COLUMN: Thank you Mrs. King, and Merry Christmas

This tiny tree ornament is a treasured gift from a special Grade 3 teacher. Tara Jeffrey

Tara Jeffrey

My Christmas tree is a far cry from anything you’ll see in a catalogue. Most of the ornaments are homemade or hand-me-downs; there’s no theme, and nothing matches, but each one has its own story.

One ornament, in particular, gets special treatment — a red wooden doll, hanging from a gold string. She’s wrapped in an old piece of tissue paper, tucked in a small white box with my name printed on it. Inside is a poem and handwritten note.

Each year, I unwrap this treasure, quietly read its contents, and place the ornament on the tree first, before all the others. It’s my own little tradition, I suppose — I have, after all, been doing it since I was eight.

This ornament’s story begins inside my Grade 3 classroom, circa 1993. It was a few days before Christmas, and naturally, we were a rambunctious bunch when Mrs. King, our teacher, asked us to gather around, in her most serious tone.

She began handing out Christmas ornaments — one to each of us — little wooden characters hanging by gold string. She then began reading from a prepared script:

“Find a special little box, with your name so all can see. Then wrap this little present, in tissue carefully. Place it in this tiny home and keep it safe and sound. Until this time another year when Christmas comes around.”

Tears streamed down her face as she continued the poem. It was a gesture, that, as eight-year-olds, we didn’t quite understand. But as the years went on, I realized just how special it was, and I looked forward to opening his little treat every Christmas.

A couple of years ago, while working as a reporter, I was asked to cover an event at a Sarnia school, where I knew Mrs. King was working. I dug up my ornament and brought it with me, arriving early so I could pop by her classroom. I pulled the little white box from my pocket, unwrapped the tissue paper, and before I could even speak, Mrs. King broke down in tears. I told her just how important her gift had been to me all these years. She hugged me, crying in my arms.

I told the story to her students and read the poem she had written.

“… and then one day when you are grown, to have a tree that you call your own… you will set this little friend up in your Christmas tree, and remember back to days gone by, when you were dear to me.”

There isn’t any grand lesson to this story. I just really enjoy sharing it. If anything, perhaps it’s a good reminder to spread some gratitude this season.

Mrs. King just wanted us to know how special we were, and she succeeded in ways she probably never imagined. It just took 20 years for me to return the favour.

Don’t wait so long to say those special thank-you’s in your life.

Merry Christmas.