“Barley candy and chicken bones for Christmas, it’s a Canadian tradition. It’s stick sugar candy that looks like Santa and Snowmen.” Zack told an unbelieving Emiko. “In Tokyo we drink barley tea, and eat fried chicken on Christmas.”
This dumbfounded Zack. “What do you eat for dessert, tuna ice cream?” Which he knew she had tried, but didn’t care for.
“It’s a whole lot better than fruit cake I’ll tell you that. Christmas dessert for us is what you call Strawberry Shortcake. Sponge cake shaped like a Christmas tree, with strawberries and whip cream.”
Zack smiled at his college bride. They had dated for six months before he proposed, and had planned a small wedding, with mostly family and a few friends. Through no fault of them, or their family, only friends made it to the wedding.
An emergency landing kept Emiko’s parents from making the ceremony. Thankfully they were all right. Zach’s Mom and Dad were both doctors at the same hospital, and emergency surgeries called them back at the last minute.
The couple had tried to postpone, but each parent insisted that the wedding not be ruined. The wedding was beautiful, and the Zach and Emiko’s friends had photographed and videoed every aspect of the wedding for each set of parents.
Anne and Marty, Aika and Hisashi had both felt horrible about it. So they reached out to the others and came with an idea to make it up to the two young people. They had went on a small honeymoon, putting most of the money towards a future home.
The Hobbs and Ishikawa families promised to give the couple a Christmas trip to anywhere they wanted. Now Zack and Emiko were dreaming of where that would be. They ruled out place by place, as they realized that this was one of those once in a lifetime family memory trips.
Family Memory Trips were what Marty had always called those adventures that Zack and his family talked about years later. Like the time they had went to Colorado to ski. It was the most fun he remembered anyone having with a broken leg.
His Dad had fell off the ski lift the first day, but he did his best to keep everyone else laughing. He didn’t find out til years later that his Dad was in severe pain, but didn’t want to ruin everyone’s trip.
Then there was the time they went camping in September. They didn’t tell the kids, but the reason for that trip were cut backs at the hospital, which eliminated the vacation budget that year. The kids didn’t know the difference.
Emiko listened for awhile, then added her own stories. Her Dad opened his own business when she was 13, and worked a lot of long hours. Still, for her birthday, he closed the shop, and spent the entire day with the family. He didn’t say anything, but her Mom told her he had lost a major client because of this.
Then she talked about the time her Mom had went through major surgery. That Christmas, they expected to be very low key, but her Mom decorated every room in the house. Story after story, they realized the sacrifices their parents had made for them.
“We can’t take the trip we were thinking about a few minutes ago can we?” Zack said, knowing her answer. “No, but we can do something much better.” As she picked up her phone to text her brother.
That night they both talked to their siblings, and worked out a plan. Instead of a major trip to some exotic place, they chose a small bed and breakfast near their home. Hank Crenshaw cut the price he charged Zack’s parents to almost nothing, just enough they hoped, for Marty not to make the connection. They split the remaining cost of the rooms with Sally, Zack’s sister.
Emiko called the local travel agent, and orchestrated her parents booking their tickets through her. Her brothers helped them with the cost for Aika and Hisashi.
Each set of parents didn’t say anything to them, but they were both suspicious. Still, they had promised to do whatever the kids wanted. So the four of them prepared for the Christmas trip.
Each were a little disappointed when the other siblings made excuses to keep their parents from buying their tickets. The two couples arrived a little sad, afraid the whole family wouldn’t be together for Christmas. It was a week before Christmas, but the kids had a plan.
Zack and Emiko knew they were the offspring of mystery lovers and crossword enthusiasts, so they had to give them an ‘aha’ moment without spoiling the entire surprise. So, when they got in the car that had been sent for them from the airport, Emiko’s oldest brother was the driver.
When they got to the hotel, Zack’s sister greeted them from the desk, where the hotel clerk would normally have been. Over the course of the first hour, each child surprised the parents with their presence. This was sure, they reasoned, to throw the four off their guard.
The next few days were a whirlwind of activity. Zack and Emiko had planned different things, but those turned out not to be more monotonous than memorable. It was the unexpected moments that became special.
Marty couldn’t sleep that night because of his acid reflux, so he slipped downstairs to sit in the lobby and look at the decorations. Zack’s sister got her Mother’s looks, but her Father’s stomach. She was popping antacids as she walked down the steps. “Dad, why are you up?”
Seeing the pills in her hand replied. “I didn’t have those. Share with your Father.” Then after a few minutes he pulled out his phone. Sally was disappointed for a minute, afraid the special moment would be ruined by distraction.
“I’m not tweeting, I’m getting your brother and his pre-middle aged stomach out of bed to join us.” It took three rings, but soon he joined them, unshaven and hair out of place, still smiling.
The three of them didn’t go to bed until long after the antacids had kicked in. The only detriment was, breakfast became brunch for everyone the next morning, precautionary meds were the first course. Late nights were one thing, burping up dinner was another.
