Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

A Child is Born

December 11, 2014

A Child is Born

I wonder what Mary thought when she held Jesus in her arms for the first time. Was she afraid of what the world might bring to her boy? Was she ecstatic at the thought of what her boy might bring to the world? She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, laid him in a manger, and ultimately, she gave to the world the best gift she was ever given. Mothers do that.

2014 has been a year to embrace and think about the children in our lives. Last December Bruce suffered a massive heart attack and we came to realize that no matter how old a person is, he is still his mother’s baby, and Gladys almost lost her youngest. A mother never stops worrying.

Thirty-four years ago, my Mama watched her nineteen year old baby get married. Until that moment, it had been the two of us against the world. I left her, and didn’t understand her loss. I was supposed to grow up and go away, start my own life. That, I understood.

This year, my oldest baby left home and got married. I suddenly understood much more of my Mama’s experience. I sat in the attic, staring at Ben’s baby pictures, crying. He stood at the bottom of the steps, looking up at me. “Mama, why are you crying?”

“Because you are leaving your entire childhood behind,” I said, but what I meant was, “You are leaving us, leaving me.”

He hugged me tight, shaking his head and patting my back. Then, he moved to Maryland to be with his own true love, Emily, a beautiful girl who brings light, love, and joy to our Ben. We couldn’t have asked for a better partner for our boy.

When Ben left, I called my Mama. Of course, she understood my loss, and let me cry on her shoulder. “Children are meant to grow up and go away,” she said. “You do the best you can to raise them, then you let them go.”

Now, when my nineteen year old Ryan hugs me, I’ve taken to holding onto him a little tighter and a little longer than I used to. Time moves forward, and children grow up. They grow up fast, and then move on to have children of their own.

In early February 2015, our Emily will become a mother, and bring to the world her greatest gift, her son, Ben’s son, our grandson.

I arranged the nativity set last night as I do every year. With the animals, wise men, and shepherds gathered round, I placed Joseph, then Mary, and finally Jesus in the stable. I took a long time to look at Mary as she looked down at her sweet baby in the manger. I marveled at Mary’s love, a special love, a love that never ends, a mother’s love.

We’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and a Very Happy 2015.

Building

December 13, 2012

If it was up to me I’d cancel Christmas this year.  My dad died in May and it seems easier to just let the holiday pass without a glance.  I’m content to listen to silence rather than carols on the radio in the car on the way to work every morning. The beautiful Christmas cards I bought last January at seventy-five percent off are still in the box in the attic, and Grandma’s cookie recipes lay dormant in their file box.  December 25th is thirteen days away and the only shopping I’ve done is for my boys.  They gave me the list I asked for and I didn’t deviate from it, shopping online.  My children are older now, and they seem to understand my mood.

Christmas is less than two weeks away and my energy is funneled into the 1910 buggy shed attached to the house that originally belonged to my grandparents. We’ve gutted it and I’m building a room.  I’ve traded in my holiday sweaters for overalls and work gloves.  I sweep sawdust, prepare rough pine boards to be planed, hold the level, and read the rule. I’ve learned to show a hammer who’s boss, and I stand back to admire the recycled window that takes up almost an entire wall. I breathe in the scent of pine boards and feel the spirit of my grandpa around me. He was a carpenter.

On Christmas day, I’ll stop working in the backroom long enough  to prepare a Christmas meal of country ham, scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole, waldorf salad, and dinner rolls. Then, I’ll pull out Grandma’s rum cake recipe and prepare it just the way she did.  We’ll welcome our family, share a feast, open a few gifts, and enjoy a cup of egg nog and a piece of rum-soaked cake. We’ll miss my dad.

***

While I measured and helped cut boards tonight, my boys dragged the artificial Christmas tree down the attic stairs and rearranged the living room to make a space for it. They plugged in the lights and fluffed the branches, then decorated it with their individual glass ornaments, the ones I’ve ordered each year from a crafter who specializes in paper cuttings sandwiched between two round pieces of glass. The boys choose the highlight of their year for each of their ornaments. They keep these treasures in a box under their beds.  All the other ornaments are stored away in the recesses of the attic.

