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A Box of Twigs is not a Stocking Full of Switches

by | Dec 23, 2013

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About this time of year I really miss my Dad. When I was little, and even when I was grown with a family, he shared the joy I felt tramping through the chilly woods finding mistletoe and holly. He had had his eye on them all year. The last few years we gathered holly on Colony Road opposite the old Colony Farms Dairy. The giant tree gorgeous with berries has been replaced by yards and houses. And Daddy is no longer celebrating Christmas with us here.

Or is he?

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I was surprised a few days ago to see a nondescript green shrub in our yard suddenly ablaze with berries. It’s a tree I don’t know the name of, but the deer shape it to their liking by nibbling the lower branches.

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Suddenly I remembered that the same bush grew in Hampton by my dad’s dairy business, Hampton Heights Dairy. At holiday times Daddy would cut branches of it to bring home where he noticed that I, a teenager at the time, especially liked the look of it in a big bucket or vase.

A long-ago story came rushing to my mind. It was 1968. I was living in Harrisonburg, in my first apartment as a college graduate. My job was writing publicity material for Eastern Mennonite. My office was a little room in the old Ad Building, distractingly just off the staff lounge.

One December day a big box came in the mail for me. I opened it right there in the staff lounge. I would know my dad’s left-handed scrawl anywhere. When I tore open the cardboard of the recycled milk carton case, there was a burst of glossy green and red-orange. It was full of branches of this nameless green bush. I squealed with delight!

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And then I noticed the people around me. Some were craning their necks to see if there was anything in the box of more interest, say, a box of cookies or a gaily wrapped package. Nope. This was the present.

Others were trying to politely get a glimpse of how much postage had been wasted on this package of apparently worthless twigs. Frugal Mennonites as we all were, they were possibly asking themselves what would possess a middle-aged father to spend perfectly good Christmas money on shipping a big load of shrub clippings ready for the compost heap. (It could have been given to the poor, after all!)

What possessed my dad to do that was the caring and connection he loved to express to his children. That day I took the branches to my little tree-less apartment and arranged them in a willow-bound nail keg—my very first antique purchase ever. It was beautiful!

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Today I cut an armload of that same evocative shrub, brought it in and arranged it in that very same antique nail keg. (Forty-five years later, it’s even more antique now than it was then!)

Thank you, Daddy, and as always, you make my Christmas Merry!