t want to spend my birthday or Christmas anywhere near a hospital, so I begged my mother, the doctor and any nurse that would listen to allow me to go home. “Please, please, please!” I cried. “Let me go home!” Finally, a day or two before my birthday, I was released.
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“Mark, you don’t feel good, do you?” Mother asked driving me home. “No, Mother, I don’t.” I answered. “What would make you feel better?” she asked. “I don’t know.” I replied. “Maybe some sort of Christmas surprise, with candy,” I said, followed by one of my famous little smirks. Mother indicated she was going to call and order me something. I felt badly for asking since we didn’t have much money, so I asked her not to purchase anything, but she insisted.
Not long after arriving home, I heard a knock at the front door. I ran to answer it and there stood a man holding a colorful Christmas arrangement in a bed of faux, plastic greenery sprinkled with snow and glitter. White branches provided the structure of the winter scene and to each limb a piece of candy was tied with ribbon. Nestled within the frozen and glittering forest were two tiny elves with smiles larger than life. “Are you Mark?” the man asked me. “Yes sir, I am!” I said, already starting to reach for the candy-filled arrangement. I had a smile plastered across my face much bigger than either elf’s as I ran to find my mother to give her a big hug!
As I now stared at the little elves that had certainly seen better days, I once again smiled. Long gone were the pieces of candy and only a few of the ribbons that had once held them remained. Most of the glitter and faux snow had fallen off the branches and was left in piles at the bottom of the bag. The Styrofoam started to crumble in my hands as I held it. But the memories of that special day when my mother ordered me the arrangement were crystal clear.
Over the years, I have created all kinds of centerpieces, from simple to grandiose, but none of them meant as much to me as this one. I carefully gathered up the remains of my special gift from mother, said goodbye to the little smiling elves and closed up the bag with the same rusty twisty-tie mother had used. This would not be the year I parted with it either. It’s still precious to me!
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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him at instagram.com/mark creates; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.