Commentary: Christmas has never been the same since my mother left us in 2006. Our family still gathers together on Christmas Eve just as we always did. We eat, drink and exchange gifts. Conversations frequently are about our times as children and the memories of our mother.
Here are just a couple of memories of my mother.
As Christmas rapidly approaches, old softies like me seem to get a little melancholy. I find comfort and peace in vintage decorations and use them each year.
I think I’ve inherited many of my mom’s finest attributes, including her love of Christmas. Growing up far from being the wealthiest family in town did not keep Mama from making sure that Christmas was always special for me and my siblings.
Mama loved decorating for Christmas. One year, when she was well into her seventies, I drove out to Rosenberg for a visit with her. When she answered the door, I could see a flustered look on her face.
As I admired her beautifully decorated Christmas tree we sat down in the living room and I asked her, “What’s wrong?”
“I just finished cleaning up the biggest mess I made for myself,” she replied. Prying her for details she said that she was decorating her Christmas tree with some wax snowflakes she had made, painstakingly putting a small mass on the tips of each branch.
“I started getting hot, so I turned on the fan. All of a sudden, I had snow flying all over the room. It was a regular blizzard in here,” she said, barely able to complete the story because she was laughing so hard.
There have been many memorable Christmases in my life. I recall the one when I was 10 or 11 and received a toy mobile home with all the furnishings. (Mama knew before I did.) Another time, a few days after Christmas my brother and I scoured the neighborhood collecting discarded Christmas trees, dragged them in our backyard and spent days playing cowboys and Indians with them (the trees were used as forts). Daddy was not pleased.
But the most memorable Christmas came in 2005. That was Mama’s last Christmas with us. She had been awfully ill for most of the year and was living in a nursing home. She was forced to relinquish her independence and her apartment. One of her happiest moments came when she was 73 and used her key to open the door to her own place for the very first time. The picture of that momentous occasion is hanging above my fireplace mantel and inspires me every day. She frequently said, “You’re never too old to have a happy life.”
Believing she would spend her final days in the nursing home, my siblings and I proceeded to liquidate her possessions. We sold everything from furniture to kitchen utensils, blenders, dishes and pots and pans.
Miraculously Mama began to get better. She spent Thanksgiving Day at my sister Tootsie’s and seemed like her old self. Everyone felt as though she was too healthy to be living in an “old folk’s home.”
I asked Mama if she would like to move in with me if I got us an apartment in or near Rosenberg. She was ecstatic at the possibility of leaving “the home” as I jokingly referred to the facility with her.
On Christmas Eve our family gathered as we always did. This time it was at my sister Bebe’s home in Sugar Land. We ate, laughed, and caught up with each other’s activities.
After a few hours we began the gift exchange game. For several years we had been playing the “Dirty Santa” game. It is basically a pick a gift, keep a gift or steal a gift game.
When all the gifts were showing there were mostly kitchen items resting in everyone’s lap. There were kitchen utensils, blenders, dishes and pots and pans.
Then on cue from someone, everyone got up and handed over all the Christmas gifts to Mama and me. We were both in total shock, but not really surprised. That’s the kind of family we are. They knew me and my new roommate would need those items, since I didn’t cook much.
On the day after Christmas, everyone showed up at my Montrose apartment to help pack up the U-Haul and move me to Rosenberg to be with our mother. Mama checked out of “the home” that day and never returned.
She put all those Christmas gifts to use over the next few months as she cooked, sewed and did all of the arts and crafts things she loved doing so much.
Although our time as roommates together was brief, it’s an experience I would not trade for anything. I’ll always cherish that Christmas, when our family pulled together to make their mom’s last Christmas, the best Christmas.