It’s no secret to scientists and psychologists that scent can trigger memories as vivid and real as the day they were created. Although my maternal grandfather died more than 12 years ago, pulling his suspenders out of the bag I keep them in engulfs me in a scent of Old Spice and Players cigarettes so strong that it feels like he is there with me… his rough work worn hands, blonde hair and ice blue eyes that never dimmed with age or cancer.
Today, sitting on my bed folding laundry, the window opened a crack for the requisite 15 minutes a day needed to replenish and freshen the air in my home, the scent of Satsuma from the rarely used bottle on my dresser suddenly wafted under my nose and brought me back to a time I rarely remember at all, anymore…
Except for Christmas.
For newer readers, several years ago I posted my own personal Christmas story here to try and bring people back to the spirit of the season, and give any woman needing hope the strength to carry on. Secretly, I hoped my secret Santa would read my story and know just how much their humble gift meant to me.
Every year since, I have re-posted the story, and this year is no exception. May you find courage, strength, inspiration and hope.
“A gift from the heart”
As an adult, I think I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Christmas.
Don’t get me wrong – I really love twinkling Christmas lights at night, the joy of seeing my children enjoy the magic, good times with friends and all the cooking…but I’m really bothered by the commercialization, obligation and fake sentiment that for many, seems to go with the entire season.
How did we -as a society – become so shallow and self-absorbed that what is for some, a very sacred time of year, has been reduced to the amount you spend on gifts – or the number of them – to prove your love or affection ? And what kind of gift is one given out of a feeling of forced obligation, rather than the spirit of love and generosity?
For me, gift giving has never been about how much a gift costs, but about what is special to the person receiving it, and the intent of the person giving it. Every year, I share this story that touched my heart forever, in the hopes the person behind it reads it, and knows exactly what it meant to me.
One Christmas,many years ago, I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a gift that came from the heart of someone I’m sure I must have known – but someone whose identity remains a mystery over 10 years later.
It was two years before I left my abusive ex-husband, and money was very tight. At the time he wasn’t working and I was the only income earner, and my credit cards were nearly maxed out trying to keep the family afloat. I didn’t share how bad things were with anyone at work,or my friends, but those who cared and knew me well, obviously could see how hard I was trying to keep it all together.
Even now,looking back at photos taken that year, the stress shows clearly on my face in every single one. As most parents do,or have done, I would always go without to make sure the kids had what they needed, but that year I had to actually glue the soles back onto my winter boots, and double up sweaters instead of buying a winter coat to make sure something from Santa arrived Christmas morning.
Indeed,Christmas did arrive on a crystal cold Saturday morning, and the kids were not disappointed.
Wonderfully appreciative of their humble presents, they were playing with their new toys quietly,my ex was doing whatever he would do off in his little office, and I finally moved slowly around the house to open the curtains to a new day.
As I pulled back the drapes on my dining room window to enjoy the rare sight of Christmas snow on the coast, I saw a basket on the railing of the patio fence outside.
Completely caught off guard by this unexpected sight, I stood there for a moment, simply absorbing this discovery. I shook my head, as if to shake off doubts, grabbed my house coat and ran outside on the deck anyways.
There before me, nestled in the crystalline snow on the railing,was a brightly decorated basket with my name on it.
Catching my breath, stunned, I looked around – left, then right – but could see no one. It hadn’t been there long, because it remained untouched by that sparkling diamond like frost that covered every surface not touched by snow, and I could see fresh foot prints in my garden leading to the fence. In puzzled excitement, I ran back inside the house to see what it was, and who it was from.
I sat down alone at the dining room table, slowly taking in the lovely wrapping and ribbons, but also very worried my ex would come down and wonder where this came from.
With slow motion precision, I pulled back the tissue paper that encased the contents, and suddenly the sweet smell of satsuma mandarin orange wafted from the basket, hit my nostrils, and overwhelmed my battered soul.
Inside, were three jewel like bars of soap from The Body Shop, in my favorite fragrance, Satsuma.
I held each one in my hands as if they were the most precious gems, with tears trickling silently, oh so silently, down my face, wondering who would do such a nice thing for me. I took every single piece of tissue paper out,looking for a clue, but there was no card; only a gift tag with my name written on it in handwriting I did not recognize.
Completely overwhelmed by the sheer grace and timing of this most cherished gift, I ran quietly outside again and looked around in the snow, thinking another card must have fallen off.
I followed the footprints back to the curb where someone had obviously gotten back into their car, but nothing. No clues, no names, only me – standing there alone Christmas morning on the sidewalk in front of my house, oblivious to the curious stares of passers -by, in my natty old terry cloth house coat and glued up boots, tears streaming down my face … happier in that cold, cold moment than I had been in many, many years…
When I returned to work later that week, I asked everyone if they were my secret Santa, but no one seemed to know anything. From beneath lowered lids, I surreptitiously watched everyone go by my office for a look, a smile, something to show that someone was keeping a secret from me… but nothing.
To this day, I have no idea who was thinking of me in such a thoughtful way that Christmas. That one gift meant so much to me because I would never have spent money on something as frivolous as mandarin scented soaps for myself,ever,during those times, but more-so, it helped me through what was an exceedingly tough time in my life.
Just knowing that there was someone who cared enough to pay attention to something I had perhaps mentioned casually in conversation over coffee, someone who then took the time to actually bring it over on an early Christmas morning… it left me with hope.
It was an incredible act of selflessness and compassion on the part of the secret Santa. But the funny thing was, and still is, was that I couldn’t ever recall ever mentioning this was my favourite scent to anyone…
I didn’t use that soap for a long time, a couple of years actually, but kept it hidden deep in my bedroom drawers.
When I was feeling hopeless, or having a particularly rough time with my ex, I would steal away upstairs – just for a moment – and sit on the edge of my bed to open the drawers where the soap was safely hidden. The scent of satsuma would suddenly rise to envelop me, flooding all my senses …and it would always give me strength and courage to go on.
To the gift giver, it may have been just soap… but to me it was everything.
The scent remains my favorite, symbolizing the will to go on, survival…renewal, hope… and when I come across that scent again,even for the briefest moment, it overwhelms my soul with joy. I still don’t often spend money on things like that, although I suppose I could. I guess old habits die-hard.
And so as we enter the season that has become so commercialized that we forget the true meaning behind the celebrations,I urge you to re-connect with your loved ones,your neighbours, and even complete strangers in the true spirit of compassion and love.
Everyone knows a person who is going through a rough time for one reason or another. Maybe they lost their job, maybe they are caring for a sick family member, or maybe they are just always struggling to get ahead.
Christmas can be incredibly hard for those who are dealing with life’s troubles. Do something special for them,keep it secret and supply them with the same faith and hope and memories that I have. It doesn’t have to be costly, just from the heart. You may never know what a simple gesture may mean to someone else.
But I do.
Peace everyone. Merry Christmas.