Growing up, my siblings and I lived for television specials. You know the ones. Specials were television programs such as The Wizard of Oz and Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. We were especially excited for the Christmas specials like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and A Charlie Brown Christmas.
They were called television specials because they were just that. Special. Before the VCR came along, you couldn’t watch a program any old time you wanted. You had to wait for a television network to decide to run a particular program and this typically happened once a year!
My siblings and I were giddy with excitement over the opportunity to see a t.v. special. We’d discuss it with great anticipation with our neighborhood friends. No one would be outside playing in the neighborhood on the night a special was on t.v. Everyone was inside, stationed solidly in front of a television.
Mom would time dinner to be sure we could finish eating before the special began. She might even allow us to skip kitchen clean-up duties in honor of the once-a-year program. Sometimes she would pop a batch of popcorn in the electric popper and pour it into her big stainless mixing bowl. The popcorn would have a nice un-healthy dose of butter and plenty of salt sprinkled over. We’d all gather around the popcorn bowl on the living room floor and hush each other in anticipation of the program beginning. We didn’t want to miss one word of dialogue or one song of a soundtrack. We always knew when Charlie Brown was about to begin. That’s when the Dolly Madison commercials would come on. It seems like the only time I saw those commercials was when there was a Charlie Brown special on t.v.
Once a special had begun, we glued ourselves to the television. We found the commercials to be an annoying interruption. (Some things never change.) And when the program was over, I always found myself feeling a heavy sense of disappointment that it would be another whole year before I could spend time with the movie characters again. I got lost in those specials and relived them over and over in my mind.
Some of my favorites from long ago are still around and can be easily found in the DVD section at many stores. Some of them are pretty much relegated to the past, being too politically incorrect for the general public these days. The Little Drummer Boy was one of these, although, with a little effort, I did find it on VHS years ago for my own kids.
One of my sister’s favorite specials was one that was run annually between 1972 and 1977. It was called The House Without a Christmas Tree. I had only a vague recollection of this movie when Cori began to reminisce about it one year when we were in the early parenthood stage of our lives. I remembered watching and enjoying the movie whenever it aired, but it didn’t have a lasting effect on me. For Cori, though, it was clearly one of those programs that was dear to her heart.
The movie centered on a young girl, Addie, whose father never quite recovered from the death of his wife at the time of Addie’s birth. A Christmas tree was a painful reminder of his wife, and so he never allowed one in the house, much to Addie’s despair. One December, Addie won a contest at school, the prize being a Christmas tree which she hauled home and erected in the living room with the hopes that her father would soften and allow the tree to stay. He did not, but eventually found it in his heart to allow Christmas back in his home that year.
My sister talked about this movie and how much she loved it. She talked about how sad she was that it never aired on television anymore. It wasn’t one of the selections available in any of the retail holiday movie sections and she lamented how much she wished she could see it again.
An idea began to form in my head. Online shopping was still a fairly new concept, at least to me, but it occurred to me that I might be able to find a copy of the movie online for Cori. It didn’t take long and I was ecstatic when I found it. I knew she was going to love it.
That Christmas Eve, while celebrating and unwrapping gifts with my extended family, it was Cori’s turn to open a gift. She selected the one I had bought for her. Tearing off the wrapping carefully, the movie she remembered so fondly appeared.
My sister is rarely speechless, but at that moment, she couldn’t seem to find words. She held the movie in one hand, the torn wrapping paper in the other. Her mouth fell open with disbelief as she looked at me, trying to form a complete sentence.
“How…. where … I can’t believe …,” she stammered, looking at me with wide eyes.
Finally, the words came. “Where did you find this? I’ve looked everywhere and have never seen a copy of it available for sale!”
I explained how I had searched for it online and had ordered a copy just for her. She seemed truly astounded that I had listened to her when she spoke of it, and that I had cared enough about her love for an old, low-budget movie to search for and purchase a copy for her. She absolutely, completely and totally loved it and over the years, it became tradition for Cori to watch the movie each Christmas season with her own daughter.
It wasn’t an expensive gift. It didn’t require a lot of effort. But it was something my sister never expected to receive in a million years. The surprise and joy on her face was priceless and it was the first time I really knew what it felt like to give a gift truly from the heart. It was one of the best gifts I ever gave.