It’s Saturday morning and I have made it through a long week nursing a cold, navigating CoGAT testing, and preparing my students for their next math test.
“I have packaging to do.”
Trent looks at me and answers, “What? I thought you finished all of your orders.”
“Well…. I want to get my holiday items packaged and photographed. Tomorrow is October 1st.” I counter back.
He walks away shaking his head.
He doesn’t say anything though. He knows I am driven by an unexplanable internal force to make things. If I am not making things, I am thinking about making things.
I start gathering supplies… curly wood shavings, cookie bakery boxes, and my newest salt dough ornaments, Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus. As I begin to nestle the nativity scene into the box, I am immediately transported to the partially renovated kitchen of my youth.
“Why are you adding so much salt to the dough?” a seven-year old version of myself is asking my mom of yesteryear as we mix ingredients into a bowl on the kitchen table.
“The salt preserves the cookie making it last for years,” she explains. We were in the process of making salt dough ornaments that would be gifts for the hordes of relatives we visited at Christmas… Aunts, uncles, grandparents, great grandparents, great aunts, second cousins, third cousins, the list was extensive.
That year’s homemade gift was salt dough blue angel ornaments… And my sisters and I painted hundreds of them! Well, at least fifty angels were subject to our paint brushes. Every year we made something different, pomanders (cloved oranges, which left very sore fingers), soldier clothes pins, and wooden dowel moose to name a few. Every year when we visited relatives at Christmas time, our modest gifts would be displayed proudly on decorated trees.
Looking back now, I see why my mom always had her daughters making Christmas gifts. We did not have a lot of money. In the beginning, my dad worked as a trash man early mornings. (In fact some of the treasures under our Christmas tree were unwanted treasures my dad found on his trash route.) Then, thanks to Uncle Sam’s G.I. Bill, he took college classes during the day. My mom worked nights at a hospital filing endless mounds of paperwork. Though they barely saw each other during the week, this schedule kept us out of daycare.
Those annual fall rituals of making homemade gifts with my mom and sisters taught me at an early age the value of homemade… Those gifts contained a value that a store-bought item couldn’t hold a candle to…. A family’s sacrifice, hard work, and love.
As I stand here today, looking down at this year’s homemade salt dough gifts, I realize that wasn’t the only lesson I learned in that small old converted jail house in Kittery, Maine. Watching my parents work hard for something better for their children and themselves shaped me into the woman I am today. The college degree my dad earned opened doors that were locked shut before. My dad’s college degree earned him job opportunities that whisked us away to distant lands and unimaginable adventures. My dad’s college degree was a catalyst for my degrees, my sisters’ degrees. My dad’s degree even led to my mom, at fifty, going to college and earning herself that coveted college degree.
In this moment I realize those gifts we gave so many years ago were ultimate gifts… Part of my parents’ bigger plan to penny pinch my dad to a college degree so that they could provide for their family’s future.
Here I stand looking down at my nativity salt dough ornaments and see…
The gifts of salt dough Magi.