Ben and Ryan stuck their heads around the door to the backroom. I stood holding a beam in place as Bruce worked the hydraulic jack to raise the roof a few inches higher to level it.

“The tree’s kind of plain Mom,” Ryan said.

“Yeah, it could use some color,” Ben agreed.

I remembered a conversation I’d had with my dad years ago. He told me the story of when he was a little boy and my grandma didn’t have money enough to decorate the Christmas tree. She tied string to their Christmas cards and trimmed the tree with them. He said it was the prettiest Christmas tree he’d ever seen.

I shared the story with my boys. They turned and left the room.

I’ve done all the work I can do for the night. I’m ready to fall into bed. I dust off my jacket and walk back into the house. To my left is our Christmas tree adorned with the highlights of my boys lives and the Christmas cards we’ve received so far this year.

I have to agree with my dad. It is a beautiful tree.

 

O

‘Tis the Season

December 3, 2012

O

The thrift store seems more crowded than usual. I push the shopping cart toward house wares in the back. I need some vases for the nursing home. I can buy used ones for fifty-five cents. One of the local grocery stores has donated five cases of roses for our residents. It’s Christmas time and people want to do something nice for old people who don’t have family.

I turn down the children’s clothing aisle and five people have to move aside to let me by. Past that, shoppers line the perimeter of the space filled with larger items. An ugly chair upholstered in a black and brown patterned geometric fabric squats next to one of those wooden crate sofas, popular in the seventies. It has no cushions. A  pool table with a tear in its felt stands at a tilt, and a toddler’s red race car bed is missing its mattress. Three mismatched dining chairs, a kidney shape glass-topped coffee table, and a leaning brass floor lamp complete the sad ensemble.

A small bent man wearing white patent leather shoes, skinny jeans, a shiny silver belt, and a plaid button down dress shirt pulls the white tag off the naked sofa and turns toward the cashier, saying to himself, “I think I can find some cushions down the road.”

As I load the cart with glass bud vases, I hear three little girls vying for their mother’s attention with their questions:

“I like this one, can we get this one?”

“No Mommy, this one, it’s prettier.”

“I like the first one. It’s purple. I love purple. You love purple too Mommy, don’t you?”

“Quit arguing,” their mother says. “Or we won’t get any of them.”

The three little girls point out other things, asking if they can put this or that into the cart. If they can take things home to play with. “No.” Their mother says, her voice rising. “We’re not here to buy things for you.”

I find six green vases, three clear, one heart-shaped, and four white ones. I won’t pay over a dollar for any. The largest ones are ninety-five cents.  With the bottom of the cart covered, I turn toward the book shelves. I hit pay dirt finding two books on CD, James Patterson’s I Alex Cross, and Fanny Flagg’s Welcome to the World Baby Girl. They aren’t priced, so they cost only a dollar each.

Over in the holiday decorations, I can still hear the three little girls talking over top of one another, listing things they want for Christmas, asking their mother what she thinks Santa will bring.

The line to checkout stretches halfway down the aisle of women’s blouses.  The cashier calls for backup. A woman in a blue uniform comes from the ninety-five cent bin section, steps to the cash register opposite mine, and the line splits. When I reach my turn, I find myself across from the woman and her three little girls. They surround the cart as their mother places a box of purple Christmas ornaments, several pieces of clothing, a glass bowl, a basket, and some sort of game in a box on the counter.

“We can open it when we get home,” the smallest girl says to one of her sisters.

“God Dammit, I told you No three times already,” her mother yells. “It’s for your brother for Christmas.”

The little girls stop talking, all three look up to their mother. People around them stop talking. The store becomes still and quiet.

“That’ll be six twenty-four,” the cashier says.

The woman hands over the money, takes her bag, and the three little girls follow her out of the store.

