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When the meaning of Christmas hit close to home

It's been more than 10 years. And the memory still makes me smile. Still strikes a warm chord in my Bah Humbug heart.

But I guess that's what the holidays are all about.

It happened on assignment. Or, rather, it happened because of an assignment.

I was interviewing a few Rogue River High School teens who, as part of their community leadership class, had decided to give out Christmas trees to widows and others who might not be feeling cheery that year. The group of girls wished to provide a little Ho-Ho-Ho assist, if you will.

The girls' earnest desires to lighten up a darkened spirit was something to behold. Flushed faces, excited voices. They had found their Santa mission, and they would not be deterred.

They were individually and collectively so darned adorable that I, an avowed Grinch, might have gotten a bit verklempty.

They noticed. "What? What's wrong?" one girl asked, head cocked to the side like a confused puppy.

"Nothing," I replied, with an embarrassed chuckle. "You guys are just too sweet. All of you. You have no idea how much this will mean to the folks you're going to surprise with your kindnesses."

Their story ran that week in a local paper. But that's not the end of the story.

The girls had learned I, too, qualified as a recipient of their elfish gifting. I know this because one of them called to ask whether I was going to be home at my riverside cottage Saturday afternoon. She was acting so textbook nonchalant that she might as well have been whistling as she waited for my response.

I immediately knew something was up. And I called her teacher. I was told the girls had discovered I'd been recently widowed as well. They were shocked to learn someone so relatively young had lost a spouse. In their naivete, they'd assumed we all came with white hair and a cane, she said.

I'd been added to the girls' evergreen list, she said.

I should have nixed the deal. But I simply didn't have the heart to call them off. And their teacher told me it'd be a futile effort, anyway. So I baked some cupcakes instead. It's what I do when life gets confusing. Everything seems better when the smell of vanilla is wafting through the air.

They arrived wearing Santa hats and carrying a huge tree. Giggling and chattering, the girls proceeded to set the tree up in my kitchen, decorating it with pink and purple ornaments. I wasn't allowed to help, so I made tea.

Afterwards we ate our cupcakes, drank our cuppas, and discussed the joy of giving — and receiving. After the holidays, I took the tree down and donated the ornaments, lights and stand to our local community center. But I saved one purple Christmas ball. A tangible reminder of a very special afternoon spent with the next generation of pay-it-forward givers.

No doubt some of these former teens have little kids of their own by now. I truly hope, as they gather around their trees this holiday season, that they tell their sons and daughters this story. For I will never forget that special Christmas tree. Or the gift of caring, given so joyfully, from their generous young hearts.

Merry Christmas.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.