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Christmas message in a bottle

For those who don’t know, June Brann is my mother.  My mother LOVED small Cokes.  She ordered them by multiple cases and cartons and always had a large stash in her garage.  Even if she didn’t have food storage for a hurricane or any other emergency, we always knew she would have enough small Cokes to get her through any shortages.

My mother also loved Christmas, and she intensely loved her family.  All the extended family members who lived in the area would go to her house the first Saturday after Thanksgiving to decorate her tree.

20141219 Coke-2We would devour tamales, hot chocolate, and all that the HEB sandwich and relish trays had to offer.  Although, the pimento cheese sandwiches were a toss-up—depending on just how much of an appetite we worked up.

The testosterone-laden teen-age grandsons would head out to the back patio corner to conquer and wrap the Italian Cypress in lights.  Her patio faced the Mission golf course.  With her Cypress outside and the Christmas tree inside in front of the patio door, it was her Christmas greeting to golfers making their final approaches on the course in the late evenings between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

And, every year, we would discuss and tackle the challenges of lighting that ever-growing Italian Cypress – everything from climbing on the neighbor’s patio roof to lassoing the top and pulling it over.  Finally the lights at the top just had to stay there while more strings were added below.

Some of the males in the family would be at her house earlier in the day on Saturday, and/or the Friday before, to help her set up the snow village.  Black Friday shopping didn’t exist then and still doesn’t on our calendar.  It’s all about family on Thanksgiving weekend.

That village seemed to grow bigger every year.  Yet, somehow, it still managed to occupy the same amount of space in the corner of the tight living room of Mom’s condo.  She made it work and calculated and prepared for the placement of each piece and electrical component.

There would be arms and legs everywhere as we stepped over each other to find the next ornament to decorate the tree.  No matter how we tried, we never could fit in the same place at the same time.  Go figure why those laws of physics would defy us in our purpose. So, adults and children learned a little patience, and we got the job done without busted heads and emergency room visits.

The storage containers would be cleared.  The lights in the house were dimmed. Christmas music was playing throughout the house.  Cousins and siblings would crash on the couch, the chairs and the floor—joking, teasing and bonding.  Adults would find a spot to squeeze in.  A few family members would always be found on the steps of the stairs, peering through the bannister for a strategic view.

After the Christmas tree skirt was placed, it was the “piéce de résistance”—the final lighting of the tree.

A hush would fall across the house.  Each year the same exclamation would be heard trickling through the living room, the adjacent dining room and from the stairs and loft above.  It rolled off the lips of one family member and then another and another. “I think that’s the best Christmas tree yet.”

It was what opened the Christmas season for all of us—mother/grandmother, sons, daughter, daughters-in-love, son-in-love, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, grandchildren, cousins, nieces and nephews.  We were all somebody to everybody.  It’s what families are all about.  And, Mom held us tight.

Mom would spend the next weeks shopping very specifically, thoughtfully for each family member and wrapping each present to place under the tree.  With 20 grandchildren plus children and their spouses, that meant a lot of presents.  It was all preparation for Christmas day, the family meal that afternoon and exchanging gifts.

Somehow, with her traditions, we all still managed to have our own family traditions.  Ours is a Christmas Eve dinner with whatever extended family members want to join in.  It is a time to capture the reflective aspects of the true meaning of Christmas with carols and the Christmas story. Jim’s family would join us for both Christmas Eve dinner and again for breakfast and exchanging gifts on Christmas morning.

Christmas day would be presents early in the morning before eating, and usually a house full of family and church missionaries for our Christmas breakfast before heading off to Mom’s in the afternoon. 

They were allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve—a new pair of pajamas. That was always in preparation of the Christmas morning photo “line-up.” Many are the photos of stair-stepping our kids in the hallway before heading to the tree. I’m still humored by the countenances on their faces as they age from youth to teen. They go from sleepy to youthful eagerness and anticipation to “Can we get this over already?!” I’ve noticed some of our children have continued the Christmas morning line-up. Expressions in the photos haven’t changed much between the generations.

