Ten years ago my mother and a neighbor set out to find the perfect Christmas tree. At last, there it stood, small and shapely, just right. While the search came to a happy end, the owner of the stand was nowhere to be found. How to pay? How to leave behind the very one and only tree? My mother scribbled a penciled note, saying that she had taken a tree and promising that "I'll be back." While my mother's neighbor wrung his hands, not so sure, it never occurred to her that this might be problematic.
Sure enough, the next day she returned, introduced herself to the owner, and handed over the money wrapped in a card. He looked at her with astonishment, speechless and grinning. Finally: "You came back!" he exclaimed. "You came back! I don't want any money. You've made my Christmas by coming back." My mother insisted that he accept payment for the finest tree in town. He accepted, reluctantly. Their rapport and exchange of money for tree took place every year until this one. This Christmas calls for a smaller tree; we will drive by his lot when come back home for the holidays.
This Christmas, my former student Kristen is delivering a tree to my mother, grown on her dad's farm an hour away, and she and my mother will decorate it together. My students keep coming back. "You came back!" I think every time I open the door, a note, or an email. Their gifts to me are my visions of their evolving lives. Child philosophers home from college, majoring in environmental studies and international relations; tennis campers now pros themselves, passing along sportsmanship and love for the game; college students pursuing graduate degrees, employed in fulfilling jobs, all engaged in their worlds large and small. Please, keep coming back.
Every mid-December I reread Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory, his loving remembrance of his earliest years, until the age of ten, spent in the company of his "sixty-something" cousin Miss Sook Faulk. Capote writes: "It's always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: ‘It's fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat.'" The inscription in my tattered copy of Capote's short salute to tender, mutual affection reads in part: "Christmas can't start until the winter afternoon that I sit down and read this. Hope you will feel the same. Love, Betsy." Betsy has been my friend since kindergarten. Every year, we reconnect with the young "Buddy," age seven, and his beloved Miss Sook. Those two best friends exchanged homemade slingshots and flew kites, while Betsy and I share childhood memories and carry on, long distance, but never really far away. We come back to the book and to each other.
That's all, just little things, but what little big, big things! May all your circles, formed over your lifetime, hold tight and strengthen. Keep coming back.
Marietta McCarty is the author of Little Big Minds: Sharing Philosophy With Kids and How Philosophy Can Save Your Life: 10 Ideas That Matter Most.