Secret of the Christmas Box

Why did Mom keep the red-and-green paper chain with the star?

It is the new year, and our family has spent another glorious holiday together. A fresh cover of snow lightly blankets the tracks of yesterday, where my children have made snow angels and rolled down Grandpa’s back-yard hill, spreading winter’s magical frosting from head to toe.
Once breakfast is finished, Mom begins putting away the Christmas tree, an annual task she prefers to do alone. She removes the ornaments one by one, gazing momentarily at the handmade decorations crafted by the children in early years. Then, humming her favorite carols, she wraps each in tissue paper and gently places them in an old cardboard box.
Like a child eating cake smothered in her favorite icing, Mother saves the top of the yuletide tree for last. Secured atop the tallest branch, reaching heavenward, is a simple, precious star, reminding all that Christmas in our home is illuminated with the light of Christ, represented by the new star. This will be the last ornament packed, then placed at the top of the box, where next year it will be the first light of the Christmas season to fill the home.
But there is one more item: a small red-and-green chain with links cut from construction paper, then pasted together at the ends. It is long enough to circle the top of the tree. Its crinkled, faded links display years of wear, along with tape, staples and paste.
Mom still does not know that many years ago I was watching from the other room as she delicately removed the chain from the tree, one link at a time. After pausing for a moment, she lowered the handmade ornament into a small white box, secured the lid with tape, and reverently said, “I can’t wait to see you again.”
She placed the white box in the larger box, with room enough only for the star that soon would be nestled next to it. The larger carton was then sealed and slid to the side of the tree to be carried to the basement. At this moment I entered the room and offered to bring things downstairs.
“Certainly,” my mother replied. “This box is ready, but be very careful not to drop it.” I could see that my mom’s eyes had tried to hold back tears, and a simple smile still lit her face.
I carried the carton down to the storage room, where I quickly went to work. Curious about the event I had witnessed, I removed the tape from the top of the carton, and before I could be discovered, lifted the small white box up to the light.
There it was: the answer to my curiosity, the reason for the care, the reserved spot next to the star and, more than anything else, the purpose for Christmas. Written on the side of the box in crayon, with five-year-old hands, in letters that did not match and leaned to one side, was the name “EriCK.”
My younger brother, Erick, never lived to see his sixth Christmas or his ornament on the tree, but Mom has saved a spot for it each year, next to the star. She keeps it in repair, much like our entire family. And with weary hands and only a mother’s love, keeps the chain together.
Now, as an adult and a father, I finally understand what together really means.