“Oh, Momma,” that is the first thing I whisper as I walk through an antique shop and stumble across an old box of Christmas ornaments. In the next nano-second, my heart is home on Maple Street, so many years ago, with my sisters and I helping mom string colorful lengths of silk ribbons through our own hand-painted glass decorations, handing them over so she could hang and tie them over the curtain rods in every room of the house.
Christmas was the best time of the year growing up. By Thanksgiving we had watched momma hold the tree still while dad nailed it to the floor. They would stand back when they were finished, hold hands and marvel at how beautiful it was- even though there was so much space between branches you couldn’t do anything but shake your head and say, “Really?”
As kids we loved the Christmas tree.
As adults, we would grin over the Charlie Brown Tree that made it’s way home to take it’s place of honor in the corner of our living room.
Mom was Santa Claus. I remember when we discovered this and were horrified to find out that it was not this barrel-chested, white-haired man from the North Pole, after all. We always woke in the darkness, to find a small, gaily wrapped gift at the end of our beds.
We were so excited, whomever woke up first giggled the other four sisters awake. We would turn on our bedroom light and rip open the paper to gasp at the magic that was beneath the colorful wrapping and bows. Mom always told us that Santa snuck in after we were fast asleep. He would creep in silently and place the gift carefully and then exit, shutting our bedroom door behind him. He always ate the cookies we left and in the morning we would find the empty glass of milk in the dish drainer.
One year, when we woke up in the dark of night, we found some of our socks lying on the floor. I started crying right away. No one could calm me down. I was hysterical. I thought that Santa was a thief, and I was heartbroken. Mom had to confess that she was Santa then, that while she was delivering little gifts in the darkness, she was also trying to put away some laundry and must have dropped some socks along the way.
She continued to place presents on the end of our beds for many years after that and we did not talk about Santa and the socks again.
Mom and dad didn’t have a lot of money, those gifts were never extravagant, but we were always thrilled and grateful for our first gift of the day.
When my mother became ill and her last years were spent in the nursing home, the Christmas ornaments stayed in the windows of 317 Maple Street. Some people probably thought it was silly, I mean, really, Christmas decorations year round? But it was a silent decision, we never touched them.
Years later, my father cried while we sat together one winter afternoon, watching a Christmas movie in the nursing home where he now lived. He wanted to talk about the holidays. He kept asking if he and my mom had made it special enough for the five of us. I hope he was able to work through the fog of dementia long enough to hear me and believe me when I answered.
I told him we loved the holidays because of them. I recounted different gifts we had asked for during the year, how excited we were when we found them in the morning under the tree. I laughed with him over the sparse tree, over the holes in the floor of the living room, over handmade ornaments that we had made in art class, presenting them and watching as mom and dad hung them proudly on the branches.
It was the last Christmas I was able to have with dad. We sat quietly in the rec room of the rest home. My heart was full of love for the gift of Christmas my parents had given us for so many years.
I like to think that my sisters and myself carried some of the magic into our own children’s bedrooms, to a gift on the end of their bed.
Standing in this little antique shop, I am thankful that this box of ornaments, full of childhood memories, is in the corner of the room where I found them. I am alone. I can cry for a few minutes – in a little bit of sorrow and a great deal of joy – thanking mom and dad, blowing kisses to Heaven, feeling their hug coming right back to me.
Whispering Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas. xoxo