After this, Aika and Anne decided they were going shopping. The men thought they’d stay back while all the girls attacked the mall. The ladies didn’t think so. For love of their spouses, Hisashi, Genzo, Haruto, Zack, and Tom, Sally’s husband, all went to a mall before Christmas.
These are the men who ordered everything online two months ahead just to avoid this nightmare. They walked into every store, were attentive as the women found nothing to wear, then carried the bags of “nothing” all through the mall.
Coffees, popcorn, and all sorts of sweets were sampled. Pictures were taken with Santa, and yes, they all waited in line for an hour to get the pictures. The men even purchased the ugliest Christmas sweaters they could find. Much to the detriment of each spouse. It was a wonderful afternoon.
That night, Zack surprised them all with a sleigh ride through the snow that he had scheduled. It was ok, but forgettable, until Tom lost his balance getting out of the sleigh, and tumbled into the snow.
That sparked a snowball fight, started by Genzo’s wife, Mina, which turned out to be the highlight of the night. It was another late night, only this time everyone joined in. Soon it was Christmas Day, and everyone gathered for a huge feast, spontaneous holiday karaoke, with very bad, off key, wonderful noise, and gifts.
True to tradition, the parents insisted the kids go first. The four had pooled their resources to give Zack and Emiko got two tickets to Hawaii. The parents had guessed the plan, and planned accordingly.
Not to treat the daughter any differently, Sally and Tom got the European trip they had dreamed about. Aika and Hisashi got their two sons, and daughter-in-laws each a trip. One to Alaska, and the other to Australia.
The last few years had been good to the elder Hobbs and Ishikawa’s businesses. They were able to give their kids what they hadn’t been able to years before. Each had raised good children, and were now able to reward the wonderful adults they had become.
After the money they knew had been spent on this special trip, they didn’t really expect large gifts from the kids. An while they weren’t that expensive, they were very special.
Marty got a banjo from Zack. Though an old one, it was a fairly inexpensive, used one, with one special feature. Zack had found it online, then brought it with him to a local bookstore to get an autograph from a musician that he knew his Dad loved. The banjo player had just wrote a book, which was the reason for Zack’s purchase of the banjo.
He knew his Dad would love an autographed book, but he’d love the autographed banjo more. Zack made sure it was just vintage enough to earn the interest of the musician and author, and he was right. Zach even got a song played by the artist on the banjo, and a video for his Dad.
Marty had tears, not so much at the gift alone, but the love behind it. Anne expected something more commercial, knowing it was hard to capture lightning twice. So she prepared herself for the huge smile, regardless of what was in the box.
What she didn’t expect, was a pack of assorted notes wrapped in ribbon. Confused at first, she recognized the writing almost instantly. It was from her best friend of over thirty years. The next was from another friend she hadn’t seen in almost that long.
“I emailed, called, and text everyone I could get a hold of. You never were much for gadgets, so I thought this may be special to put a little old fashioned into your Christmas. The last few letters are from each of us.”
Anne’s face soon matched Marty’s, as hugs were exchanged to everyone. Emiko handed her Mom her gift first. It was large, and Aika couldn’t figure out what it was. When she opened it though, she was ecstatic.
It was a portrait of her Mother in the traditional Nihonga style. “It was from that old photo you love. I think the artist did a really good job, but it’s unsigned.”
Her Mother laughed through tears. “It doesn’t have to be signed. I recognize my daughter’s brushstrokes. Don’t you know I’ve been a fan of your art since preschool crayons?”
Emiko blushed. Not used to painting this way, she was saving this little tidbit of information until she saw whether or not her Mother liked it. Her Mom insisted she sign it right away. Aika knew her daughter, who like most artists, were never far from their tools.
Emiko handed Hisashi his gift. Like Anne, he was prepared for, not a lesser gift, but a less spectacular one let’s say. He too, was pleasantly surprised. Hisashi, a Jazz fan, opened the box to see an original record and cover of “Ella and Louis”. Plus one of those portable turn table that he could hook to his laptop.
Each of the other siblings had gifts just as special, and the parents treasured each one. A vintage pocket watch for Marty from Sally. Plus, a doctor’s bag from the turn of the century for Anne.
Each of Hisashi and Aika’s boys, and their wives, got their Dad special records, including one of Bing Crosby’s Christmas records. Aika was given a classic typewriter for her office, plus a limited edition fountain pen. After telling each child they spent too much, records were played, and gifts were enjoyed.
The treasure though wasn’t the crackles of vinyl, clackety typewriter keys, or banjo strings. The real art in the room wasn’t even the painting, or the letters. It was the children, each parent looked at their most precious contribution to their legacy. Which was the happy faces of the gifts that God had given them.
Because of a Child, Christmas became a reality. An while no other is quite like Him, I do believe He intended for Christmas to always be filled with children. May your home, and heart, be filled with both Christ and the children, those precious gifts, He gives this Christmas.
Merry Christmas from PruittWrites!