**Previously published by Perspectives Magazine**

by: Rebecca Taylor

           It is cold outside and snowflakes are dancing around the window making patterns on the glass. Inside, I am warm. The electric fireplace is on and the Christmas tree is aglow with its colourful lights and decorations. My friend just placed me beneath the tree’s beautiful branches. I am wrapped in gold paper that shimmers and am ready to be opened tomorrow if my recipient makes it home as he plans. I am a photo album filled with special memories collected by my friend fourteen year old Janey Merritt. As Janey worked on me, I could feel the emotions surge through her fingertips. The love she has for my recipient, her father, Lieutenant Peter Merritt fills me. The pictures and captions she has created swell within me. I am filled from cover to cover. The anticipation is everywhere in this house, I can feel it sitting down here with the other gifts. We sit together all waiting for our turns to be unveiled come morning. Each package is different, but we all have a common goal, to have our recipient enjoy us and be happy with the choice our giver made. 

            “Is it morning yet?” asked a small present wrapped in paper with a reindeer design on it.

            “Not yet,” I reply, “if we are quiet, Santa Claus will soon be coming and then in a while, the family will get up. I hope Lieutenant Peter makes it home in this snow.”

            “I’m scared,” said a present that was sitting inside a gift bag. What if Mrs. Merritt doesn’t like me?”

            “Why wouldn’t she like you?” I asked.

            “I don’t know. I’m a sweater and Timmy wasn’t sure if his mother would like me because I’m pink and he liked me better than the yellow one but….”

            “It’s the thought that counts,” I answer, “I’m sure she’ll like you. Everything I’ve seen of her tells me she’s a great person. I’m filled with photos of her and the rest of the Merritt family.”

            Just then the light outside the house came on and the gifts heard the thump that comes with the closing of a car door. This was followed by the rattling of the doorknob in the kitchen and the blowing snow that whooshed into the room. Lieutenant Merritt closed the door and walked into the living room in his military uniform to look at the splendour of the tree, which cloaked us.

 “It’s good to be home,” he said speaking to the room, which was empty except for us, the tree and the furniture.  The lieutenant placed some packages beneath the tree and then he quietly walked up the stairs. Later on in the night, Santa Claus came and gave us some more friends to get acquainted with.

The business of Christmas Day settled upon the Merritt family as it began to get light outside. When the children, Timmy and Janey greeted their father, their lasting hugs brought tears to my eyes and I had to rush to dry them because nobody likes a soggy present and I knew that Janey wouldn’t appreciate having the special gift she had worked so hard on be ruined by my waterworks. I was excited at the same time because I knew that I was the perfect thing for a man like Lieutenant Merritt. He has all the material possessions he desires and a family that adores him. Me, I am a souvenir of his life and what makes him special to his family and especially his teenage daughter.

When breakfast was finished, both Mrs. and Lieutenant Merritt’s parents joined the Merritts and the family settled into the living room onto the chairs around the tree to open the gifts below. When it came time for my grand opening, Janey handed me to her father and then stood by his side to watch him open it. He tore back my paper and was met with my face, which held a family photo taken the previous spring. He opened me up to find the message that Janey had written to her father. It said, Daddy, to the world you are a hero because you’re a soldier who has to go and fight to protect everyone’s freedom. You will always be my hero because you’re my Daddy. I want you to have this album for when you can’t be with us, so you can remember all the good times we have and come back home to us. Love you always, Janey. Lieutenant Merritt set me on the table beside him and stood to embrace his daughter once again.

“Thank you, Janey,” he whispered tears spilling from the corners of his deep blue eyes. “You, your mom and your brother, are my heroes because you’re the ones who are here having to deal with me being gone so much. I will always treasure this album, whether I’m overseas or home, it is precious. I love you so much.”

“I love you too, Daddy,” answered Janey.

I had to struggle once again not to let the emotions of this wonderful day get to me. Later that evening, Lieutenant Merritt sat by himself in the living room, I sat on his knee and he looked over my pages, admiring the photos some of which he had never seen before. I have missed so much, he thought, but that is a sacrifice that I agreed to undertake. My daughter couldn’t have given me a better present. Having my children be born was the best gift I have ever received. They are so precious to me. I pray that I will always make it home to them and my wife, so that they will not have to face what life is like when you lose someone you love. I’m going to make the best of my three months leave and let them know how much they mean to me. I’m going to make memories that could fill another album. Feeling Lieutenant Merritt’s love as he looked through me was an amazing feeling. I have discovered that Christmas is a very special time of year, one where people try to choose something to give those they love that has enough meaning to show how they feel. Miracles really do happen at Christmas. The snow could have kept the Merritt family apart but they ended up together for this special holiday. I feel blessed to have been able to spend it with them. I’m looking forward to my life with the Merritt family.  I know that I will be treasured forever and that is an wonderful feeling.