Sunday, September 20, 2015


Christmas was nearly four months away when I met my new fourth-grade class for the 1980 school year.  I was delighted to with the prospect of sharing the coming year with this exceptional group of 31 eager and enthusiastic students.   I did not know, however that one of these students would help to give me the Christmas I remember best.
 Amid the sea of scrubbed faces, shiny shoes and fashionable school outfits, one boy stood out in stark contrast to the rest.  Bret was a colorful sight in his bright orange plaid shirt and dingy green plaid slacks.   His shoes were scuffed and worn and at least two sizes to large.  The laces were frayed, held together by several large knots, strategical placed to make the ends long enough to hold the oversized shoes in place. 
Though Bret’s fashion ensemble seem bizarre, his facial expression was anything but comic.  His dark serious eyes peered beneath long brush-like lashes.  His gaze was slightly melancholy yet there was a warmth in those eyes, an undeniable spark of hope.  He returned my smile, and I knew instantly I had found a friend.
As the weeks passed, I learned that one of the unique things about Bret was his lifestyle.  He and his family lived, basically a pioneer existence in isolation from neighbors and friends.  They made their home in a remote canyon where they had established a homestead.  Their home consisted of mobile homes, tents and shacks.  They managed to to do without most the modern conveniences.  
Water was obtained by a well.  It was heated on a wood burning stove.  There was no electricity or telephone service.  Money was a scarce commodity. 
Bret seemed to be an island in so many ways; I feared he would be an outcast.  I was surprised to learn that he was warmly accepted by the other boys and girls.  Bret had a humble quality about him which seemed to endure him to others.  Although he lacked the material possessions the other children enjoyed, he never seemed to feel sorry for himself, and never complained.  Still, he spent much of his time alone and would often sit and gaze wistfully at the other children as they worked and played together.
Christmas time approached with the usual high level of excitement.  The children’s wish lists grew daily as they shared their holiday dreams.  Bret remained quiet, but the enthusiasm of others was contagious.  Sometimes the flicker of hope in his mysterious eyes would grow into a cozy flame, warming my heart.  I would wonder what kind of a Christmas Bret would have.  Would there be presents for him?  And how would he feel if those presents didn’t come? 
The pure and innocent hearts of children are always willing to share.  The miniature Christmas tree on my desk was soon hidden by the generous gifts of thoughtful students.  Finally, on the last day of school before the holiday break, it was time to open the gifts!
One by one, I opened gifts gave hugs and expressed my thanks.  I was moved by this outpouring of affection from those students I loved.  The gifts were as unique as their givers and it was an enjoyable time for all of us. 
“Open mine next, Teacher!” was the expression repeated by student after student that day. We enjoyed the festive atmosphere which pervaded the schoolroom.  Conspicuously silent, however was Bret.  I began to wonder if perhaps, he did not bring a gift and was feeling left out.  I wanted to tell him it didn’t matter.  He caught my gaze and his smile reassured me.  I winked at him and continued. 
The last package under the tiny tree was a small square box with a slightly soiled paper.  A neatly printed gift tag attached to the box announced proudly: “Merry Christmas, From Bret.”
A gift from Santa himself could not have been more exciting to me at that moment.  As I opened the little box, nestled in crumpled tissue paper, was a lovely Rhinestone ring.  The pale green stone sparkled brightly as I slipped in on my finger for all to see.   Bret grinned shyly as he came forward to accept my gratitude.
As the children left the school that day, nearly flying on wings of anticipation.  I couldn’t help but wonder what the holiday held for Bret.  I thought about buying some small gifts and leaving them anonymously, but I had no idea how to find the homestead.  All I could do was hope and pray that he would have a happy Christmas. 
I came engaged that Christmas Day and was soon preoccupied with my own good news and plans for my forth coming marriage.  It wasn’t until I returned to after the holiday break that I turned my attention back to the children. 
The day after we returned to school, the children were permitted to bring one of their Christmas gifts to share with the other students.  I walked around the room admiring the children’s treasures.  As I approached Bret, I noticed the oversized bag beneath his desk and asked him to show me his gift. 
A look of pride filled his eyes as he removed from the bag a well-worn Parcheesi game.  “I got two shirts, too” he said, ‘and some oranges and two candy canes.  I had such a nice Christmas.”
As I looked into his shining eye, I finally learned something that Bret discovered long ago.  The joy of Christmas is not what one receives, but how one receive it.  Bret knew his gifts were not expensive, or even new, but they were given with humility and love, pure and sweet, and that made all the difference. 
Each time I open my little jewel box and see the sparking rhinestone ring, I think of Bret.  He will always be a part of me and a reminder of the Christmas I remember best.
Diane Cahoon, 33, lives in West Jordan and attended Bingham High School.  She graduated I 1979 from Southern Utah State College in Cedar City with a B.A. in elementary education, after which she taught fourth grade in the Jordan School District for 2 ½ years until the birth of her first child. 
She is a homemaker and a freelance artist.  She writes and illustrates stories for a Clinton shop
Cahoon began writing about two years ago. 
“I enjoy the challenge of trying to express myself and feelings.  I especially enjoy writing for and about children because they have so much to teach us,” she says.

The Desert News “Christmas I Remember Best” contest is the first she has entered and todays article her first story ever selected for publication. 

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