A Wonderful Christmas Gift

Since it is nearing Christmas time again (Yeah, I know; it is still six weeks away – but all the stores would have you believe it is tomorrow) I think relating what, for me, was my finest Christmas of my teenage years, would be in order.

It is the winter of 1958 and all through the housing area plans are being made for parties everywhere.  In Germany everyone really gets into the spirit.  Huge gatherings in town squares with caroling, red noses, smoky fires in barrels, chestnuts, warm drinks of an alcoholic nature and the like are the norm.

My girlfriend Virginia, with whom I had been going steadily (and steady) for over two years (I may have mentioned her before), and I dressed warmly and headed out the gate to town.  The sky was the color of lead and the wind, while brisk, was hardly noticed by us as we walked arm-in-arm down the street.  Halfway to the Stadtplatz (City Square) it began to snow.  Large, fluffy, flakes drifted downward and smacked us in the face wetly.  We were oblivious to this however as we savored the solitude of our walk.  We only had eyes for each other.

I had plenty of time on the stroll to reflect just how lucky I was to have Virginia as my friend and lover.  She had a droll wit, sparkling personality, and, most of all would put up with me.  She would catch me in a half-turn looking at her and glance back with a smile and say “What?”  “Nothing” I would reply; “Just happy to be with you today”.  She responded with a hand squeeze that sent thrills through my being.  Damn, she looked beautiful with snowflakes in her hair.

Turning the final corner, we entered the square.  The festivities were just getting started so we walked to the middle and joined in.  First off, we had to have some warm chestnuts which we bought from a vendor who had his charcoal fired pot overflowing with chestnuts.  Right next to him was a Glühwein seller.  Glühwein is a hot, spiced, wine which is usually made from a poor vintage wine.  What they do is add spices and honey to make it drinkable again.  Topped off with a cinnamon stick there is nothing else that will beat cold weather.

Armed with a paper cone of chestnuts each and a cup of Glühwein, we were ready for the rest of the fun.  As we wandered from kiosk to kiosk looking at all the items for sale I began thinking that this would be the perfect time to see what Virginia was interested in and get it for Christmas.  I had a fairly well paying job in the base PIO photo lab (Press Information Office) so, at the moment, I was flush with cash.  I had to get her something memorable because we had come to realize that this would be our last winter together.  Her dad was being reassigned in the spring and who knew what would happen then.

We passed tray after tray of doodads, gewgaws, and whatnots, she and I would pause and look.  Several items caught her eye, but I could see there was nothing she really wanted.   One vendor, in an isolated corner of the square, had a huge amount of silver items hanging from strings across his cart.  She has always been interested in anything worn around the neck.  She has a completely full jewelry case of necklaces and the like.  Still, she wanted to see what he offered.

I saw her reach for an item, pull her hand back, and then reach again for it.  When I saw what it was, a slow glow appeared behind her ears and down to her throat.  It was a miniature Eiffel Tower – about six centimeters long on a delicate chain.  I whispered in her ear “I know what you’re thinking” which brought her flush to full bloom.  She smiled at me without saying anything and held the charm to her throat.  “It’s perfect” she proclaimed.

She and I became one, in every sense of the word, on the train to Paris last summer.  It was I had to agree, the perfect gift.  I wondered if, every time she saw it, she would think of me.  I knew I wouldn’t forget that trip for as long as I lived.  ‘The first time’ is just that and cannot be repeated.

But then, she looked at the tag.  It was a solid silver charm and cost a great deal of money – even back then.  With a sad last look, she put it back in the little blue box and handed it back to the vendor.  I hugged her and made our apologies to the old guy as we walked away.  I knew I was going to come back here so I winked at him as I turned.

Continuing around the square we ran into a group of people standing in front of a small bandstand with a collection of musicians on it.  It isn’t often you get to listen to a band composed of an accordion, a trumpet, a set of drums and two guitars.  Surprisingly, they made very good music.  We sang along to a few Christmas carols and a couple of popular songs while sipping our second Glühwein.

We eventually got a little hungry so we went in search of a place to eat.  Neither one of us really wanted to have just a wurst or something like that so we headed to our favorite little Inn for dinner.  Before we left the square though I excused myself and headed for the restroom.

I rapidly walked away and headed immediately for the little stall where she had seen the necklace charm.  The old guy remembered me and we chatted for a bit on the quality of the charm.  He admitted that what he had hanging and on display was his “tourist items” but then brought a box out from a shelf under his cart.  It held a much more lustrous (and heavy) charm that I was sure would cost much more.  He indicated that he would like me to buy it for my young lady because it obviously meant something to the both of us and that he would sell it to me at half the listed price.  “She is very pretty and should have the best” he said.  I couldn’t have agreed more; and bought it.

I caught up with her and we walked a few blocks to the Inn which was crowded, but not full. We had a wonderful dinner and strolled back up the hill to the housing area in the snow.  It was a perfect end to a perfect day.

Virginia and I hosted the final party before Christmas for our group of friends.  It was a great party with a complete dinner, loads of games, and intimate dancing afterwards.  Between the games and dancing, however, was a gift-giving.  Each of us gave and received gifts from everyone else.  One at a time, we opened them.  I could hardly contain myself until Virginia announced that she would open mine.  The box had changed from square to a rectangle and the color from blue to red, but she knew right off what it was and with a cry of joy opened it.

She threw her arms around me and, for a moment, there was nobody else in the room for me but her as we kissed.  Man, I really loved this girl – this woman.  I nuzzled her neck as I passed the chain around it and fastened the clasp.  All the other girls gathered around, ‘ooh-ed’ and ‘ahh-ed’ at it.  I am sure that everyone who had been on the trip with us knew exactly what it signified but I didn’t care.

For the rest of the party I would catch her fingering the charm and smiling at me.  When we danced, we held tight to each other; and, when it was time to go home, we walked arm-in-arm through the snow to her house in the dark, still, night air.  For the rest of her, and my, time there in Germany I don’t think I ever saw her without the charm around her neck.

T.O.M.

 

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