The Christmas after my father died, everyone in the family made an effort to be especially thoughtful.
My mother had taken a job in a candy-and-candle shop and had little time for the usual cleaning and shopping, so my brother and I, both home from college, took it on. (My brother insisted on including Spam on our grocery list, in a bizarre effort to start a new culinary custom, which thankfully failed to catch on. He has recovered from this lapse in taste and now has his own wine cellar.) I made a huge pot of wassail and everyone gathered at my mother's house.
The weekend was full of enchantments. One came at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve when I went out to get the mail. There, among the last-minute cards and post-holiday sale circulars was a slender package. Inside that package was another slender package, this one gold, filled with thin but rich Swiss chocolates.
It was a gift from Tari who'd recently moved to Switzerland with her researcher husband. As I pulled it from the mail box, I noticed the air smelled of balsam and wood smoke and I could hear in the distance Christmas music from a church carillan. And I had chocolate. Swiss chocolate. What a gift!
(Those were the days when quality chocolate ws hard to find in small towns. Times have changed: See Lydia's "Bittersweet Chocolate" post at The Perfect Pantry. She includes a dandy recipe for truffles.)
Tari's thoughtful gift helped make Christmas brighter that year. It was one of many simple but memorable moments, each of them gifts at a difficult time.
I have since learned to cherish these gifts above all others.