By Jennifer Talley Seawell
This is the first of 10 essays chosen to be published in the Deseret News annual Christmas writing contest, “Christmas I Remember Best.”
It was an absolute baking triumph. Four hundred and thirty-two Christmas cookies covered every surface of our Caribbean town house; jam thumbprints, peanut butter blossoms, pistachio wedding, triple chocolate chunk, peppermint snowballs and frosted sugar. I’d candied and crinkled, frosted and sprinkled my way to what was sure to be the perfect cookie platter for our annual Young Women’s branch Christmas party.
It was our third and final Christmas in the Bahamas. Although far from the white Christmases of my childhood, the turquoise water and swaying palm trees were a welcome substitute for snow. With our work assignment ending soon and a return to the United States imminent, this was my last chance to bring Christmas cheer to the girls, many of whom wouldn’t celebrate otherwise. I could still recall one of them asking me the previous year, when I handed her a gift bag with scented lotion, fuzzy socks and lip balm, “Is this for me? I never got a gift before.”
With her words ringing through my mind like silver bells, I was determined to make this the Christmas they would remember best. Also, unlike the previous two years, I decided that I would surprise the entire church congregation and bake cookies for everyone. I was hoping that the 36 dozen cookies cluttering my kitchen counters would suffice.
The tricky part of any elaborate plan is the execution. How was I going to get several boxes of goodies, 20 gift bags and a Crockpot brimming with cocoa from the church parking lot to the classroom undetected? I decided that during the second hour of meetings, before our third hour party, I would make multiple trips until all the goodies were safely tucked away under a banquet table draped with an oversized holiday tablecloth. Then, after the party, I could easily access the two large cookie platters and surprise the branch members.
Things went better than expected. The hallway was uncharacteristically quiet. On my third trip, however, I noticed one of the Primary children standing near the water dispenser at the far end of the hall, watching me inquisitively while he sipped from a cone-shaped paper cup. By the time I’d returned with my fourth load, he had positioned himself next to the classroom door.
“Whatcha doin’?” he finally asked on my fifth pass.
“Nothing much,” I said. “I just have a couple things to bring in for my class today.”
“Do you want help?”
“No, I’ve got it. Why don’t you go back to class,” I suggested. By the time I returned with the Crockpot of cocoa he was gone.
Safely in the classroom I hurriedly arranged the banquet table into an aesthetically pleasing holiday presentation, complete with Tabernacle Choir playlist. This party was going to be perfect. I couldn’t wait to share gifts and goodies with the girls and cookies with everyone else.
Moments before the young women arrived, I heard a knock. Cracking the door slightly and using my body to obscure the festive spread behind me, I could see it was the same little boy. “I knew it,” I thought to myself. “He’s going to ask if he can come to our party.”
As the bell rang, signaling the third hour, I stepped into the hallway, pulling the door closed behind me.
“What is it?” I asked him.
“I got something for you, “ he said, stretching his hand toward me.
That’s when I saw it. He was gripping it so lovingly it might as well have been one of the gifts of the Magi. There, in his cupped little hand, was a single vanilla wafer.
“Here,” he continued, “this is for you. Merry Christmas,” a smile stretching across his face. My heart sank. I knew I was the only thing standing between him and over 400 beautifully decorated and delicious Christmas cookies, yet he had one vanilla wafer and he was offering it to me.
“Thank you,” I whispered, pushing back tears. “Come back after church and I’ll have something for you, too.”
He wrapped his arms around my waist, hugging me. “Merry Christmas,” he repeated. “You’re a sweet boy,” I replied. Warmth enveloped me. It was a feeling that’s impossible to describe unless you’ve experienced it for yourself. It was the Christmas spirit. It was love.
I can no longer vividly recall the details of the party or sharing cookies, although I remember it being a joyous day. But I will never forget how a vanilla wafer became my favorite Christmas cookie or how a little boy’s simple gift made that Christmas the one I remember best.
Jennifer Talley Seawell lives in The Woodlands, Texas.