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The year Christmas changed for me when I made my mother cry

‘Christmas I Remember Best’

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By Susan Moon

This is the 10th of 10 essays chosen to be published in the Deseret News annual Christmas writing contest, “Christmas I Remember Best.”

I was always excited for Christmas, but the year I was 16 was going to be extra special. I had worked at my first job during the summer and had saved money for school and other expenses. It was the first time I had enough money to buy my family “expensive” gifts for Christmas.

And I couldn’t wait to do so.

My boyfriend and I went to downtown Salt Lake City and bought my dad, who was a schoolteacher, a tan sweater and brown pair of slacks at J.C. Penneys. I bought my two little sisters sweater pants sets that were all the rage. I felt so grown up and so proud to get them “big” gifts! The bright lights and holiday decorations matched my buoyant spirit!

In those days, women’s temple dresses were often white nurse uniforms, at least my mother’s was. I would watch her iron it before she and my father went to the Salt Lake Temple each month. The church magazine at that time was called “The Instructor” and I would read it once in a while. I noticed that there was a company called LeVoys that sold white temple dresses that were definitely NOT nurse uniforms. They were soft and feminine and beautiful.

I wanted one more than anything for my mother. But the cost was more than I had to spend on her. I showed the advertisement to my older brother and asked if he wanted to pay half the cost so we could give it to Mom. He said yes and so we went to LeVoy’s to buy one for her.

We pulled into the parking lot of an industrial-looking building on West Temple in Murray. Not knowing what to expect, we walked into the store. Oh, the beautiful dresses! Never mind the lack of the usual decorative accoutrements. This warehouse was full of flowing white gowns.

We had a hard time choosing one for Mom as there were so many different styles. We decided on a long-sleeved column dress with tucks across the yoke. It was made from a soft silky polyester that draped beautifully. It would look lovely on my mother.

Counting out $16 each, we left the store with what we thought was the best dress of the bunch.

In the past, as I waited for my family to get up and open presents, I wondered what I would be getting from Santa and my family. However, on this Christmas morning, I was anxious to see my family’s reactions to the gifts I had purchased for them.

I was so happy to give my dad new clothes — he rarely spent any money on himself. He would look so spiffy standing before his class in his new sweater and slacks. My little sisters were excited about their new outfits. I waited to see what my mom would think of her gift.

She unwrapped the package, stared a long time at the white, elegant dress, and then started to cry.

What had we done? Why was she crying? I was confused and concerned. In my 16-year-old mind, I thought if you got a gift you liked you were happy and smiley and excited. You don’t cry.

Didn’t she like it? I’d never seen her cry over a gift before.

It took a few moments for it to occur to me that she was crying because she loved the dress and couldn’t believe we bought it for her. The teenager inside me felt the gradual dawning of understanding and maturity as I watched my mom react to a gift she would never have purchased for herself.

As the stay-at-home wife of a schoolteacher, this was an extravagance definitely not in the family budget. And to think that her two sometimes less-than-perfect teenagers actually had the idea to buy it for her.

I hope she felt beautiful every time she wore that dress in the temple.

This was the first time I ever experienced the adage, “It is better to give than to receive.” I don’t remember what I received that Christmas, but over 50 years later I remember each gift I bought my family that year.

I’ve never forgotten my mother’s reaction to a present given in love and appreciation for the wonderful woman she was. This treasured dress is now in my possession and reminds me of one of the Christmases I Remember Best.

Susan Moon lives in Bountiful.