When my sons were young, my mother used to send them money for Christmas.
Other grandchildren get a Christmas card and an envelope with some money stuck into it.
My boys got what we called "yarn balls."
Mom would take the gift money, get a variety of denominations of cash, including dollar coins, state quarters, and $2 bills, and she would roll it up in a big ball of yarn. Dave and I sometimes got our own yarn balls.
Unrolling the yarn balls became one of my favorite times of Christmas. We opened the gifts from distant family members after dinner, after a day of enjoying the gifts from each other and friends.
As the boys unrolled the yarn balls to retrieve the gift money, they would roll the yarn back up into a new ball. It was fun to watch them struggle with the process. They frequently dropped them and would have to retrieve them from a cat eager to play. It was interesting to see how tightly and deliberately they worked to wrap this new ball of yarn. And it became a wonderful time for us all to talk.
When the boys were older, my mother told me she was going to send me a check for Christmas and I could distribute the money to everyone in the family.
But I loved the yarn balls. So I took Mom's check, got the cash and made my own yarn balls for the boys and my husband. Thus began the annual adventure of counting the totals at the end, and passing money around, because I invariably gave someone too much and someone too little.
Last year was the first year that both boys weren't home for Christmas. Our youngest stayed at his new home in Denver, though he spent Christmas with his grandmother, aunt and uncle, who all live in the area, and his cousin who came home for the holidays.
At Thanksgiving the youngest had mentioned that I had kept up the yarn ball tradition which surprised my mother. So at Christmas she provided yarn balls again.
After dinner on Christmas Day our oldest son unrolled grandma's yarn ball.
And to my great surprise, he presented my husband and me with yarn balls which he had made. He didn't want the tradition to die either.
Why am I reminiscing about Christmas and yarn balls?
One, it's hot outside. Of course, it's just barely warmer than it was on Christmas Day, but one likes to think that it was cold on Christmas.
Two, I've been cleaning up the sewing-slash-junk room in the house, and came across the remaining yarn which my son gave me, in case I could do anything with it.
Three, I like to think that we learned something from the yarn balls. The children learned patience. They knew there was money in the yarns balls. But they had to have the patience to uncover the treasure.
As a family we learned to value the time to just talk and to learn about what was happening in each other's lives.
Yarn balls are an incredibly silly thing to be thinking about, but clearly they've made an impression on us. It was incredibly touching that my son would want to continue the tradition by passing it "up" a generation.
There was no surprise with the yarn balls. Everyone knew what was inside. But it took an effort to get to it. There was no rush to get to the end. It just took time and patience to get to the final reward.
Patience in our society seems to be lacking at the moment. I sometimes wish I could pass out yarn balls to people to get them to slow down.
- Ann Warner