Migration

January 12, 2012

I had spent the entire month of December finding volunteers to adopt each of my one hundred thirty nursing home residents. I like each to have a Christmas present to open from Santa. Churches, insurance groups, home companion services, the local University offices, and kind individuals took an elder’s name, bought a gift, wrapped it, and delivered it to the facility the week before Christmas.

That last week found us sorting, arranging and organizing the main event.  My gangly teenager, in the guise of Santa, visited and handed out presents. His red suit was stuffed with lumpy pillows and his beard kept slipping off his chin.  He mumbled under his breath so old ears couldn’t hear, “Jeez Mom, this stupid suit is hot, and the temperature in this place is turned up to a hundred.”

“Shhh,” I scolded, elbowing him in the ribs. “Santa is jolly, remember?”

“Why couldn’t Ben do it again?”

“I’ve done the Santa bit long enough,” Ben, my 6’6” elf said to his brother. “It’s your turn.”

My skinny Santa rolled his eyes, adjusted his pillows, and hiked up his pants. “Let’s go and get this over with,” he sighed.

My boys are good sports, and although Ryan was game,  his “Ho, ho, ho” needed a bit more bass and volume. For a first-timer he did alright. It’s a good thing the elders love him, and have watched him grow up. They are patient, kind, and found his presentation, “endearing.” The real Santa never received so many hugs and kisses.

By Christmas eve, we were all tired. I anticipated the weekend of Christmas for the days off from work, for a chance to finally put my feet up. My last week of vacation for the year started December 26th; and I was looking forward to some rest.

Then, my Mama sprung her gift, a week’s stay ocean-front on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a four and a half hour drive south of home to the barrier island, a trip, packing, meal planning, driving, family dynamics. She couldn’t contain her excitement as we opened the box to the announcement of her surprise. How do you look a seventy-seven year old smiling grandmother who has outdone herself in what she thinks is the perfect gift and say, “thanks, but what we really wanted was to stay at home.”  You don’t. I smiled, hugged her, and spent the next few hours planning the week away.

“She’s getting up there,” Bruce chastised me later when I harrumphed about my exhaustion and plans ruined by a trip to the beach.  “At her age, you never know,” he said shrugging. “Look at this as an opportunity to enjoy some quality time with your mother.”  After a pause, he said, “You know I can’t go. I have that contract with the doctor’s office to push snow if we get a storm.”

Yes there was a contract, but the extended forecast mentioned expectation of higher than average temps and sunny days. I suppose it’s good to have a handy excuse. He hugged me. “I’ll miss you,” he said.

Mama had rented the condo from December 25-January 1.  She wanted to make the most of our time and her six hundred dollars.  “All we have to do is throw some things into a bag and some food into the cooler and go,” she said smiling, her hands clasped together in her excitement. She wanted to leave that afternoon, on Christmas day.

At least no one travels on the twenty-fifth, I thought. Smart people are home, gathered around the tree, opening presents, or sitting down to a home-cooked meal, Norman Rockwell style. Most people.

Traffic was horrendous. I envisioned clear roads, uncongested tunnels, clean rest stops. Wrong. It seems everyone travels on Christmas day and there’s no place to stop for a bite to eat except the Lucky Mart, ten miles off the interstate. They had stale ham and cheese sandwiches, cold tofu burgers with processed cheese to heat in the microwave, chips and drinks.  5th Avenue candy bars served as our holiday dessert.

It was cold at the beach, and there’s not much to do in the winter time. The second floor condo Mama had rented was nice, with a wrap-around couch, large flat screen television, state of the art stereo system, and ample pots for cooking. The sliding glass doors opened off the living area to a balcony. We each had a bedroom to hole up in when needed and mine faced the ocean. If I cracked the window a few inches and burrowed under the covers at night, I could listen to the waves breaking on shore.

Mama brought her dominos, a double set of playing cards, and her recipe book. She fixed coffee for us each morning with just enough sugar and a French vanilla creamer that made me close my eyes and breathe in deeply over the cup, savoring the aroma before letting the sweet caffeine slide down my throat. She always knew how to make a good cup of coffee.

