A CHRISTMAS TOKSA

By John Thomas Tuft

Branch Simms met the lovely Melody while they were in college. Halfway through, Branch’s father passed away and Branch had to leave school and take over his father’s service station. Melody became a teacher and they soon married. In a couple of years their son, Emmanuel, was born. If “life is old there, older than the trees, younger than the mountains” in wet, wild West Virginia, it is also precious and to be cherished. Emmanuel grew up loved and cared for, every morning enjoying the ritual of helping his father get ready for work at the service station. He would watch beside the sink as Branch shaved and combed his hair, then be handed the empty razor to rinse off and put back in the cup beside the sink. Then in the bedroom, they developed a routine where Emmanuel would hand his father the items for his pockets, one by one.

Branch had an old brown leather folding wallet, stuffed with assorted pieces of paper, cards, a key and even a little money. Emmanuel solemnly handed it over each morning and into the back pocket it slid. A freshly ironed and folded white handkerchief was presented and slid into the front left pocket. Emmanuel then carefully counted out $1.51 in change from the change tray and pulled open his father’s pocket and slid it in. Emmanuel carefully picked up his father’s watch and sometimes he even got to slide it over the wrist. Then, last but not least, Emmanuel would open the top drawer and select one of the pocket knives his father kept there, select one and make the presentation. Branch would make a show of checking to see if it was clean and oiled properly, unfolding each blade in turn, showing Emmanuel, then into the pocket. And the work day could begin.

Day after day, month after month, year after year this was their morning ritual. But finally, just as with boys and magic dragons, boys outgrow the unrecognized intimacy of childhood. By the time he reached high school, Emmanuel forgot all about this gesture. Emmanuel excelled in sports and Branch made every effort to be there for the games. But, in the senior year, Branch became ill, and did not seem to be getting any better or stronger. Branch and Melody had worked hard to put money away so Emmanuel could go to college. Branch did not want to rob his son of a future and be relegated to taking care of a service station. Emmanuel struggled with feeling abandoned by his father no longer being able to enjoy his exploits and probably not see him grow into being a man of education and accomplishment.

Just before his passing, Branch urged Melody to find him some wrapping paper and tape, so that he could give Emmanuel Christmas gifts even after he was gone. Then she brought Emmanuel into the room for their farewells. Branch said to his son, “Over the years, I made many friends. One of them was a man of the Lakota people. He told me they have no word for goodbye in their language. Instead, they say ‘toksa akhe.’ One of the things it means is ‘until my heart feels you again.’” Branch pulled his son close and whispered, “Toksa, Emmanuel, toksa akhe.” Soon after Branch died, Emmanuel graduated from high school and went off to college. Four years later he had a degree in chemical engineering and a good job for a world always thirsty for more chemicals.

Emmanuel’s new job kept him busy and far away from home. But one day he met the girl of his dreams, they fell in love, married, and settled into their lives. It so happened that, in the fullness of time, they became pregnant, and Emmanuel took some time off so they could return to his home town where Melody still lived, so the baby could be born there with his grandma in attendance. Melody greeted them with much cheer and laughter and love. They told her with great excitement that it was going to be a boy, and they had picked out the name Joshua. They gathered around the tree, sang carols, told tales and bathed in the love.

Christmas morning, the family gathered around to open gifts. They thought they were finished until Melody disappeared for a while and when she returned she had a small pile of gifts for Emmanuel. She whispered, “These are from your father. He called them his Christmas toksa.” Emmanuel took the long dormant gifts and with great wonder began opening them. First was the old folded brown leather wallet. Next, a clean, white, freshly ironed handkerchief. Then a small change pocket with exactly $1.51 inside of it. Then the old watch, still keeping time. And, finally, a box, nay a treasure chest, of the finest pocket knives any boy could envy. At the cry of recognition and joy that leapt from Emmanuel, the baby kicked and stirred within his mother, for all there in that moment recognized that until my heart feels you again is the only way to depart…

Words are magic and writers are wizards.