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Creative Thinking: A very special holiday memory

I didn’t even know what it was when I first saw the bag. I was digging through our storage house looking for Christmas decorations when I came upon it. I grabbed the crumpled and aged bag, curious about what was in it.

Like opening a Christmas present, I peeked down inside the bag.

The first thing I saw was a series of white branches that had, upon closer examination, almost poked through the plastic bag. “What is this?” I asked myself as I freed the arrangement.

Still puzzled, I saw something that shook my memory like someone trying to wake another person from a deep sleep. There, perched amidst the branches, was a very tiny plastic elf. As if it were yesterday, I flew back in time to when I was a little boy.

I had asthma as a child and spent many nights in the hospital receiving breathing treatments. More times than not, I ended up with pneumonia after one of the severe attacks. During the mid 1960s, it was not uncommon to spend the better part of a week in the hospital. These days I’m certain I would have been sent right back home after my treatment with a prescription for antibiotics.

One of my asthma attacks happened very close to my birthday, which is the week before Christmas. I remember that it was up for debate whether I would be forced to stay in the hospital during the holidays.

Just like any child, I didn’t want to spend my birthday or Christmas anywhere near a hospital, so I begged my mother, the doctor and any nurse who would listen to allow me to go home.

“Please, please, please!” I cried. “Let me go home!” Finally, a day or two before my birthday, I was released.

Happy, but still not feeling up to par, I rode in the front seat of the car beside my mother as she drove. Mother needed to stop by the Piggly Wiggly to pick up a few groceries so I tagged along.

I moped behind her down the aisles as she gathered the items she needed.

“Mark, you don’t feel good, do you?” Mother asked.

“No Mama, I don’t,” I answered.

“What would make you feel better?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe some sort of Christmas surprise, with candy,” I said, followed by one on my famous little smirks. She continued to shop.

When we approached the checkout counter, Mother said for me not to worry because she was going to call and order me something. Since we didn’t have much money, I asked her not to but she assured me it would only cost a dime.

Mother told me to stand still while she left to make a phone call. She returned, gathered her bags and we went home.

Not long after arriving home, I heard a knock at the front door. I ran to answer it and there stood a man holding a colorful Christmas arrangement in a bed of faux white snow and glitter. White branches provided the structure of the winter scene and a piece of candy was tied with ribbon to each limb. Nestled within the frozen and glittering forest was a tiny elf with a smile larger than life.

“Are you Mark?” the man asked me. “Yes sir, I am!” I said, already starting to reach for the candy-filled arrangement. I had a smile plastered across my face much bigger than the elf’s as I ran to find my mother and give her a big hug.

As I now stared at the little elf that had certainly seen better days, I once again smiled and tears welled up in my eyes. Until finding it, I had forgotten all about it -- although even after all the times we had moved from house to house, I could never bring myself to part with it.

At this very special time of year, memories flood our minds like rising waters in a creek. Never do I miss my mom more than at the holidays.

I carefully gathered up the remains of my gift from Mother, said goodbye to the little smiling elf and closed up the bag with the same tie Mother had used. This would not be the year I parted with it either. It’s still precious to me!

More with Mark

Join Mark at the InTown Macon Tour of Homes. The tour is from 1-7 p.m. Sunday and Mark will be at the Morton House from 3-6 p.m. with his new cookbook and other merchandise. Tickets are $20 and are available at 535 College St. or at

Check out Mark’s website,, for current projects, recipes and lots of other fun stuff, including Mark’s 2012 holiday T-shirts, prints, cards and collectible porcelain plates.

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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; fax them to (478) 474-4930; call (478) 757-6877; e-mail to; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.