Chucks under the tree.
December 15, 1995, the last school day before the long waited Christmas vacation. Teachers and students look at the school calendar, and it seems like holidays and vacations from school will never arrive. But on this cold and snowy winter Kentucky morning, that day finally had arrived. The school day started with the regular noise and excitement that I anticipated. The students entered the classroom with merriment and joy, exchanging their gifts with one another, while secretly removing the candy canes from the classroom Christmas tree. The smell of peppermint filled the room. Christmas music was blaring on the CD, while some students were trying to sing along. My desk was already filled with small gifts waiting to be unwrapped and lots of holiday cards. When Chris, a tall, 14 year old blond haired boy, dressed in a bluish oversized t-shirt, faded blue Levi’s jeans, and wearing what at one time was a Levi’s denim jacket that had the sleeves whacked off, transforming his jacket into a vest with frayed edges, approached my desk. Sticking out from his long and sagging Levi blue jeans he sported in a size much larger than necessary, were black, Converse Chuck Taylor high top basketball shoes. From Chris’ waist, a dangling chain was hooked from his front belt loop which wrapped half way around his waist to his wallet in his back pocket. His outstretched hand held a colorful printed Christmas box, sealed well with an abundance of tape. “This is for you, Mr. Parker. Merry Christmas,” he said smiling.
Chris turned and grabbed a nearby stool and sat down next to me at my desk. His face beamed brightly as I struggled with the well-sealed taped package. I managed to free the box and unfold the crumpled, white tissue paper, and the first item was a small ornament of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Chris turned and pointed to the banner hanging at the window and said, “That is just like the one you have on your banner.” Still sorting through the tissue paper, the next item discovered was a small, wooden box, made from a ruler. A tiny, red apple was glued to the lid. I raised the lid to discover a canceled postage stamp of the Marblehead Lighthouse in Ohio. I picked up the stamp while Chris began telling me the significance of this particular gift. This stamp was symbolic because that stamp carried a letter to Chris that was from a former student of mine and classmate of Chris. This student had moved to Chicago two school years ago.
Thinking no more treasures were in the box, Chris mentioned that one more item was waiting. I continued with the tissue paper, and removed the catalog, Lighthouse Depot. To my amazement, Chris had managed to find this catalog, had a copy sent to his house and saved it for my Christmas present. Chris apologized for not knowing my home address, but promised to deliver every issue that arrives at his house to school. He knew that a more fitting Christmas present wasn’t available for his teacher, other than this catalog. Nothing else would do. Picking up the catalog, the two of us sitting side by side, turned each page carefully looking at all the merchandise available for sale and commenting on the items. It was obvious that Chris had studied the catalog because he was well acquainted with the merchandise. He mentioned specifically items that I may be interested in ordering, such as the watch, or the neck tie. When we reached the section on the Harbour Lights, several students had gathered around Chris and I, anxious to see what was so fascinating. While looking through the Harbour Lights section of the catalog, I circled and pointed to the different lighthouses that I had visited. The students were then able to recall from my writings, photographs, and shared experiences the importance of the lighthouses, such as referring to the St. Simon Lighthouse story of being haunted, Cape Hatteras, being the tallest in the United States, and Assateague Lighthouse, featured as the home of the wild ponies. Knowing my students well, I was soon flooded with questions about what I was going to order from the catalog to use to decorate the classroom, completely disregarding some of the prices of the merchandise they were selecting, and mentally applying those items to my charge cards.
Being thankful and appreciative of each gift received by my students makes the Christmas season special. The retail value of the gift isn’t what makes Christmas special, but by sharing things, whether the chocolate morsels or candy canes, just by sharing time, having a common denominator. By the end of the school day, across my desk was an array of colorful store bought ornaments, sports related gifts, hand-made cards and crafts, a half-eaten box of chocolates and mugs, but right in the middle, was positioned the Lighthouse Depot catalog, the Cape Hatteras ornament, and the little wooden box that containing the canceled postage stamp from a former student.
By Robert Parker
From Lighthouse Digest, March, 1996. Used by permission.