Archived Story

Thinking of family at Christmas

Published 6:10pm Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It’s the thought that counts.

How many times have we contemplated this phrase during the Christmas season, especially when we received a gift we really didn’t want.

Sometimes the phrase doesn’t exactly ring true, like when I used to receive a pair of red dress socks from my great grandmother every Christmas. I hope she meant well, but after 20 straight years of receiving the same gift, it became a joke. In a strange way, my family took pleasure in seeing the same lame present unwrapped year after year. I distinctly remember all of us dying laughing as I “proudly” displayed my socks as we left her home on Sand Mountain in northeast Alabama.

Sometimes, however, the phrase does ring true.

About a week ago, my mother called to tell me she was going on a brief excursion with my dad to Gatlinburg, Tenn. As we were discussing the trip, she mentioned they were going to invite my Uncle Joe and his wife along for the ride.

Now, my Uncle Joe is an outgoing and fun-loving person. He is a retired Church of God preacher, so you can imagine he is quite the talker once he gets excited about a particular topic of conversation that interests him.

Unfortunately, his wit and humor have been somewhat depleted as of late due to heart problems and a recent bout with cancer. Frankly, Uncle Joe isn’t feeling well these days and spends most of his time at his home in Cleveland, Tenn.

So, mother thought a trip to Gatlinburg would be just what the doctor ordered. Nevertheless, Uncle Joe refused the invitation, citing his health and the fact cash was a little short this holiday season. My mom responded by offering to pay for the trip and after she twisted his arm for a while, he reluctantly agreed.

As I listened to the story, I suddenly felt the desire to reach out to my uncle. To be completely honest, I’ve known Uncle Joe all my life, but I have to admit we’ve never really been close. As I sat there listening to my mom, I just couldn’t remember ever buying him a gift for Christmas in the four decades I’ve known him.

Right then and there I decided to change my track record. I told mom to forget about paying for the trip. I was going to pick up the tab.

Considering the outing was for only one night and the rates were really low for the time of year, this gift really couldn’t be deemed a big deal. It just wasn’t a whole lot of money.

However, when my uncle heard the news as he was eating at the Pancake Pantry in Gatlinburg, he broke down in tears. The gesture meant a lot to him. It also meant a lot to me.

Even though it wasn’t a costly gift, the thought behind it made it priceless for both of us. After hearing about his reaction, I couldn’t help but think it truly is better to give than receive.

Christmas really is the best time of year. Just remember, it’s not the gifts that make it special; it’s the love and joy of being around family and friends and doing things for them that make it worthwhile. This truth is so easy to forget. I know I did for more than 40 years.

At any rate, if you do receive something you really don’t like, just remember it’s the thought that counts. And if this doesn’t bring you solace, just think about a 15-year-old boy receiving a pair of red dress socks for the tenth time in a row. I promise, your situation will instantly seem better.

Roger Steele is general manager and advertising director of The Outlook.