Treasuring the gifts that remain | Tolman Tales


My parents both passed away near Christmas — Mom on Dec. 13, 2002, Dad on Dec. 19, 2006. My initial reaction was sadness that each holiday season would somehow be affected, tainted, by memories of my folks. A bit surprisingly, the opposite has occurred.

Each holiday season, I think of Mom and Dad and the gifts they gave me through their love and guidance — gifts that remain long after their passing.

An irresponsible act of one can have negative consequences on many. The circus was coming to the Big Horn County Fair Grounds in Basin and I could hardly wait. There would be elephants and clowns and maybe acrobats, just like in Barnum & Bailey. When the tickets came out, I demanded to be the custodian. The clock seemed to suddenly slow down. Days seemed to be 53 hours long. Finally, circus day was upon us. “Let’s go!” I chided my family. “OK, Jeff, where are the tickets?”

The tickets were nowhere to be found. I tore my bedroom, and the rest of the house, apart. We moved the piano and found my (now fossilized) pet frog that had disappeared a couple of years earlier. We found change in the sofa cushions and hot dogs my beagle, Gus, had hidden in the back of my sister’s closet. We made many great discoveries, but never found the tickets. And, so, we didn’t go. When I cried and argued and tried to pain-in-the-neck my way to the circus, my parents stayed calm and firm. I had requested the responsibility of the tickets and had not lived up to the job. I didn’t get to see the elephants, nor did they. My gift was an unforgettable lesson in responsibility.

Having a job is a two-way street. My Dad never turned down work. Never. He felt there was an agreement between he and the paper mill. It was there to feed, clothe and shelter his family. When the company needed his help, it was the least he could do in return. I saw him flinch and often knew he hoped the ringing phone was for me, or Mom, or was anyone but the foreman asking Dad to come to work. But he always went, and always said, “I have to go to work. The mill needs me.” My gift was the appreciation of having a job, even when it is inconvenient.

Families have good times and bad. Enjoy the good, be supportive in the bad. Mom’s family, like most families of that day, lived hand to mouth. My Grandpa Gould was the typesetter at The Greybull Standard, my Grandma the evening telephone operator. They raised five girls on very modest means.

One Christmas, things were particularly bad. Finances were so tight they couldn’t afford fabric for Grandma to make the girls clothes. Under the tree for each girl were two gifts: an orange and a pencil. The first time Mom talked about that Christmas, I waited to hear her complain or make a smart remark. Certainly she could not have been happy or satisfied getting a piece of fruit and a writing implement. But Mom never did. She realized it was the best her parents could do that year. My gift was an understanding that in any life, and any family, there are good times and bad, ups and downs.

Loved ones never really die. They just exist in a different way. Though years have passed since my parents existed in the flesh, they are still with me. I can shut my eyes and see Mom sitting cross-legged in her chair, watching “Jeopardy,” trying to answer before the participants. I can see as clear as day Dad in his bib overalls heading out to his garden.

They are with me every holiday season through my memories and the everlasting lessons they taught — annual gifts I re-open.

— Jeff Tolman is a Poulsbo lawyer and periodic columnist for the North Kitsap Herald.

Copyright Jeff Tolman 2013
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