The Best Christmas Gift Ever

This week the topic is Memories of Christmas. I’ve lived through a lot of Christmases, and there are endless memories that I could share with you. But one particular memory has been on my mind lately, so I’m going to describe it to you and then try to explain why it meant so much to me.

clinic_for_infant_feeding_1 - Version 2Here is a picture that happens to include my dad’s family. I don’t have a print of this particular photo – it’s owned by the Grand Rapids Public Museum. My father is the little boy holding his mother’s hand, and his older brother Jim is standing next to him. This picture was taken during the Great Depression, when they – like millions of other Americans – needed help to survive. They had no family to help them, because Grandma and Grandpa immigrated from Japan. This was long before the days of Skype and FaceTime, and international calls were costly. I imagine their Christmases were rather quiet and perhaps a little lonely.

dad&unclejim When World War II broke out, both Dad and his brother enlisted. They both served in Korea as well. In this picture, Uncle Jim is standing, and my dad is seated. After the Korean War, both brothers married Japanese women. While Uncle Jim and his wife lived in Okinawa, my dad and mom set up their home in Grand Rapids, and Grandma lived with us for most of my growing up years. Uncle Jim would visit once in a while, and one summer he brought Aunt Kay and their daughters, Diana and Cynthia. These were our only English-speaking cousins, and my brothers and I were delighted to meet them. You see, we also had quiet family holidays. While our friends went to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, we kept to ourselves, other than a very short overseas phone call at New Year’s.

Fortunately, Uncle Jim was awesome at keeping in touch. Long letters arrived at our house on a regular basis, filled with photos and descriptions of the places they lived. Once he even sent us a little reel-to-reel tape player and we sent tapes back and forth. We knew we had cousins, and thanks to Uncle Jim’s regular correspondence we knew what they looked like. Best of all, we found out there were other people out there who looked like us – at the time there were very few Asians living in West Michigan. We were different, and I remember wishing I could be more like my friends who had blonde hair, blue eyes and dozens of cousins to play with.

IMG_0655 I remember that every Christmas a huge package would arrive. Inside were several small, individually wrapped gifts. In retrospect, I realize these items were things we could have found at our local department store, but we were delighted because they were sent especially for us from a place far, far away. The gifts may not have been expensive, but to us they were priceless, because they reminded us that we had extended family – just like everyone else.

The knowledge that we had family who cared about us was the best Christmas gift he could have sent, and for that I’ll always be grateful. Rest in peace, Uncle Jim. You taught us the importance of reaching out to family, no matter how far away they are.

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About Patricia Kiyono

During her first career, Patricia Kiyono taught elementary music, computer classes, elementary classrooms, and junior high social studies. She now teaches music education at the university level. She lives in southwest Michigan with her husband, not far from her five children, nine grandchildren (so far), and great-granddaughters. Current interests, aside from writing, include sewing, crocheting, scrapbooking, and music. A love of travel and an interest in faraway people inspires her to create stories about different cultures. Check out her sweet historical contemporary romances at her Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Patricia-Kiyono/e/B0067PSM5C/
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23 Responses to The Best Christmas Gift Ever

  1. What lovely memories, Patricia, especially with them coming from what could have been pain, ypu remember the good in it.\
    I will say it again: Your father was one handsome man! And his brother was also quite nice-looking.You come by your looks naturally.I(I think you look very much like your mother, though! Great-looking people!)
    When my grandparents left Italy,I heard there were some letters that came in from my great-grandmother to her daughter, my grandmother, but never any other contact.When I moved from Denver to here, my mother didn’t know that she would be joining us soon.She had moved into town a month before my oldest son was born and she and my kids were always close. She said to me: “This is hard, but I think about my own grandmother who had to let my mother go all the way to American [from Italy] and never see her again, never see her grandsons again, and there would be grandchildren she’d never see.We can call, we will see each other.”. How hard ot must have been for previous generations.

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    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      I agree, Tonette, Dad and Uncle Jim were handsome! Despite the hassles technology brings us, I’ll forever be thankful for the way it has made communication easier. Mom and her sisters can now talk to each other via Skype – what a comfort that would have been to her fifty years ago! I know my great-grandmother must have felt the same as yours.

