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Sunday, April 14, 2024
Writer’s Circle: Precious Gifts

By Hermine Steinberg

Precious Gifts

(Based on a true story)

The first snowfall of the season had finally arrived and marked the unofficial beginning to winter festivities. Trees glistened in the sunlight against a glorious blue sky. Diane strolled down Queen Street toward the Christmas store sipping a cup of steaming hot chocolate. Standing outside the door was the jolly old man himself surrounded by wide-eyed children and adults eager to revel in the holiday spirit. Diane entered the shop to find the perfect ornaments for the secret ritual she had begun only a couple of years ago, joining a clandestine group of women who enchanted her.

Diane moved slowly through the various rooms filled with decorations. A box of gold honeycomb Christmas balls caught her attention. She could imagine them sparkling along the path leading to the special place deep in the forest where the secluded Christmas tree resided.

When Diane had moved to town eight years earlier, she discovered The Commons’ off-leash dog path and it became part of her daily routine. In that first year she met a small group of fun-loving women who welcomed her. One of the ladies had a large golden lab that wore a collar made with Christmas bells. You could hear him jingling throughout the forest, bringing smiles to the faces of everyone within earshot. Christmas was the woman’s favourite holiday and it was one of the many ways she tried to spread the joy of the season throughout the year. However, Diane soon learned that this woman with such a generous spirit was battling cancer. Sadly, within the year, she lost her fight.

After Diane’s schedule changed, she lost touch with the other women, although she often wondered if they still met in the morning to walk their dogs. The following winter, Diane took her standard poodle to The Commons, following the trail into the forest when she saw something sparkling in the distance. She continued walking toward the twinkling object and came upon a narrow path running off the trail that was decorated with shiny Christmas balls, creating a festive entryway to a hidden spot in the middle of the woods where a fully decorated Christmas tree proudly stood. It was like finding a wonderful treasure, experiencing a fairy tale moment. A few minutes went by when she was surprised to hear someone calling out to her. It was one of the women from the dog walking group with a box filled with red and gold bead garlands.

“Did you do this?” Diane asked.

The woman started draping the tree with a chain of beads. “We did. Just adding final touches. We loved her and she had done so much for us, we wanted to create a special memorial for her.”

“I remember she really liked Christmas.” Diane took one of the garlands from the box and helped her decorate the tree.

“She did, and she was a private person with a great sense of humour. So, we thought it would be fun to create this place to remember her and remind us about the true spirit of the holidays. The incredible gifts of friendship and love. After we finish decorating the tree, we come here with a bottle of wine to toast her and share some of our favourite Christmas memories.”

Diane was overcome with emotion. It was one of the most beautiful acts of friendship she had ever witnessed, transforming this patch of forest to a sacred place, filling her with joy.

For the next few years, Diane was excited to see the annual return of this holiday marvel in the woods. Then two years ago, she realized that although she didn’t want to interfere with the tradition that these incredible women had established for their friend, she would like to quietly acknowledge the impact it had made on her.  She decided to develop her own small ritual.

The snow crunched under Diane’s boots as she made her way down the trail. Her dog ran with abandon through the forest. A large smile came to her face when she saw the decorations. Diane placed her cup of hot chocolate on the ground as she carefully took out the gold globes and hung them on the trees that lined the path. When she reached the Christmas tree, Diane unpacked the ornament she would add to the tree this year. It was a beautiful hand-blown glass tree of life friendship ball. The incredible blue and green colours captured the light, glowing from within. She then raised her cup of cocoa infused with brandy.

“Thank you,” Diane began. “This place is a testament to the love you inspired in your friends. And their love has inspired me.”

A gentle breeze bristled against the pine needles and the sound of chiming bells floated through the air. Diane sighed happily and took a deep drink from her cup.

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