Every year, no matter their age, there was a stuffed animal waiting under the tree. It’s interesting to see how all the grandchildren today—male and female—love stuffed animals. The grandchildren span ages 3 to almost 20. Maybe it gets passed down in the genes. But, I think it’s what comes with “traditions”—making memories.

Family members have long since moved away, and Christmas traditions have changed along with the dwindling numbers and the distance it takes to return “home.”  Our five children and their children scattered across four states creates a lot of barriers in getting together.  But, “home” is always in the heart.

There’s a little melancholy and some things are bitter sweet without the hustle and bustle of the activity of years past.  But, gratefully, the memories are more on the sweet side.

Now that you have the background, here’s the rest of the story—the small bottle of Coca-Cola you see in this picture. 

Mom passed away on August 14, 2009. 

I arrived home from Dallas this afternoon, and my dear husband had that bouquet of flowers you see in the picture waiting to greet me.  He was so happy to present it to me with a kiss—and then a few more.

The day before, he phoned me while I was in Dallas to let me know that a FedEx package had arrived.  It was adding to the growing pile of packages I had ordered for family members who will be at our house this year.  But, I didn’t know what this package was.

Once I saw it, the name and address of the sender on the outside of the FedEx box was unknown to me. I was puzzled and thought it might be an item that had been shipped from an outside vendor for one of my Christmas orders. 

The shipping address was in my name, Mendi Brunson (correct spelling), Progress Times, at our office physical address.  Although I have packages sent to our office, I do not use the business name for shipping.

When I opened the FedEx box, inside was a sweetly wrapped Christmas gift with a tag that said, “To: Mendi,” and “From: Coca-Cola.”  I opened it carefully in bewilderment.  Protected in Styrofoam peanuts was this small bottle of Coca-Cola wrapped in red tissue paper and a card with text written in Spanish.

I called daughter-in-love, Jennifer, married to our son Heath.  She speaks Spanish, so I had her translate as I read it over the phone.  It was essentially an invitation from Coca-Cola to invite the recipient to do good works and share the spirit of the season. It included a punch list of ideas that were mostly about small acts of service or spending time with a loved one:  wash your father’s car, watch your mom’s favorite novela with her, let your spouse pick the music on the car radio, etc.  It was also an invitation to share your moments and blessings gifted to others via a hash tag.  I prefer for my acts of service to remain anonymous.

You may think the receipt of this a coincidence.  I do not.  It is far too specific, for one small Coke—which my mother loved—to be sent to me out of millions of people, and thousands of journalists, across this very vast land.  No one else in our office received one. It is far too specific that it be sent at Christmas time, which has an indelible impression on my heart, mind and soul.  That little bottle says, “Holiday 2014.” 

In my 60-plus years of life, Heavenly Father has definitively taught me time and time again that he’s in the smallest details of my life—all our lives—even when we think he’s not there.  If we allow, these things are always manifested in the perfect timetable of his wisdom when we are ready to receive and understand.  He’s also taught me family members who have gone before are very, very close by and are more intrinsic participants in our daily living than we understand in this very finite existence we call “life.”

Mom asked. Heavenly Father said, “Yes.”  It was my mother saying, “Merry Christmas,” in a way that only her family members could perceive and understand.  After all, why shouldn’t she say it? It’s the time we commemorate his Son’s birth.

That bottle and its contents are not going anywhere anytime soon. Mom and Heavenly Father know that I don’t drink sodas.   It will probably outlive me.  But, it’s going to have a place of remembrance next to the Coca-Cola building in Mom’s Christmas village—which I now have.  It will be a sweet reminder that the bond of family is, indeed, eternal—because God is in his heavens and, gratefully, in the details—even the smallest ones that we sometimes miss.

Merry Christmas! Jesus Christ is the reason for the season, and Jim and I will ever be grateful for the most perfect gift ever given—our Savior who gives meaning to it all.

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