This story, written years ago, is still my favorite Christmas story. Enjoy and Merry Christmas to
you and your family. -Curt Iles
The Best Christmas Gift
“The only true gift is a portion of yourself.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson.
With sweaty palms, I wheel my pickup onto Eleanor Andrews Road. I feel as if it’s the first week of fifth grade.
Why am I nervous? I’m a man on a mission: delivering a Christmas tree to my favorite grade school teacher. I fell in love with Eleanor Andrews during my fifth-grade year at East Beauregard School.
She was a legendary teacher who’d tutored two generations of Dry Creek and Sugartown children. Mrs. Andrews was from what we called the “Old School.” She had a well-deserved, fierce reputation of being stern and taking no gruff or lip off anyone.
I quickly saw how rigid her classroom was. Everything was “down the line.” She was the captain of the ship, and no one questioned that.
I also noticed something else: beneath that gruff exterior were warm, smiling eyes. She loved watching students learn and leading them into new knowledge.
I learned to love writing, and my love of reading deepened. Being the mother of three rowdy boys, she had the knack of letting country boys know it was okay to enjoy books and learning.
And I learned to love Eleanor Andrews. During that year, 1967, she became my favorite teacher. Years later, she still is.
# # #
This December morning, I received the expected call from Mrs. Andrews. “Curt, when you get a chance, drop by. I’ve got something for you.”
“Do you want me to bring your tree?”
“Yes, I’m ready for it.”
I know that the best present of the season is now ready.
It’s time for Christmas Jelly.
Back in October, I tagged a special Christmas tree for her. Knowing her exact standards in a tree, I carefully selected the one I thought she’d like best. Holding my saw, I walked around it one more time making sure it was the right height, width, and color.
That’s why I’m nervous. I want her to approve of the tree. I’m once again in the fifth grade waiting to hand in an essay.
I remove the tree from the truck, shaking it for loose needles.
“Come on in. I’ve been waiting for you.” She greets me with that special smile I’ve known over the years. She makes me feel as if I’m the most important person in the world. That’s why she’s always been my favorite teacher.
She nods at the kitchen table. “I’ve got something for you.”
I see the basket full of colorful jars of homemade jelly.
Muscadine, mayhaw, even crabapple. Mixed in are jars of green pepper jelly, and tomato chow-chow. Topping it off is a Ziploc bag of her specialty candy: chocolate—“Martha Washington’s.”
We visit over coffee in the manner that special friends do. We always seem to pick up right where we left off. That’s how the best friendships are.
After two more cups of coffee, I put her tree in its corner of honor. Nodding at her fireplace, I remind her to water it.
“Curt, it’s the perfect tree.”
“You really like it?”
“It’s just right.” We now enter the next phase of this yearly ritual. She reaches for her purse. “How much do I owe you?’
“Nothing. The best deal I ever make is trading a tree for the best homemade jelly in Dry Creek.”
We hug, and I leave with my armload of jelly jars and a lightened heart. At Highway 113, I pause as a log truck roars by. Emerson’s quote comes back to me. “The only true gift is a portion of yourself.”
I touch the decorated jars and am reminded of what the spirit of Christmas is truly about.
It’s about giving.
Giving of ourselves.
Sharing what we have.
Giving handmade gifts that come from the heart.