Yesterday was the first Christmas morning I have awakened in my own bed in sixteen years. I had planned to sleep in my parents’ bed in the home they lived in for nearly forty years. No one is living in the house now. We’re working on clearing it out and doing cosmetic repairs before listing it for sale. Because Queen Sadie is feeling poorly, I didn’t want to leave her overnight. So I put off my trip until Christmas morning.
I explained this to my mom a few times throughout the week, and reminded her during the day on Christmas Eve that I’d be there the following day. She likes to stay on schedule, so I told her I’d arrive right after lunch, which is from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. Later that evening, in the midst of roasting Brussels sprouts, whipping up my famous from-scratch Caesar salad dressing, and wrapping my mother’s gifts, I noticed I’d missed four calls from her in a thirty-minute period, so I called her back. She doesn’t always answer the phone these days, and when she does, she just holds it, waiting for the person on the other end of the phone to speak first.
Hey, mom. What are you up to?
I’m waiting for you guys to come and get me!
Mom, I’m not coming until tomorrow. One of my kitties is sick so I don’t want to leave her.
But today is Christmas.
No, tomorrow is Christmas.
How do you figure that? It’s today.
I promise I wouldn’t forget you on Christmas, mom. I’ll be there tomorrow and we’ll go to Brenda’s for Christmas dinner, and drive around afterward and look at the lights.
OK, mom. I’ll pick you up tomorrow right after lunch and take you to Christmas dinner.
You’ll pick me up tomorrow?
Yes, right after lunch. I’ll call you in the morning.
On Christmas morning I called her at 11:45 and let her know I was on schedule to arrive just after lunch. She’s been skipping meals of late, and I had to convince her to leave her room and go downstairs for lunch. I arrived at her assisted living at 1:15 and knocked on her door. I could hear her tv, but she did not answer despite my repeated knocking and calling to her through the door, so I phoned her.
Mom, unlock the door.
Who’s at the door?
Me, Ella. I’m here.
OK, I’m coming.
Still, nothing. I called again and again she said she’d open the door. But the door remained closed so I went downstairs and asked a care assistant to let me in. When I finally got inside, she was on the phone with my sister.
I kept telling her to let you in.
It’s OK, a care assistant let me in. She’s having an off day.
Yes, she is.
I gave her a kiss hello and sat down on the sofa. Her kitty immediately jumped up and lay down beside me, begging for petting.
Who else is outside? Do we need to let anyone else in?
No, it’s just me, mom.
Who else is there?
No one else. Just me, mom.
Ella is going to be here any minute. We’ll need to let her in.
I’m Ella, mom. And I’m in. It’s OK.
Mom opened her gifts, one of which was a new sweater. She was wearing a rather ratty cotton jacket, and I suggested she might want to wear her new sweater out for Christmas dinner. She said she wanted to save it. Later, when we were leaving, she asked me to get her new sweater so she could wear it to dinner. I was glad she forgot she wanted to save it. If Christmas dinner isn’t a special enough occasion, what is? Her two favorite gifts were a calendar of the Lake Superior coastline with a dozen photos taken near the family cabin in Northern Ontario, and a piece of homemade banana nut bread. It was always her favorite, and so I put my mushy bananas to good use. I gave the cat two furry mice, one blue, one purple. I put them on the sofa next to him. He responded by giving me a swat.
We arrived for dinner forty-five minutes late. I should know by now that it always takes much longer to get mom out the door than anticipated. My nephew (not the free-loader) pushed his grandmother into the house, where we were greeted by my niece, my ex-sister-in-law, and her mother, whom I haven’t seen (they reminded me) in twenty-seven years. It was lovely to see Bertia and listen to her speak with her gorgeous Swedish accent. They had made a traditional Swedish Christmas dinner of Swedish meatballs, pea soup, and mashed potatoes, to which we added my Brussels sprouts and Caesar salad. It was delicious and a nice change from a hunk of meat. (My father always insisted on prime rib.) Dessert was a cake made of layers of crepes and whipped berry topping.
Brenda offered me a glass of wine.
Ella wants a glass of wine, I’m sure!
No, I quit almost a year ago.
What? You quit?
Yep. It started off as an experiment, and I was sleeping so much better, I decided if that was the only benefit, I’d keep going. (It seems I doth explain too much.)
Really? Maybe I should give it a try.
Brenda had divorced my brother because of his drinking many years before he died. She confessed to me after he died that she still loved him, and she wished things could have been different. When he died, in March 2013, he was a few days shy of ninety days sober. Brenda divorced her second husband recently. If my brother was sober and still alive, who knows? Renewing our friendship has been one of the good things to come out of his death.
Throughout the afternoon, I was acutely aware of everything. My mother’s red shirt with white polka dots. The way she kept tucking the bejeweled fox on the end of her new necklace into a fold in her shirt. (Keeping him safe in his foxhole, to be sure.) How she ate every bite of her mashed potatoes, soup, and salad, leaving the meatballs and Brussels sprouts. How she smiled when my brother’s dog licked her hand.
After dinner, Brenda took some sweet photos of my mom, my niece, my nephew, and my brother’s dog (she adopted him when my brother died) in front of the Christmas tree. Mom and I then headed back to her assisted living, taking lots of side-trips to look at the Christmas lights. I played a Christmas music radio station, and mom sang along to Baby It’s Cold Outside. She remembered the words.
Back at assisted living, I got her settled into her chair and put the tv on a channel she liked—an old black-and-white Shirley Temple movie.
Where’s my nut bread?
It’s right here on the table next to you. Whenever you’re ready for it, mom.
I gave her a kiss and the cat a pat, wished her Merry Christmas, and headed back to Austin to take care of the ailing kitty. Not bad for an in-between Christmas.