‘Lost’ a perfect gift


“The Lost Christmas Gift” by Andrew Beckham, c. 2012, Princeton Architectural Press, $29.95, 40 pages.

Published: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 1:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 1:38 p.m.

This Christmas, you will find lots of surprises beneath your tree.

Some of them, of course, will arrive from Santa. Others will come in the mail from Grandma or a favorite aunt who lives far away. Then there are the beribboned packages that somehow manage to sneak under the tree, courtesy of someone special.

Emerson Johansson never expected a gift, especially not something sent decades ago. But in the new book, "The Lost Christmas Gift" by Andrew Beckham, he received a box full of memories.

Two days before Christmas, a box arrived at Emerson's house. It was wrapped in paper that was old and fragile, and he was surprised to see his father's handwriting on the outside.

His dad had been dead for years.

During World War II, Emerson's father worked as a cartographer in France and, judging by the postmarks, Emerson knew that that was where the box had come from, some 70-odd years ago. He wondered where it had been all this time. With excitement, he wondered what was inside it.

When he opened the box, he found a book. Memories came flooding back.

It had been a special father-son outing, the kind that boys eagerly anticipate each year. They had set out to find the perfect Christmas tree; Emerson had taken his new camera to mark the occasion and a flask of hot coffee to keep them warm.

It was a good thing, too, because the clouds rolled in about noon that day and it snowed very hard. Soon, Emerson and his father were lost and they knew they'd have to spend a cold night in a hastily dug snow shelter.

But before they could huddle down for the night, Emerson saw something in the woods: it was a small man who carried twigs, and Emerson took a picture. Then they saw another man through the trees, who left some coal. The gifts were just enough to get them through the cold night.

As he looked through the book his father had made for him all those years ago, Emerson was amazed. His pictures — the ones he thought were missing — were in the book, along with drawings his father had made.

Drawings made with love. Pictures with Christmas magic behind them.

OK, I have to admit that author Andrew Beckham had me there for a minute.

In his brief introduction to "The Lost Christmas Gift," he says that he's known Emerson Johansson for years, which starts this delightful story off on just the right note. From there, we're treated to a book-within-a-book and side-by-side, across-the-years comments about a special day shared and the incredible things that happened. I'm not going to give you one more hint here, except to say that if you're not a believer in holiday enchantment now, you will be when you're done reading this tale.

Terri Schlichenmeyer never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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