Christmas, Memories: Coal In My Stocking
by Jane Curtis aka texasjane
There are a couple of "coal in the stocking stories" my grandmother used to tell me.
One: A proud but poor man had 3 daughters that had reached the age to marry. The problem was, he had no dowry to give them. Through Christmas magic; Saint Clause secretly gave the family enough money to allow their daughters to start their lives out with their new husbands.
He did this by placing the money in some stockings that were drying by the fireplace. When word spread about this miracle, the custom of hanging stockings by the fire hoping Santa would visit them. He did visit those houses, but for those who Saint Nicholas knew to be bad, he left them with a lump of coal instead of gold.
Two: Some people say that the lumps of coal story started in Holland. As the story goes that on Christmas Eve children would put their clogs by the fireplace before stockings were used. When a child was bad they got a lump of coal, but if they were good they got a small toy, cookies or candy.
My new Daddy had a new story to add to the whole idea. It all started on a lazy Sunday when Daddy was cooking outside on the grill. My Daddy always used wood chips and coal. I picked up a piece of coal that had fallen on the ground. I started to draw on the concrete floor of the patio. I was not prepared for the answer my father would give me to the question, "Daddy, coal .. why do you use it for cooking?" I was curious why something that was so much fun to draw with could be used to start a fire.
Daddy told me that a lot of people burned coal to warm their homes because it burned so easily. He then lowered the lid on the grill and turned and picked me up. He gave me a very warm hug and whispered "I will tell you a secret about coal." I was excited, I immediately wondered if Grandmother new the secret?
I loved sitting in Daddy's lap. Daddy was deaf and wore a hearing aid. It was a small flat box that he kept clipped inside his undershirt. A small wire ran from the box to his ear. He talked on the phone different from everyone else in that he turned the receiver upside down and put the listening end next to his hearing aid. I had learned to speak up and to pronounce my words when talking to him. He was a tender man but he could talk loud. All it took was sitting in his lap and rubbing his head a little to bring out his tender side. I would reach up and rub his burr haircut. I loved that feeling. I had seen pictures of him when he was young and once I asked him why he had cut his hair so short. He simply said it was not his idea but an accident caused by a barber he no longer used. I still liked rubbing it. I was all ears as I listened to the secret of coal.
He started out by taking a diamond out of his pocket. My Daddy was a diamond appraiser by trade. He always had at least one or two diamonds in his pocket. I am sure they were industrial grade but diamonds just the same. I just thought they were pretty rocks. He held up the diamond and moved it around just enough for it to catch the light and sparkle. I could actually see the tiny rainbows come and go as he moved it between his fingers. He said, "This used to be a lump of coal." My surprised look told him he had captured my curiosity.
He then went on to tell me how a diamond was formed by pressure, heat, and time. Then I asked, "Where did the coal come from?" He grinned and answered, "Dinosaurs and other creatures that died and got buried for thousands of years." I was fascinated by what he was saying. "You mean when we die we turn into coal and then into diamonds?" He laughed at my simple summary of his story. He then explained I needed to remember that thousands of years would also be needed to make it happen. He also explained that trees and other living things would also eventually turn to coal.. anything with carbon in it would eventually turn to coal. "Do I have carbon in me?" He shook his head, yes and then he gave me another hug and said "But, you are already my diamond. You sparkle all the time." I loved that and hugged him around the neck. I had decided that coal was a good thing. You could draw with it, cook with it, stay warm with it, and it could turn into diamonds. I like drawing with it best.
I always had coal on my list in my letter to Santa. I had learned that diamonds were precious. They were hard enough to cut glass. When I asked my father once if diamonds were more important than anything else. His answer surprised me. Daddy made the statement that a diamond was merely a lump of coal that stuck around and did its job. He said if I remembered that; I would not give up when someone gave me a difficult job to do. Coal had to be able to take the heat and the pressure of completing its job to become a diamond
Later I told Grandmother what Daddy had said. She added her own part of the lesson. Grandmother said quitters would always be just a lump of coal. Like coal, the dreams of quitters would always turn to dust. Coal has to endure the time and heat necessary to become a diamond or to fulfill it's destiny. I never wanted to be a quitter. I found that the lesson had served me well throughout my life. When I had something to overcome, I did not give up or quit until the task was complete. There was a time, when I first retired when I had forgotten this lesson. I actually became a quitter. It almost cost me my life.
The tradition of putting coal in my stocking was one I loved. I would always use it sparingly to draw with so that it would not run out until Christmas the following year. Every Christmas I got a lump of coal in my stocking and felt totally blessed because that proved Santa had gotten my letter. At our house if I was naughty I would not get coal in my stocking. Once when I watched a Christmas movie and the bad kids got goal I asked grandmother if I needed to be bad to get coal. She said it was just for that story.. it had nothing to do with reality. Imagine, she went on to say about all those poor kids who need coal to warm their houses. They got coal in their stockings too. It was a gift to some and shame to others. She said if I was naughty I would not get coal.
Stick around, do your job, shine. Let the diamond in you come out. One thing to remember is that we ALL are diamonds in the making. Don't get snobbish about it, remember, a diamond is merely a lump of coal that stuck around and did its job. It is your job to be the best "You" you can be. Do not give up on dreams. Start new ones. A lump of coal or a diamond is the value you place in yourself and what others see. That is your job. Stick around... get it done.