On Dec. 2, the Long Branch Book Club met to discuss The 13th Gift: A True Story of a Christmas Miracle by Joanne Huist Smith.
I usually review the Book Club discussion impersonally as my predecessor did, but this time, I was a big part of the discussion. The 13th Gift was a hard and emotional read for me. The book is a true story about a family of five that became four with the death of the father two months before Christmas. Although, it’s a story of a family struggling to survive horrible heartache, it is also a tale of healing through the help of 12 anonymous gifts, one for each day of the 12 days of Christmas. This is my second Christmas without my husband of 25 years and my estranged father just died. He was a Jehovah’s Witness and as I write this, his memorial, at a JW assembly hall in California (because no Kingdom Hall would have enough space to hold all those who mourn my dad) is tomorrow. My mother told me I could come, but advised against it. I told her I’d like to come in the hopes of having a relationship with her again. Her reply hurt more than my father dying. She told me that as long as I refused to return to their religion, she and I could not have any kind relationship.
Until reading the book, I have not had the Christmas spirit. I held off reading the 13th Gift until the day of the Book Club meeting and yes, I cried through it, but there in those pages, side-by-side with that grieving family, a Christmas spark kindled in me.
Growing up without Christmas, I had all these wonderful notions about the holidays. My first Christmas sucked as I still grieved for the family and friends I’d known all my life who had declared me “as one dead to them.” I had no real friends and no family. I spent that Christmas with my tree.
My second Christmas was better, but it wasn’t until my birthday in May after that second Christmas that I found the Christmas spirit. My boyfriend’s mother surprised me by putting up her tree, decorating her house as if it were Christmas and had everyone wrap my presents in Christmas paper. That act of kindness started my healing that I’m still going through over my parents. Just as the 12 presents left for the family in the book started theirs.
Grief and loss isn’t something that goes away or we get over. As Willie Nelson sings, “When you lose the one you love, You think your world has ended, You think your world will be a waste of life, Without them in it, You feel there's no way to go on, Life is just a sad, sad song, But love is bigger than us all, The end is not the end at all, It's not somethin' you get over, But it's somethin' you get through, It's not ours to be taken, It's just a thing we get to do, Life goes on and on, And when it's gone, It lives in someone new.” When You Lose the One You Love by Willie Nelson.
Yesterday, a couple of friends came to help me decorate the Long Branch Saloon for Christmas and that Christmas spark that kindled on Tuesday flamed into the Spirit of Christmas. They came because they love this place and we love each other. I want to thank all of the Book Club members for picking this book. I want to thank everyone who’s ever given me love and let me love them. The family in the book may have lost the one they loved, but with the help of people who didn’t even know them and their love, they got through it, just like I will. Thank you.
On Jan. 6th at 5:30 p.m. the Long Branch Book Club will meet to discuss a more cheerful but equally enlightening read, Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. “Cat’s Cradle is Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical commentary on modern man and his madness. An apocalyptic tale of this planet’s ultimate fate, it features a midget as the protagonist, a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer, and a vision of the future that is at once blackly fatalistic and hilariously funny. A book that left an indelible mark on an entire generation of readers, Cat’s Cradle is one of the twentieth century’s most important works—and Vonnegut at his very best.” Amazon.com
All are welcome to join in the discussion and bring snacks. For questions please call the Long Branch Saloon 830-519-4006. 315 Saint Lawrence Street, Gonzales, Texas.