Somewhere along the Christmas season, Johanna Spyri’s Heidi emerges from memory. Not my blue two-wheeler Dad taught me to ride on Detroit’s Joann Street before he bought his first movie camera – meaning there’s no evidence of my prowess in mastering independence from training wheels.
And not my first pair of roller skates, or the matching baby dolls Santa left under the Christmas tree for my two sisters and me.
Although I adored these presents with reckless affection, the story of the orphan Heidi and her devoted grandfather holds the strongest significance of a well-given gift.
For Heidi came to me on a mountainside of my natal home in Kentucky which my family had left several years prior for Dad to barber in Detroit.
Possibly the Yuletide of my tenth year, my sisters, cousins and I played outdoors in pedal-pushers and shirtsleeves. Dad filmed us mothering our new dolls, the main attraction my cousin Candy’s Patti Playpal – the heart’s desire of every girl in 1959.
Sometime in daylight of that ideal holiday reunion with my McCoy kinfolk – and what would be the last time I would stand in the presence of my pretty cousin Candy – she offered me a package wrapped in red paper.
I remember her smile, the embarrassing contrast of her long, dark ponytail and frilly dress to my tangled bob and dirty play clothes. With regret, I consider again my disappointment when I opened a box to find a thick book titled Heidi.
I’d enjoyed Heidi’s happy ending in the movie starring Shirley Temple, but I wasn’t a good reader. I can only hope I mustered enough manners to return a “thank you” to my thoughtful and long-forgotten cousin for her long-lost gift.
Typical post WWII parents, neither my mother nor father read literature or took my sisters and me to a local library. They entrusted our reading skills and literary education to our public schools.
Although I read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, many Shel Silverstein’s books, and every Christmas Eve ’Twas the Night Before Christmas to my daughters, I failed to read them Heidi.
Several years ago approaching another Christmas, I at last purchased a 1925 edition of Johanna Spyri’s best seller. One of those lonely Christmases without my children, Heidi, Grandfather, Peter and his goats, Clara, and the wind in the firs kept me in good company.
Those jagged peaks that loomed up austere and even terrible in their harsh barrenness became ever more familiar to her as she gazed at them, until they were no longer terrible, but friendly, and it seemed to her that she had known and loved them all her life. (Chapter One, page 42)
Heidi takes me back to the mountainside and grandmother I have known and loved all my life. I hope and pray my cousin Candy knows the same affection.
Dear Reader, inscribed inside my vintage copy of Heidi I find, “Merry Xmas, Uncle Pete and Aunt Tray.”
Christmas. Time to give the gift of the wind in the firs.
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