I slept in Monday morning and lounged in my pajamas all day, like I’d wanted to do the day before. I took out the book I’d gotten for Christmas, Suttree by Cormac McCarthy, and read, realizing I didn’t have laundry to wash, wrapping paper to clean up, or a tree to dismantle. I enjoyed a big bowl of Mama’s homemade potato soup with little round oyster crackers. I wrapped myself in a blanket, tucked my feet under me, and read the rest of the evening.

Tuesday was just as quiet with the exception of a rousing game of Spite and Malice, which my mother won. She’s the competitive one.

 We spent the whole of Wednesday ferreting out the thrift stores in the area, trying on vintage comfortable clothes and eclectic jewelry that we’d only pay a dollar a piece for. Mama picked up a green plaid duvet cover for my bed at home for two dollars and I found her a whole box of canning jars with lids for a dollar and a half. We tried on silly purple hats with veils and almost wet ourselves laughing over a pair of shiny red leather, six inch stiletto heels.

“I think I’ll buy these for Mary Elizabeth’s next gathering,” Mama said holding the shoes by their spikes.  I opened my eyes wide.  Mary-Elizabeth is one of Mama’s church friends. She holds fancy teas and respectable luncheons. Her gloves are white and she dons a lace apron when serving refreshments. Mama showing up in stilettos would cause Mary-Elizabeth to go pale, maybe faint, and attempt to hide my mother from her other, more staid friends. Mama would smile, twirl and dare Mary Elizabeth and her friends to walk a mile in her shoes.  

I held the strappy little numbers by their leather backs and dared Mama to try them on. She never backs down from a challenge. She sat on a wobbly wooden rocker in the thrift store and slipped off her soft loafers. I felt a bit like her prince charming, down on my knees, buckling the shoes onto her feet. I held the hand of my seventy-seven year old mother as she stood and teetered toward the full length mirror.  Her elastic waist jeans and flannel button-down shirt gave her that very aged “Ellie May gone inner-city girl” appearance. She struck a pose with hip stuck out, hand behind head, and the two of us doubled over laughing. I had to hold onto her to keep her from toppling head first into a rack of vintage beaded evening gowns.  

The week came to a close much too soon. I hadn’t laughed so hard, eaten so well, or rested as much in a long time.

On Friday afternoon, the day before we left for home, we were drawn to the window by the sight of a hundred or more gulls and pelicans circling and diving into the water after a school of fish so large and boisterous the ocean couldn’t contain them as they fought for room to swim. The fish seemed to jump up out of the water to meet the mouths of the birds.

In all of our years of coming to the Outer Banks, my mother and I had never seen so many sea birds congregate over the ocean, settle on its surface, or dive in such a frenzy. They looked to have been shot from the sky, beaks pointed down, spiraling into the water with a splash, only to come up again, bobbing on the surface. Then they rose again to the air and repeated the exercise.  

Both of us were speechless. We stood in awe of the hundreds of white winged dots rising, falling, dipping and splashing. Then a movement caught my eye and I pointed in its direction. A blue-black hump rose just above the surface of the ocean and shone bright as the sun glinted off it. I thought it was a dolphin at first, but hadn’t seen a fin.  Then the hump disappeared and was gone, but a few seconds later a large spray of water erupted from the ocean’s surface and several feet behind it, a fluke lifted. It was a whale.  I had heard others speak of the migration of the humpbacks in December, but I’d never seen one.

“Whales!” I said.

“Whales!” Mama echoed.

We stood watching them for the next hour. Every once in awhile, a back emerged, or a fin lifted and hovered parallel to the water, then slipped under again.  They swam and spouted and waved at us as we stood side by side, watching in wonder at my mother’s ultimate Christmas gift.

