The best gifts are those in our hearts

Published 5:06 pm Tuesday, December 28, 2021

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Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas. I’m hopeful that Santa remembered the items on your wish list; that there was plenty of good food; an overabundance of love; tons of memories made; and that we all took the time to reflect upon the real reason for the season.

For me, the Christmas season is centered on family. Working six days a week…the majority of which are nine to 12 hours each (maybe even more depending on the number of night meetings along with covering athletic events within the same week), means the window of opportunity to spend quality time with my family is very small.

So, when I do have a break from work, family time takes center stage. And with a four-day weekend from Dec. 23-26, I used it to spend time with my wife, my child, my grandchild, and my sister-in-law….along with a special visit from my wife’s nephew and his wife.

When you reach my age, the best gifts are watching others open theirs. Seeing them smile….hearing them laugh fulfills my wish list.

I did receive gifts….pants, socks, a Miami Dolphins satchel, a photograph of my daughter and grandson, a desk organizer, and a keychain containing a special inscription from my daughter that caused my eyeballs to sweat.

While on the subject of shedding tears of happiness over a special gift, my wife did so as well.

During Labor Day weekend, my wife and I – joined by our daughter and grandson – were invited to the vacation home of Glenn Swink (my wife’s nephew) – located overlooking the beautiful Pamlico River near the former Whichards Beach in the Washington-Chocowinity area. We spent the day enjoying the majestic view of the waterfront property while chatting and later dining on a delicious meal.

My wife fell in love with an old porch swing that Glenn had refurbished. She spoke of how such a swing would look good on our back porch.

A couple of days later, Glenn, during his travels, passed by an old swing that had been discarded. He stopped and picked it up and called me to say he was going to refurbish it for his Aunt Deborah for Christmas. He said, “one person’s junk is another person’s treasure.”

I was immediately sworn to secrecy.

A couple of weeks before Christmas, Glenn sent me a text, asking to let him know what would be a good time to bring the swing to our home. Knowing that we would visit our daughter’s home on Christmas morning for breakfast and to see what Santa had dropped off for Brody, I told Glenn that mid-afternoon on Dec. 25 would work just fine.

Now came the hard part. How would I let Deborah know that someone was coming to visit us on Christmas Day without her going into “clean the house panic overload?” We managed to tidy things up in about 30 minutes (it wasn’t like the house was dirty) while she wondered outloud of who our special guests would be.

Glenn, joined by his wife Joy, managed to drive onto our property without Deborah noticing. I saw them arrive and got up from my chair and went into the kitchen where I pretended I was looking for something. At that precise moment, Joy rang the doorbell to our back door while Glenn was stationed outside, standing next to his SUV from where he had retrieved the swing, complete with a big red bow.

I hollered for Deborah to come outside…saying that someone was here to see her. The look on her face when she saw what her nephew had done was priceless. It meant a lot to her because it was a gift from the heart.

That’s how all gifts should be. Rather than purchasing a fancy name brand – complete with its outrageous price tag – one that is given in love means so much more. We’ve all become too entangled in the “motion” of giving rather than the emotion. We rush out and buy the most expensive things when it’s the less pricy items, given in love, that will do just fine.

As a child I can remember my step grandfather – Pop Brown as we called him – giving all the children bags of fruit and candy. He didn’t have much…he was the full-time custodian of a large church in downtown Roanoke Rapids. But yet his gifts were wrapped in love.

Ditto for my mom’s family. Most were farmers, which automatically meant the women of the family were outstanding cooks….my mom included. My most vivid Christmas memories weren’t the material gifts. Rather, they were all the delicious cakes, pies, fudge, and other sweets that were laid out for the holidays.

I can remember my mom’s first cousin – the now late Geneva Barrow of Jackson – stopping by our home on Christmas Eve to drop off her world-famous caramel cake and red velvet cake. I can still see my dad at the front door where he accepted those morsels of goodness and scurrying off to the kitchen to cut him a slice of both.

I can remember my mom’s lip-smacking pecan pies as well as her chocolate fudge and peanut fudge. Even after I was married, when I came home for Christmas, mom would always have a pecan pie and fudge to carry with me. Those are the gifts I miss the most.

And before any gifts were opened, I remember dad always gathering us in the living room to share Biblical scripture pertaining to the birth of Jesus. He always sat in a wooden rocker while sharing that story. Later, as the family grew, the grandchildren sat on the floor at his feet…their tiny eyes transfixed on his face while quietly listening to each and every word.

Those gifts have remained with me for over 60 years and I plan to take them with me when I draw my final breath.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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