Twenty seven years had past since that 6th grade white-elephant gift exchange party. I was a shy, chubby girl with glasses. It was my turn. I opened my gift, revealing a miniature porcelain tea set. There was a collective gasp from the whole class. Most gifts were crayons and coloring books, card games and stickers-but this, this was different. Everyone wanted that beautiful tea set.
As we played the white-elephant game, the delicate tea set was passed around from the most assertive student in the class who wanted it for his kid sister, to the absent-minded student who pretended not to care.
One voice commanded attention. I cannot remember who started it, but someone said, "Hey, give it back to Stephanie. She picked it, don't take it away from her. " Eventually others chimed in, following the leader. "Hey, give it back!"
I secretly thought the tea set was the best gift ever, but being labeled the shy girl in school, I felt like I lived up to that potential, and did not protest as we continued the game. When the fragile tea set became mine again, I secretly hoped it would not be taken from my hands. I watched the clock. School was almost out, when the tea set would be mine indefinitely.
I kept that tea set for many years and had tea parties with my sisters with hot cocoa we would sneak from the kitchen. Eventually, as life continued, the tea set was forgotten and became just a memory.
Life's joys and sorrows find everyone. My sister's marriage was ending in divorce after 15 years. It had affected my nieces and nephew and times were tough. My life had paralleled hers, and I had wondered if mine would end that way too.
It was Christmas time and my own life was in a shambles. With three out of four kids with disabilities and a husband with a chronic back injury unable to work, I knew this Christmas would be stressful. I was dreading it. My husband and I agreed not to exchange gifts for each other and just concentrate on the kids-- making sure they would have a decent Christmas.
Christmas came and went and was rather uneventful. The kids were happy with their gifts, and that's all we could ask for.
For New Years Eve we got together with extended family. My niece ran up to me holding a brown package from her dad who had dropped her off. "Open it, Aunt Steph!" she exclaimed.
My first thought was this will be the first gift I will actually unwrap for Christmas this year, and that made me smile. On it were the words, 'To the good 'ol days'.
I tore the wrapping revealing a beautiful porcelain tea set.
Memories flooded through my mind and tears flooded my eyes as I remembered my brother-in-law and how he used to be. He too was in that 6th grade class and had remembered the tiny tea set that brought about such commotion among the students. "Give it back." I whispered. "Don't take it away."
I carefully put the tea set back into its box. It will forever hold the memories I have of one particular ex-brother-in-law and his last good-bye.