A Gift

December 28, 2011

The first time I saw her, she was sitting and talking with a homeless man who looked just like Jesus. They were outside Trilliman’s, an upscale bakery and sandwich place at the shopping center. Two small wrought iron tables with chairs were set up there for patrons to enjoy intimate talks over specialty coffees. It was hot that day. She and Jesus, in their layered clothing, had usurped the space and were sipping orange sport drinks purchased from a vending machine. A policeman ran them away from the establishment. Homeless people were not welcome.   I decided that day the woman must be an angel. She was by Jesus’ side and her frizzy white hair haloed her head. After that, no matter where I saw her wandering the streets with her grocery carts and shopping bags, or which homeless people she was with, I thought of her as the angel, a disciple of Jesus.

As I stepped from the door at work the week before Christmas, rain surprised me. It wasn’t forecasted. I covered my head with my purse and ran to the car. As the defroster blew warm air, it took the chill off.  I fished around in my pocket for the shopping list I’d scribbled at lunchtime. Sighing at all the gift buying I still had to do, I put the car in gear and resigned myself to fighting crowds before going home.

My youngest son had to have the latest style of sneakers. The ones he wore still fit, but according to his assessment, they were vintage. No one wore those kind anymore. The shoe store in the shopping center displayed the latest rage in sneakers in their weekly ad flier in the newspaper that morning. If I didn’t hurry, they’d all be gone and I’d be browsing ebay and bidding way past the true purchase price, with the addition of  express shipping to have them before the holiday. That gift was number one on my list.

The oldest boy had recently bought a used truck and was ‘pimping’ his ride. He talked non-stop about fender flares, grill guards, camouflage seat covers, fog lights, bed liners, and lift kits. I had lots of items to choose from and several automotive stores to visit.

My husband, the hardest man to buy for because he has everything, had mentioned sometime in the spring that he needed one of those battery rechargers and rechargeable batteries. The boys used his flashlight and left it on, killing the alkaline batteries. “Children,” he’d muttered. “They don’t appreciate the value of a dollar.”  The specialty store with the charger and batteries he needed was way over on the other side of town. Traffic was always horrific this time of year. I’d not get home until late. I was glad I’d put a beef roast in the crock pot to cook early that morning.  

I took my place in the line of cars at the traffic light leading to the main thoroughfare. In the distance, I spotted the angel.  It had been several months since I’d seen her last. She stood on the corner of Pine Street and Garrison Road. I recognized her immediately. She has a presence that makes you remember no matter how long it’s been. She seems to understand her direction without maps or a GPS, goes about her business with an unstated purpose; and I never see the troubles of this world reflected in her eyes. 

The rain came down hard enough to use my windshield wipers, and the angel didn’t have an umbrella or a hat. A bright yellow terrycloth headband spanned the area between her forehead and hair line. The ends of her hair drooped and dripped with the water which ran and soaked her Green Bay Packers windbreaker. The jacket was tucked into a pair of olive green army fatigues which were cinched at the waist with the sparkle of a silver sequined belt. Her pants legs disappeared into the tops of knee length black rubber boots sporting bright multi-colored polka-dots, the kind preppy college girls can’t wait for rainy days to wear. Mud from the North River Trail caked her boots. The angel had appeared street-side from the path in the woods where a small group of homeless people on this side of town congregate to commune and sleep at night.  

She was standing there at the intersection when the crosswalk sign changed offering her a safe passage. She didn’t take it. She stood there, holding her electric blue tote bag close to her chest. She peered into the car waiting for the light to change at the end of Pine, then she pecked on the passenger window with her index finger. She reached inside her bag, pulled something out and handed it to the person inside the car. She waved as the light turned green and the car pulled away from the curb. She stepped back and waited. The cars coming down Garrison got their green light and surged forward toward their destinations.

The first car sped past the angel close to the curb and through a puddle. A wave of rainwater crashed up onto the sidewalk and over the angel’s feet. The caked mud slid off onto the sidewalk, and she looked down at the colorful polka dots on her shiny wet boots. She smiled.

My light turned green after a minute, but the yellow one caught me before I could pull out into traffic. Cursing my fate under my breath, I sat staring at the now red light. I was first in line, but waiting again. I noticed movement to my right. The angel had come over close to my car. She pecked on my passenger door glass.

