Presents, presence and the present

January 04, 2001

Presents, presence and the present

Christmas seems to be a time of joy and cheer, as well as a time of reflections, regrets and thoughts about how life has changed, in good ways and bad.

And so it was this year with the Butki family.

This was the first time since 1987 that my brother, sister and I had Christmas dinner at our mom's house in Riverside, Calif.

Getting together is tricky with me on the East Coast, a California brother who often lifeguards in Australia during its summer - our winter - and a sister in Argentina.

This also was our first Christmas together since my father died almost two years ago.

Some things didn't change.

My brother still arrived home with a pile of clothes to donate to me, some of which I took.

We still made liberal use of the washing machine.

We still had Christmas stockings, even though I'm the youngest at 32.


We still took our Christmas weekend trek to see a movie.

But the changes seemed more important.

Mom drove her brand-new car, the first she has chosen and purchased on her own.

We went to a new church since Mom no longer likes the one we attended for more than 25 years.

Mom showed us photos of her recent European vacation; in the past it was us showing Mom photos of where we went.

There were quirky changes, too.

Our dinner table is rectangular, but, growing up, there were always five people sitting at it. That meant two kids had to sit on one side and, being kids, we hated the idea of sharing. So a system was developed: On odd days, my brother sat alone on one side. On even days, my sister sat alone.

And me? Well, if the date ended in a 3 - the third, 13th and 23rd - I sat alone.

I didn't catch on until later that this was unfair. Did I mention I'm the youngest in the family?

This year there were only four of us, so we each got a side. I sat in Dad's place, which is symbolic of something, perhaps all the time I spent thinking about him, trying to understand the serious, Republican engineer and why he was stubborn at times.

There were presents, of course - new shirts, ties and compact discs - and there were words of kindness and some that seemed harsh.

But the most important words - and the best presents - were family members expressing love for each other and the hugs that followed.

That was the greatest part of the visit. And that is where the real joy comes from.

Scott Butki covers Washington County government for The Herald-Mail. Send e-mail to him at

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