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  2. jeff7salter says:

    beautifully told story of a very poignant memory. Thank goodness for the extra effort of your Uncle Jim at continuing to reach out to your family unit.
    I can only imagine the feelings of isolation and “sticking out”.
    It was bad enough for me to spend my sophomore year in Iowa — away from family, friends, an fellow southerners — in YANKEE land, where we knew nobody.
    Thankfully, most people were civil and many were kind.

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    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      I guess I never thought about The South as a separate land! But I guess I can see why that would be a cultural adventure for you. Good to know you met kind people up here (although Iowa is still south for us!).

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  3. Terri says:

    Beautiful story. Loved your writing. I can’t help but feel how fitting this is for the times today, when so many feel “different”. Although yours were physical traits and family traditions, I think many today feel emotionally separated from family and friends. We always seem to focus on our differences instead of our similarities.

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    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      Thanks so much for visiting, and for your sweet comments! Yes, life is difficult for a child who doesn’t fit in, especially at the holidays. Sometimes I think those differences are perceived, but their effect on children can be brutal if the support system isn’t there.

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  4. Marj says:

    What a beautiful story. Family memories are the best. It was so wonderful that your uncle made such an effort to keep in contact with you all. When I was young, we had my mom’s mom and my dad’s dad who lived with us and sometimes with my aunts and uncles.We also had a lot of extended family — people we called aunt and uncle who weren’t even related! In this day and age, even with skype, email, and facebook, it’s sometimes difficult to carve out the time to stay in touch. I’m so glad we have gotten back in touch after so many years.

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    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      I agree, Marj. Sometimes it takes a real effort to stay in touch, even with all the modern conveniences. I’m so thankful Uncle Jim took the time. A hello on Facebook or an email is nice, but it doesn’t compare to a phone call or a visit. Thanks so much for stopping in!

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  5. What wonderful memories and so well told. it seems that though your family was far away you were still close. That is hard to do even with today’s tech. I enjoyed reading your post today.

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    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      Thanks so much, Angela! I’m thankful for the family connections. Thanks to Uncle Jim’s efforts and my mom’s letters to her sisters, I now have two cousins I communicate with, even though they live far away. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

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  6. Diana Seino says:

    Patty – your piece brought tears to my eyes. I remember how great my Dad was at keeping in touch and how much he loved (and was great at!) gift wrapping. It was always a production to wrap and package gifts for our Michigan family for the holidays. Since we were raised in the military, I didn’t know any other life…my extended family were all the other military families. Plus my Dad was so great at making everything “fun”! Thank you for writing this heartfelt memory gem. Since Dad died on Christmas day, it is even more meaningful and I know that he (and Uncle Bob) are smiling down at us. Love, Diana

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    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      I was hoping you’d approve of this post, Diana. Thanks so much for reading it. I’d forgotten that Uncle Jim died on Christmas Day. Your dad was so special to us all. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss Dad, and I know you feel the same about your dad too. They were truly members of The Greatest Generation.

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  7. Joni pabon says:

    Patty I am in awe daily when I read what you write, when I see your pictures from the past , the pictures of us when we were kids, pictures of your parents , girls playing, bluebirds , Campfire Girls ,what an amazing life we were lucky to have. I am so inspired by you and always look for a new book to come out . God bless you , your family and your extended family , and anyone out there who always felt different. Hugs and kisses and much respect.

    Joni Naimo Pabon

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    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      Joni, I agree, we did have an amazing childhood. Your mom was one of the wonderful people who helped us out by welcoming mom and introducing her to so many other women through the PTA and their bowling team. And I enjoyed being part of June Naimo’s Blue Bird group! Thanks so much for commenting.

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  8. S.G. Rogers says:

    Wonderful story, Patty. Thanks so much for sharing it!

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  9. What a wonderful way to share your memories! Merry Christmas to you!

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  10. Sherry Gloag says:

    I loved reading this Patty, thanks for sharing. Happy Christmas to you and yours.

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