I pressed the button to lower the automatic window. It slid down halfway.  The angel reached into her tote and pulled out a plastic covered candy cane. She handed it to me.

“Merry Christmas,” she said.

A Plan and a Goal

December 23, 2011

When the top strand of twinkle lights went dark in the Christmas tree, I was ready to bag the whole decorating thing and call it a year. I’m usually more patient than that. I pull out every bulb and try a new one until the strand comes to light again. Not this year, I stomped out to the car and drove directly to the thrift store where I found a working strand of bulbs in the bottom of the 50% off Holiday bin. As I turned with the lights in my hand, I noticed a small cotton stocking striped in red and white. It was plain, hand-stitched with no glitter or tinsel, no name across the top, and half the size of my boys’ stockings. I picked it up and marveled at its simplicity. I pulled an extra quarter from my pocket, paid the cashier, and carried it home with the lights.

Ben arranged the strand at the top of the tree. It’s easier for him as tall as he is. Ryan plugged in the lights and all was right with the tree again. I held up my little flannel stocking to share with my boys. They looked at my prize, then at each other, and shrugged their shoulders. They gave me that look that says they don’t understand me, but love me anyway.  I tacked that sweet little sock up with Ben’s Santa soaring over rooftops and Ryan’s sectioned and sparkling snowman stockings.

This year gave us happiness and sadness alike. Ben graduated in May from Ferrum with a major in History and minor in Political Science. He applied to grad school at James Madison University in the school of Kinesiology and was admitted in August. He’s working on a Master’s in sports leadership and management. His first semester came off without a hitch, but with lots of reading and writing.  He’s found a truck he not only loves, but can ease his six foot six inch frame into. He’s also living back home with us.

Ryan adores having his big brother in the house again. They have their moments, like wrestling in the hallway where someone’s head and shoulders plowed through the drywall,  but they’ve got each other’s back and no one messes with the other.  Ryan’s a Junior at Western Albemarle and he has turned into our math whiz. We hold this trait in awe. It’s not genetic, but an anomaly. He scored an advanced pass on the Algebra II Standards of Learning tests, and we celebrated for weeks. He’s holding his own in other, less interesting subjects and shop, his sole ‘A’.  He mentions college occasionally. We encourage him to excel in school, but Ben seems to get the most effort from him.  It’s a good thing Ben is his brother/surrogate parent. Bruce and I would be lost and shaking our heads otherwise.  

We lost Grandma Patsy in June. The cancer treatments were just too much for her heart to take. She was able to attend Ben’s graduation though, and couldn’t have been prouder of him. We miss her, but we all know she is not suffering from the effects of cancer anymore. 

Bruce and I discovered Chincoteague in February of last year and fell completely in love with the area, and a little more with each other in the process as well. The island off the eastern shore of Virginia is a quaint little town with people who are real, and scenery that  is beyond description.  We purchased a half acre lot on Big Glade Creek and visit every opportunity we have.

Bruce still mulches and does yard maintenance. I’m still caring for elders at the nursing home. Life is busy and often complicated. There are so many tasks in a day and not nearly enough time to complete them all. I find myself out of breath and struggling to keep up with all that needs to be done, but as Ryan told Santa when he was five years old and trying to reassure the jolly elf, “I have a plan and a goal.” My goal for 2012 is to simplify, find joy in every day, and in the little things around me.

I’m starting with one small striped cotton Christmas stocking.  I wish you the simple joys of life as well.

Things Remembered

December 13, 2010

The existence of Things Remembered is spread by word of mouth because it sits off the main road, three miles from town, next to the old boarded up Greenwood School and across the paved road from the square, cinderblock post office. The building was a general store in the 1930’s and ‘40’s. Worn pine board steps lead up to a long covered porch. It stretches across the front of the wood-sided structure.

