101. The Twelve Days of Surprises

101. The Twelve Days of Surprises

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

The Twelve Days of Surprises

Each day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons.

~Ruth Ann Schabacker

Our best Christmas ever started with a twig — or a small tree limb leaning against a kitchen cabinet. “Where did that twig come from?” I asked my husband Richard.

We had just said goodbye to our oldest grandson, who often stopped on his way home from high school. Our entire family was still reeling from the news we had received in September that Richard’s colon cancer was stage four and he had weeks, maybe a few months to live. Since that traumatic surprise diagnosis, the brightest hours of our day included visits from our children and grandchildren.

Twenty-four hours later, Cole stopped by again and now the twig sat in a coffee can with no explanation. The following day, he casually added a piece of artificial fruit and a pathetic looking bird.

“Do you suppose that has something to do with a partridge in a pear tree?” Richard commented.

The following day, our youngest daughter Beth stopped by with her two daughters, Annabelle, three, and Lily, one. When I opened the door Annabelle handed me a box of chocolate turtles.

“Thanks but I’m just not hungry,” Richard said when I showed him our gift.

“Mom! Dad!” Beth said, her voice sounding rather impatient. “Don’t you get it? Cole brought the partridge in the pear tree and these are the two turtle doves.”

“Well duh! We finally get it,” we both answered. “Is there going to be more?”

“You’ll just have to wait and see,” Beth answered mysteriously.

On Monday afternoon, our older daughter, Richelle called and asked, “What time are you planning dinner? We’d like to visit after the triplets get home from school.”

“Great!” I said. “We’ll look forward to seeing all of you.”

The doorbell rang about five o’clock and in walked three eleven-year-old boys, wearing white shirts, black pants, black berets, and fake mustaches. “Goot eve’ning, Madam, Monsieur,” Kit uttered with his best French accent.

“We’ve brought French bread for your dinner,” Nate added as he gave me a basket of croissants.

“Merci,” I played along and asked the third boy, “And what is your name, sir?”

“Uh, uh, I ees one of dee three French guys,” Riley stammered. We all laughed and thanked them for adding a special remembrance to our day.

Tuesday brought more fun when our “calling bird” arrived. Lily toddled toward her grandfather, covered with feathers taped to her clothes and a plastic telephone snuggled next to her ear. “Hi, Bompa,” she said, using the grandchildren’s special nickname while holding out her hand for his usual high-five.

“Are you my calling bird?” he tenderly touched her hand and smiled. “You’re worth at least four birds,” he added.

Part of our week always included a day of chemotherapy treatment and those days were long and unpleasant. On the way home from the doctor’s office, Richard wondered aloud, “I can’t wait to see what the family has for us tonight.” His newfound excitement was catching and I too focused on the evening’s rendition of “five golden rings.”

This time, the family member responsible for our evening’s entertainment was our daughter-in-law, Kristi. “This isn’t humorous like the others,” she began. “Instead, I’ve brought five of my high school swimming medals. Each one represents a special gift you’ve given me.”

After she had draped our necks with medals representing acceptance, understanding, caring, forgiveness, and love, all three faces were covered in tears. “You can keep the medals,” she added as she was leaving. “May they remind you of how much I love you.”

An ongoing discussion regarding the best all-time baseball player was the basis for the next day’s Christmas surprise. Richard chose Walter Johnson and ten-year-old grandson Clayton argued that Nolan Ryan was the greatest. Clayton arrived wearing a T-shirt bearing the sign, “Walter Johnson, NO” written on the front, and “Nolan Ryan RULES” decorated with six golden eggs covered the back.

When the doorbell rang the next evening, I found an eight-year-old ballerina on our doorstep carrying a special basket of Beanie Babies — swans, ducks, chickens, and others. “This is my day to visit and I want to share my friends with you,” Amanda said as she took each Beanie Baby out and set them on her Bompa’s lap.

“Thanks for bringing your swans for us to see,” we answered. “However, the best part is that we get to see you,” we chorused.

Grandson Brady was known for his love of joke books so it wasn’t a surprise when he incorporated jokes on his special day. The surprise was his milking maid costume. With a scarf tied around his head, an apron tied around his waist, and two pails tied to a broom handle laying across his shoulders, this thirteen-year-old boy had us laughing before he ever told us one of the eight jokes he’d written on pieces of paper and placed in his milk pails.

On the ninth evening, the five females in the family plus four giggling males turned on the radio and joined in the twirling and two-step dancing around the room. We all laughed and clapped to the beat of the music.

“What do you think they’re going to do tonight?” Richard asked early the next morning. When that evening was over, we both vowed we’d never forget the ten lords-a-leaping. Three adult men and seven boys filed in wearing tights under their swimming trunks, Burger King crowns on their heads and began jumping and leaping until our family room floor vibrated.

On Christmas Eve, our favorite evening of the whole year, all eighteen of us followed our usual schedule of an early Christmas dinner, attending church services, and then heading back to our house for family time together. “Mom and Dad, we want you to sit here in the living room,” our son Ryan suggested, “And we’ll begin our eleventh day celebration.”

Then the music began — “kazoo” music and singers singing, “On the first day of Christmas, our family gave to you...” Each child wore or carried the costume he or she had used for their designated Christmas Surprise Day. They sang the entire song and when they sang, “On the eleventh day of Christmas, our family gave to you,” Ryan stepped forward and said, “Eleven plus family members who all love you very, very much.”

Once again, they left us wanting more. As they sang, “On the twelfth day of Christmas, my family gave to me,” Clayton announced, “You’ll just have to wait and see!”

On Christmas morning, the director of the twelve previous events, son-in-law Bob, handed me a copy of The Real 12 Days of Christmas, autographed by each member of our family. He asked me to read it out loud. Our group quieted and I began reading how the true love, the giver of the gifts, represents God. God’s first gift, the valiant partridge was an ancient symbol for Jesus and the pear tree represents the cross. The fascinating story of the Christmas carol that brought overwhelming joy to our family took on new meaning.

After everyone left and we were settled in our recliners, Richard said, “This was the best Christmas I ever had.”

Sometimes God saves the best for last.

~Betty Johnson Dalrymple

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