36: It’s Much

36: It’s Much

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

It’s Much

Take full account of the excellencies which you possess, and in gratitude remember how you would hanker after them, if you had them not.

~Marcus Aurelius

Annie didn’t own Crocs, those trendy plastic shoes that most of my fourth grade students wore. She wore white tennis shoes that the school counselor bought and jeans that she had chosen from a box of donated clothes.

Every day, Annie came to school smelling like cigarettes. Her hair wasn’t brushed. She ate state-provided free breakfasts and lunches and didn’t understand why she couldn’t take home the food that her classmates nonchalantly threw away.

On the last school day before Christmas vacation, twenty excited students crowded around my desk. They were anxious for me to open their gifts.

“Open mine next!”

“Mine has the biggest red bow.”

“Mama paid a lot for that fancy candle. She said you’d better like it.”

“It’s homemade candy. And I helped make it.”

Annie sidled close to me and moved the discarded Christmas paper and ribbon from the floor to the trashcan. But she clutched a crumpled piece of shiny red foil paper and a big gold bow tightly in her hands.

While I continued to open gifts, Annie asked to use the Scotch tape on my desk. She took the paper, bow, and tape to a corner in our classroom. Then she ran back to her desk and shoved something under her shirt.

The other students didn’t notice Annie. In fact, they rarely noticed Annie.

I put on every gift of jewelry. I marveled over a hand-crocheted Santa Claus, a glittery angel, and a Christmas sweatshirt that was decorated with sequined snowmen. I stashed gifts of food — honey, banana bread, chocolate — in a basket. These were my family’s favorite teacher presents.

As the party ended, the children ate cupcakes with red and green sprinkles on chocolate icing. They drank red fruit punch. The girls clustered in groups of twos and threes. The boys sat in one big group on the floor.

Annie wandered toward me as I set a cup of punch on my desk. “Mrs. Ray,” she said. “I’ve got something for you.” She held a small wrapped box tightly in her hands.

“Do you want me to open it now?” I asked.

She laid her gift, wrapped in wrinkled foil paper and the gold bow bigger than the box, on my lap. “Yes, but don’t let anybody else see.”

As I tore away the many strips of tape, Annie stood so close that her small body leaned against mine. “It’s not much,” she said.

A button lay inside a well-worn Avon box. A plastic gold coat button with tiny glistening rhinestones.

“Read the note,” Annie said.

To: Mrs. Ray

I’m sorry, but the present isn’t that much it’s all I had. I hope you enjoy it.

Merry Christmas

Annie was wrong. It was much.

It was so much that every Christmas I pin that gold button on my coat lapel. It was so much that it reminds me that giving a Christmas gift isn’t about the gift. It was so much that it reminds me every year why I celebrate Christmas.

~Susan R. Ray

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