An old bedstead, seven rickety and broken apple boxes, a Radio Flier wagon, missing its back right wheel and some of its letters to rust, and an orange and white Gulf sign from a closed service station, all clearance items, sit outside, stacked and forlorn, leaning their rusted bodies against each other, trying to look salable. Silver tinsel is laced through the junk. A life-size cardboard cutout of Santa smiles next to the front door. The jolly man’s coat buttons strain with his girth. He looks happy though, holding his green-gloved hand up, pointing an index finger, like he wants to interrupt a visitor to announce his Christmas secret. His pack of presents rests between black boots. The doll peeking over the top of the bag is missing her smile; it’s smudged away with age.

The door to the shop has one of those brass handles with a thumb-push latch, polished shiny from use. A bell tinkles above the door and the warmth generated by a cast iron woodstove squatting in the floor, greets the visitor before the saleslady behind the counter has an opportunity.

“Come on in,” she says looking up from her work. “It’s cold out there.”

“Thanks, it feels good in here,” the last-minute shopper says.

This store isn’t crowded like the mall. The latest technological gadgets are not found here. Bing Crosby croons from the CD player on the counter. There is no bustle, no artificially sprayed scent of holiday baking or forest pine. This place smells of dust and old stories. Nothing new is sold here, just nostalgia shelved and labeled with tags baring a price and the initials of each antique dealer.

“Anything I can help you find?”

“No I’m just looking. Some people are so hard to buy for. I was hoping for last minute inspiration.”

“Let me know if I can help you. I’ll be here working on my Christmas cards.”

“Thanks.”

The store is divided into separate booths, each arranged differently. The ones decorated as particular rooms draw the shopper. One corner booth is set up like a kitchen. It reminds her a little of her Grandmother’s. The kitchen table is different, the dishes too, but the cake stand is familiar. She reaches a finger out to touch the glass stand, remembering the cake from her eighth birthday, chocolate, with nine pink candles, one extra to grow on. She had blown them out with one breath. Everyone clapped. Her Grandmother would be ninety-one now.

A little further on, she spies an enamel chamber pot. It has a red ring, just like the one her mother told the story about. Two sisters, sent to town to buy it, neither wanting to carry it to the car, for embarrassment. Her mother drew the short straw and huffed out of the store, hurrying down the street. She tripped, jarring the top loose. It rolled half a block, her sister chasing it down, turning as red as the ring. The shopper stifles a giggle, remembering her mother’s own laugh.

In the very back room of the antique shop, the girl catches the glint of an aluminum Christmas Tree from the 60’s. Its shiny silver branches sparkle with reflection. Some years ago, when she asked her mother what became of a similar tree they had at home, her mother said, “That tacky thing?” It hadn’t seemed tacky at the time. It was the most beautiful tree the girl had ever seen. She remembers blue glass ornaments on the tree from her childhood. Multi-color decorations hang on this one.

The vendor decorated this stall as if Santa had just emptied his bag. A Lionel train chugs around the base of the tree. A curly haired doll sips tea from a china set on a miniature table. A red Radio Flier wagon with all its wheels and lettering, holds a stuffed bear, lion and tiger, all friends, anxiously awaiting Christmas morning. A bright yellow ball and a red book, round out the toys. The vendor even left a plate of sweets for Santa. The girl picks up the shiny red book. It is The Night Before Christmas, just like the one she had at home, the one her mother read to her on Christmas eve. She opens the book to an inscription: Little One, May all your Christmases be Merry and Bright. With Love, Mama and Daddy. She stands and reads the book, cover to cover, remembering. The price tag reads, $2.99 sc.

“Find what you were looking for?” the saleslady asks.

“Sure did,” she says, paying for the book.

“You have a Merry Christmas,” the saleslady says.

“I will. You do the same.”

A man opens the door. He’s holding a cardboard box of attic finds. He smiles and holds the door open as the shopper leaves. She looks at the man, thanks him for his courtesy and glances at the contents of his crate. Peeking over the edge is a doll like the one in Santa’s pack by the front door. She notices that this doll has her smile intact.

