Sherry Hopkins column
(Editor’s note: This column, originally published in 2005, is reprinted in response to readers’ requests.)
It was Christmas Eve at Plum Point, Mississippi, our first since moving here to help care for my parents.
We had used all our savings to rent a truck and a tow bar to move us 800 miles from home and to set aside enough to live on until we found employment. There was none to spare.
Don had never been away from his birthplace and family in South Carolina, and neither of us had ever made more than a short visit to Mississippi.
Don had found a good job right away, and although he had not yet drawn a paycheck he had the holiday off. I was awaiting a new job at the police department starting the first of the year and therefore not making any money at all. Earlier in the day a package had arrived from his family. It was most welcomed.
The day had been cold and the weather overnight was supposed to break records. Single digits were forecast.
My parents had rented the house for us. We moved in sight unseen. We would be close to them and that was the most important thing.
The house left much to be desired.
There was no insulation. The wood burning stove was more a danger than a comfort.
We were sad to be in this immediate situation. We knew that things would be better shortly, but it was of little consolation on this clear, bitterly cold Christmas night.
We had filled the tub with water in case our pipes froze. They did and before the day was done so did the water in the tub.
Having precious little cash we called around to the couple of motels that were in Batesville at the time and asked for room rates, each time explaining our situation in hopes of a little sympathy on the cost of the room. There was no sympathy, even on this Christmas night. We finally decided to use what little money we had and try to come to town so that at least we could be warm.
We packed an overnight bag and headed in. We brought our little artificial tree with us.
There would be no packages under the tree this year.
After we settled in it began to snow mixed with a little freezing rain. We made a run to McDonald’s to grab a bite before they closed and then back to the room.
During this whole day and probably days before I had been crying. Crying over the choices we sometimes have to make. Crying over the situation we now found ourselves in. Just crying.
Don, like most men I suppose, can’t stand to see his wife cry. Me, like most women I suppose, did not know anything else to do. We lay on the bed for a while watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” on TV. That made me cry more.
Don got up and said he needed to go out for a bit.
“Would you be okay?” he asked, gently leaning over to kiss me on the forehead.
I shook my head yes. But he knew that I wasn’t telling the truth.
He was gone for a short time and when he came back he seemed to be in a better mood.
“I got you a Christmas gift,” he said.
“How? Why? We can’t afford any gifts,” I stammered through tears.
“Close your eyes,” he instructed.
I closed my eyes tightly, not knowing what to expect.
“Okay, you can open them now,” he said sweetly, quietly.
I opened my eyes and he handed me a package wrapped in a brown paper bag.
I opened it quickly and stared at the gift and then at Don. We had only been married seven years but I loved him more than anything I had ever known. If I had ever had any doubts they vanished at that moment. What an intimate, thoughtful, beautiful gift. The best gift I had ever gotten.
Underneath the plain wrapping was a bottle of No More Tears Shampoo. He did not want me to cry anymore, and he didn’t know how to stop me, help me, or tell me. He knew that in my heart I was crying partly for him, and he wanted me to know, too, that I didn’t need to. He was fine. I would be fine, and we would work everything out together and then we would be fine.
I’ve had many Christmases since then. But no gift will ever be as special as that bottle of No More Tears.