Julia Farwell-Clay


A Happy Christmas


My adult children have many commitments to meet this time of year. Having grown up between households, they have never spent full length vacations in one place or the other, and now grown, they have added even more visits – stops with the families of significant others and a can’t-miss New Year party in New York – to their social calendars. As a result, we at home have already opened stockings, exchanged presents, and eaten our cake. My heart is full and happy as I sit here with a suddenly empty and quiet house, drinking tea, adding this entry to my little blog.

We are lucky here to take Christmas for granted. Gifts went especially well this year. The youngest is a fan of an arcane Japanese superhero, and he longed for several toys from the most recent series. Middle child is always happiest with wardrobe additions, and oldest is a music-on-vinyl buff with an ever-widening body of interest. For my husband, I thrifted a perfect dress overcoat in like new condition, and had the sleeves tailored to his length. In exchange, I now have Michelle Obama’s biography to savor, an atomizer and a menu of calming oils to help my sleep, and this:


Hopefully you recognize this as antique umbrella swift, an elegant tool for preparing yarn for knitting. The ribs are made of brass, and it has a velvet pincushion covering the cast-iron base. A small cup sits at the top to rest the ball until your return should you need to pause in your winding. Despite the marks of time given its delicate 19th Century vintage, is in fine working condition. I am in awe of my husband’s thoughtfulness in finding such a pretty little thing, and I will put it on my book case in my sewing room so I can see it every day. I might even use it once in awhile, but gently.

I regret how important I think gifts are in our celebration. I realize this year that I was – as usual – too concerned since I have never quite forgiven my husband for the year he gave me nothing for Christmas. It was a shock really, that year, when the kids were too small to do much on their own, so there really was nothing for me under the tree. I had worked so hard to make a nice morning for everyone: stockings and presents from Santa and me and W as well, signing his name on tags to the kids. The house was decked and a wreath hung on the front door. I made stockings for each of the kids that they still use to this day. It was a labor of love, and yet at the end of the morning, when I had watched everyone open all their presents, and finished my coffee, I wondered where there was the box with my name on it. Had W forgotten where he put it? Was he playing a game? I held out all day, thinking it was a grand joke and so like him to pretend that he had gotten me nothing. I even went to bed a little early, playing along, keeping quiet about it, waiting in the dark for him to bring me something, anything at that point.

If you have been around long enough to remember, you may remember what I told the blog at the time. After a while, when there was no sign of him with a box or an apology even, I got out of bed and went down stairs. He was in his office, reading the internet. I had to ask. I had to put words to my disappointment without sounding like a child about it. Were we really so different about this that I expected something, and he meanwhile, thought gifts were fun but optional? We’d only been married for three years at the time, and we already were in the habit of overlooking our anniversary as something to be made a fuss about. It was the way we felt, anyway, that being together was everything by itself, and there was no need to exchange gifts around it. How could Christmas be any different? so his thinking went. After a few moments, while he absorbed my sadness and disappointment, he offered to clean out the sunroom which had been a complaint of mine for the several years we had lived together. And so he did. A few years later, we went on to tear the whole drafty broken room off the house in a renovation that is now long behind us, house and all abandoned when we moved here to Concord. How small a dot in the distance that day is now, a speck of dust in our galaxy of time together, and yet I flinch every year as we pass this moment in our orbit around the sun: will Walter decide it’s too much trouble again, that I am too hard to please, or that I put too much weight on the gift thing and really should be less materialistic about it all?

But no. He loves me with such a tender endurance that now, having disappointed me once, he works to make it up to me, even today. Every year in spite of my worry, he brings me a gift that never fails to move me with its perfection. Such is this Victorian umbrella swift, sturdy and elegant, showing its age and usefulness, to be displayed as a trophy and an emblem of so many things all at once: the work of hands, the work of time, and the work of hearts.

Julia Farwell-Clay