26″ Snowfall

December 26, 2009

 

     I usually spend too much money at Christmas.  By December 24th I realize that I’ve overdone it and start focusing on my bank balance to see how I can eek out the bills. All of my impulse buying happens the weekend before Christmas.  My self control freezes and I spend my savings trying to buy love.  This year we had a 26” snowfall the weekend before Christmas. The storm started at rush hour on Friday evening and the last flake fell pre-dawn Sunday. Snowflakes are tiny crystal miracles.  I wondered how many were in our 26” on the ground.  Traffic stopped, people walked in hip waders to the mailbox, only to find that the postman couldn’t keep his promise.  This year, instead of throwing myself into the shopping frenzy,  I sat at home, writing Christmas cards the old fashioned way because the electricity went out.  I read a book by the woodstove. I watched my children play in the snow. I drank hot chocolate with little marshmallows. I fed the birds.

     I wrapped the three presents I had for my husband and the boys, a hand-tooled belt with a hammered silver buckle, an 1865 volume of Virginia History, and a telescope for universe gazing. Presents were few, but special because they reached out to me from artisan booths, an antique book store and the pages of the Buck Saver earlier in the year. These gifts spoke to my heart in May, August and September and it listened, compelling me to shop for Christmas when the sun was warm.

     I spent eight months creating a photo book for my mother.  My camera and I chased sunsets west on Rt. 250, rested on our elbows, eye level with dandelion blooms, waited for raindrops to hang like tiny crystal balls from pine needles, and made old, abandoned houses feel like Home and Garden cover girls.  These treasures, along with my best words were bound in leather. The book was under the tree.  If I was stuck in the snow, my family would understand that at least I loved them a little bit.

     I had to work all week, early mornings and late evenings.  The holiday season in the nursing home is busy.  People in our community want to do nice things for old people at Christmas.  Citizens come in flocks to sing carols.  They buy boxes of fruit and sugar free candy to distribute.  Each elder receives a new pair of socks and a bottle of generic lotion in a plastic fishnet Santa stocking from the Salvation Army. If the resident has no feet, the toe ends of the socks are cut off and they are slipped over the arms as “geri sleeves” to protect fragile paper-thin skin.  Staff members gather, sort, box and label gifts so each resident receives at least one item on December 25th. A special menu of ground ham with glaze, instant mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables is planned for mid-day Christmas. It will be served to a lady at the dining table with the sparkly silk centerpiece.  She will sit with a woman who takes her teeth out and licks them between courses.  Christmas is not what anyone remembers.

     Work was especially difficult this week. Extra hours because of the snowstorm, and the holidays are sad for many of our elders.  Their pain extends to enfold us in its intensity.  We find ourselves offering more hugs and tissues than at any other time of year.  For some, we are the only family they have and most often, we don’t measure up. Some residents are related of our staff. It’s hard when your job and caring for your dying mother are the same.   A nurse, cook and CNA lost their mothers this week.  Three of our residents died and left three of our staff members orphaned at Christmas. So, we prepared for the usual Christmas sadness wrapped in glittery paper and curling ribbon, and we planned to attend three funerals.   

     It rained today. I got in the car at 7:00 this morning and drove on isolated roads to the nursing home.  I delivered gifts and stockings room to room, offering a “Merry Christmas” and a hug.  Some voices welcomed me.  My Santa hat received smiles.  Several residents said, “put it over there,” while others dug into the stocking, like it was their last breakfast. Some didn’t understand it was Christmas. That was a blessing.

     My boys met me at the door when I got home.  They were ready for Christmas to begin. They waited for me.  We gathered at the tree and the youngest played Santa. Packages were meager, and I worried about disappointment.  I shouldn’t have. It seems that my heart picks out good presents, and my impulse buying is unwarranted.

     The skies cleared tonight and the universe spread out, over, and around us.  We set up the telescope and pointed it at the Pleiades star cluster. Ryan calls it his “night diamonds.”  We took turns gazing at a gift eight light years away, not a video game, i-touch screen, or text message on a cell phone, but a miracle of nature, just like the snow the weekend before Christmas.