On December 24th 2009, my husband and I anxiously watched the weather channel, hoping for a safe drive into Toronto. We dreaded the 45 minute drive to the city, especially at Christmas. This year the weather was on our side, one less worry.
We gathered the carefully wrapped presents, climbed into our mini-van and buckled up. Here we go, I thought, a stressful drive to his sister’s.
We barely spoke to one another the whole ride there. We were too busy watching the other drivers on the road.
Finally, we exited the highway and arrived safe and sound. The kids were bouncing up and down, excited that Santa was coming tonight!
The afternoon went by so fast. We watched the smiles on the faces of our nieces and nephew, so pleased the gifts were a success. Then my sister-in-law made the most peculiar comment.
“You’ll be surprised when you open your gift at Mom and Dad’s,” she said or something to that affect.
I was puzzled. I didn’t ask for anything in particular. In fact, I didn’t ask for anything at all. Why was she so excited for me to open a gift that she wouldn’t be there to see? Never has Christmas been about the adults, it’s always about the kids.
We left their two story home around 4:30 and drove the 15 minutes to his parents’ house. Through the subdivision to the Queensway, turn left onto Islington, contend with traffic, yeah.
Every time we’re back in the city, we’re grateful to have moved away from the insanity. Living in cramped homes and driving bumper to bumper each and every single day was not a life we were willing to live.
We finally pulled up in front of my husband’s childhood home. We noticed the Christmas lights twinkling along the eaves troughs of the one and a half story house. My father-in-law no doubt had hung them, his tradition every year.
“Merry Christmas!” we all said to each other.
“I talked to England,” my mother-in-law informed us.
“How’s the family there?” we asked.
We continued with our small talk as we made our way inside, gifts and all.
James and I took off our coats and found our spots, me on the love seat and James on the chair.
There were a number of reasons we looked forward to Christmas at his parents, despite the wonderful cigarette smell that permeates my clothes and the cat hairs that seem to find their way onto only my pants.
One of the reasons, aside from being with family, is there’s always a Christmas movie on the television – usually A White Christmas or It’s a Wonderful Life, two movies I had never seen until I became a member of the family.
The other reason we liked Christmas at his parents’ were the finger foods. The dining room table was always covered with tiny dishes that made it feel like you really weren’t eating much at all.
This year was no different. There were cheeses with various types of crackers, Polish sausage, mini quiche, luncheon meats, rolls, party mix and more.
What was different about this year was the conversation. Every year we sit and chat before opening the gifts. This year however, the small talk was minuscule. I don’t even remember if there was any.
“You have to open one of your gifts now,” my mother-in-law said to me.
She handed me a perfectly square, worn looking box with the top folded in that ever so confusing manner. When you finally learned how to fold the flaps down, it was an accomplishment you had rights to brag about.
I looked at the light brown marred box and went through the secret wish list in my head of what could possibly be hiding in such a box.
All eyes were on me. My father-in-law sat on the couch under the bay window to my left. My husband and mother-in-law were just off to my right, almost in front of me. They watched in anticipation as I stared at the box on my lap.
I carefully opened the flaps and saw crumpled newspaper covering whatever was hidden below.
As I lifted the paper, I gasped in surprise!
There resting on a bed of used newsprint was the most beautiful figurine I had ever seen.
I carefully lifted her out and gazed at the exquisite dark green ball gown with soft pink puffed sleeves. Her light brown hair was delicately styled high on her head. She gazed softly off to the side, gently lifting her gown.
When I turned to look at the bottom of the Royal Doulton, I saw my name: Michelle.
My entire life I had always wished for one Royal Doulton with my name. A graceful elegant doll wearing a Gone with the Wind type ball gown.
“There’s a story that goes with getting it here,” Dallas said.
She began to explain that his sisters-in-laws had searched the internet for Michelle.
So even my in-laws’ in-laws were involved!
“We found it in England.”
“England? It came from England?” I replied. How weird to have found my doll in England, where my mother-in-law’s family is from.
“A man named Burt sold it to me.”
“That was your Dad’s name!” I exclaimed.
My mother-in-law stared at me and said, “Wasn’t your grandpa’s name Burt?”
I froze. I looked at James, then his mom, his dad. We all had tears in our eyes. I’d been thinking only of James’ family. After all, they’re from England. I never thought about my grandpa.
“Oh my gosh, Grandpa. This is from Grandpa,” I whispered and tried not to cry. He’d found my doll.
Walter Burt Whitehead was my grandpa. He’d died fifteen years earlier. So he couldn’t really be the Burt who found my figurine (nor was it my mother-in-law’s Burt), but still, I had a feeling that this was Grandpa’s way of reaching down from heaven to say hi.
Michelle Whitehead Boomer lives in Waterdown with her husband and their two-year-old kitten, Izzy. She returned to teaching day care after eight years in the health and nutrition industry where she developed a love of alternative healing and learned everything happens for a reason. She is currently editing her first middle grade chapter book and writing short stories for adults.
See Brian Henry's schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Kingston, Peterborough, Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Georgetown, Milton, Oakville, Burlington, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Dundas, Kitchener, Guelph, London, Woodstock, Orangeville, Newmarket, Barrie, Orillia, Gravenhurst, Sudbury, Muskoka, Peel, Halton, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.