Danny Heitman’s ‘At Random’: Recalling Louisiana holiday that came in a box | Danny Heitman

Earlier this month, in putting away our Christmas things, I returned to my shelf the holiday stories that cheer me no matter how often I reread them.

They include “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas,” “A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote and “Memories of a Large Christmas,” Lillian Smith’s tender, funny memoir of holidays in the rural South.

One of my other favorite Christmas stories rarely ends up on holiday reading lists, though it had special meaning for me last month. It’s “What Do Our Hearts Treasure?,” E.B. White’s 1966 essay about how a Yuletide spent far from home was brightened by the arrival of a surprise parcel.

White is best known for his children’s book, “Charlotte’s Web,” inspired by the farm he tended in coastal Maine. But as White and his wife aged, New England winters grew harder to bear, which is how the couple ended up passing Christmas in 1965 in a rented house in Florida. Though the weather was mild, they longed for their extended family in Maine.

But the holiday was saved when a package arrived bearing school photographs and homemade ornaments from grandchildren, along with a harness of sleigh bells and a branch of fir from their farm. “We were in business at last,” White writes of that memorable delivery.

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White’s story wasn’t far from mind last month as events brought our household a similar separation. Because of the pandemic, we all agreed that our grown daughter shouldn’t fly home from California. Her boyfriend, also a Louisiana expat, would be with her for Christmas, so she wasn’t alone. But this would be her first holiday away from us, and it felt strange. There were nights by the tree when my eyes misted at the thought of it.

We prepared two Christmas care packages for the journey west. Into the boxes went Louisiana mayhaw jelly, honey from Acadiana, local hot sauce, jars of roux and quarts of pasta sauce from a neighborhood restaurant where we always start the holidays. There was a purple and gold Christmas ornament from our daughter’s alma mater and a fleur-de-lis decoration honoring a certain NFL team close to her heart. Those goodies, and a dozen other items, made the boxes so heavy that I needed my red wagon to haul them into the mail center.

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The staff packaged everything as carefully as a Ming vase. “Please don’t lose this stuff,” I begged the nice clerk as a lump rose in my throat. “Our daughter’s Christmas is in there.”

Our packages reached her, and our daughter sent a package to us. We met virtually on Christmas Eve and opened presents online. It wasn’t the same as having her home, but it was magical.

This month, other delivery trucks are bringing their own miracles. More vaccine is on the way. In the meantime, I’m seeing how much it will cost to ship king cakes to California.

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