SIMPLE WHITE ENVELOPE


 It's just a small white envelope stuck among the branches of
our
Christmas tree.  No name, no identification, no inscription.  It
has
peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or
so.   
  
 It all began because my husband, Mike, hated Christmas -- oh, not
the
true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it --
the
overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute to get a
tie
for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma -- the gifts given
in
desperation because you couldn't think of anything
else. 
 
Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass
the usual
shirts, sweaters, ties, and so forth.  I reached for something
special
just for Mike.  The inspiration came in an unusual way.  Our son
Kevin,
who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school
he
attended.  Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league
match
against a team sponsored by an inner-city
church. 
   
 These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that
shoestrings
seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a
sharp
contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms
and
sparkling new wrestling shoes.  As the match began, I was alarmed to
see
that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of
light
helmet designed to protect a wrestler's ears.  It was a luxury
the
ragtag team obviously could not afford. 
  
 Well, we ended walloping them.  We took every weight class.  And,
as
each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in
his
tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that
couldn't
acknowledge defeat.  Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly,
"I
wish just one of them could have won," he said.  "They have a lot
of
potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of
them."
Mike loved kids -- all kids -- and he knew them, having coached
little
league football, baseball, and lacrosse. 
  
 That's when the idea for his present came.  That afternoon, I went
to
a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of
wrestling
headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city
church.
On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note
inside
telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. 
His
smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and
in
succeeding years.  For each Christmas, I followed the tradition --
one
year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a
hockey
game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home
had
burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on. 
The
envelope became the highlight of our Christmas.  It was always the
last
thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children, ignoring their
new
toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted
the
envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. 
  As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical
presents,
but the envelope never lost its allure.  The story doesn't end
there.
You see, we lost Mike last year due to cancer.  When Christmas
rolled
around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree
up.
But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in
the
morning it was joined by three more.  Each of our children,
unbeknownst
to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. 
The
tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with
our
grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed
anticipation
watching as their fathers take down the
envelope. 
 Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us. 
May
we all remember Christ, who is the reason for the season, and the
true
Christmas spirit this year and always.
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