“It is in giving that we receive.”
At the time, I did not realize it would become my most memorable Christmas. I was ten, it was December 20, and I was on angelic-behavior-mode in anticipation of Santa’s arrival. I was traipsing through knee-high snow drifts and blustery winds along near-empty streets with dad.
Near frozen, I remember asking, “Dad, how much longer?”
“One more store and we’ll call it a day,” he said.
The bell jingled when we entered our seventh antique store. Finally, our search was coming to an end.
“Surely, we will find it here,” dad said.
The odor was stale and musty, the wooden floors creaked, and dusty antiques were stacked everywhere. Glass bottles piled on old beds and desks, open chests filled with blankets, and walls lined with bookcases, vanities and cupboards. Chairs, couches, and feather-tick mattresses formed a tunnel to the back of the store, where books, toys, old picture frames, lion-clawed tubs, coat racks, record players, adding machines, file cabinets, and mirrors were displayed and priced. We walked through the “tunnel” and shook the cowbell on the counter.
A jovial voice came from the top of a ladder. “Gentlemen, what brings you out in such wintry conditions?” He descended the ladder and shook dad’s hand. He looked as worn as the antiques. “Last minute shopping?”
“Our daughter will be married on Christmas Day and has asked if the reception could be held in our home. We are looking for a table for the wedding cake, food and wine.”
The old man’s demeanor changed as if a switch had been thrown. He straightened his slumped shoulders, removed, cleaned, and replaced his glasses as his serious stare studied dad.
An uneasiness was building in my stomach.
Following an anxious 30-seconds, dad said, “I too am a collector.”
The man sighed and smiled. “Come, follow me.” He led us down a dark hallway through dimly lit rooms and into his living quarters.
Dad’s gasp startled me. He was staring at a table in the center of the room.
“It has passed through generations of antique dealers and collectors of fine treasures.”
Tentatively, dad reached out and touched the table.
“It may be two thousand years old.”
“It must be priceless,” dad whispered.
“It has never been bought or sold and has passed selectively from collector to collector.”
“And why is that?”
“Because of its origin,” he said, softly.
“Touch it,” Dad said to me.
Its alabaster finish was dull, but its ancient grain ran the length of the table. Six legs formed from hand-hewn timbers were bound to the table with wooden dowels.
“Surely it was fashioned by a master carpenter,” dad said.
The man did not respond.
“We want to do something special for our daughter’s wedding…but in truth this is beyond our means.”
Again, the man did not respond.
* * * *
On Christmas day, our family gift exchange took place early in order to prepare for my sister’s wedding. The table had been delivered and stood in our living room adorned with gifts, food, and wine. It was, in a word, magnificent.
Later in the day, after guests had departed, and my sister and her husband had left for their honeymoon, dad and the antique collector sat at the table drinking wine.
Dad said, “Thank you.”
“It has been a part of my family for many years,” the collector said, “and has witnessed celebrations of birth and death, baptism and wedding, happiness and sadness. Many generations of families have sat at this table to express thanks for daily bread and to thank God for His many blessings.”
Then, he said to dad, “Have you ever owned such a gift?”
Dad laughed. “Never.”
“This is the table that was used for the wedding feast at Cana when Mary, Mother of Jesus, asked him to perform his first public miracle.”
Dad and I stared at him; mesmerized.
“Jesus’ foster father was Joseph the carpenter. Shortly after the birth of Jesus, Joseph took the Child and Mary to Egypt to escape the proclamation of Herod to kill the first-born child of every family.
“During Christ’s childhood, Joseph taught his son the skills of carpentry. And one of the lasting mementos of that father-son relationship was this table. When Jesus returned to Jerusalem, he brought the table with him by donkey and cart. It is said that he encountered a man of God who believed that a savior would one day bring peace and love into the world. Jesus was so taken by the man’s steadfast faith that He gave him the table as a gift, cautioning him, however, that it was to pass only to others who held his strong beliefs in salvation.
“Further, each owner was to carve his initials on the bottom of the table. And finally, the table was to be used at celebrations throughout the coming generations.”
Finally, the collector said to my dad, “I now pass this table to you.”
“I am honored,” Dad said softly. “But, when did you carve your initials into the wood?”
“How did you know?”
“There are two carvings in the center of the table,” dad said.
“One is the Aramaic symbol used by Joseph to identify his work as a master carpenter,” the man said. “The other is the sign of the fish, first used by Jesus of Nazareth. They would have carved those symbols by their own hands.”
Dad leaned under the table and gently touched the engraved symbols. “I accept this table and all that it represents,” he said, as if speaking to all whose initials had been carved.
* * **
Dad passed away last Christmas…just after he passed the table to me. Yes, I’ve looked. His initials are there. But so is something else. Something I had not previously noticed. After each set of initials, carved ever so small, is the date the table was passed to a new collector. An uneasiness builds in my stomach every time I think about it. In each case the date is the same…December 25th!
* * * *
The Christmas season is magical. There is no other time whereby people share their time, wealth, compassion, friendship, and love for one another as they do during the season of the Christ child. With this thought in mind, I wish for each of you the merriest and holiest of Christmas’.
Thanks for reading,
John Preston Smith is the author of The Legend of the Last Dog. All of his books are listed at jprestonsmith.com. Questions or comments: facebook.com/johnprestonsmith. Proceeds support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, W.Va.