My favorite Christmas was the one back when I was six. After feeding us that Christmas Eve, Mom sequestered herself on one side of the sliding wood doors within our tiny Manhattan apartment, leaving me and my big sister confined to the kitchenette. Even Dad was barred from the living room and had to sit with us at the puny round table across from the stove. Since Dad was Jewish, Christmas wasn’t his holiday. Yet I still found it shocking that their different religions were the prime reason for their constant arguments. I braced myself for the fight that would probably break out—especially with all of us staring at each other in a confined space. Mom liked to say, “Where de heads have room, de bodies have room.” In the Finlay household, nothing had room.
This turned out to be a rare day of calm.
Dad stroked his mustache, intrigued by Mom’s mysterious communing with the Christmas tree on the other side of the wall. That tree may have irritated him beyond belief, but he did like the nifty gifts Mom placed under it as much as we did. We all strained to hear Mom’s machinations, but all we got was the faint crinkling of paper.
When at last she allowed us to peer into the living room, I could see that the milk and cookies she’d put in front of the fireplace earlier had been devoured. Clearly, she was working hard to convince us there was a Santa Claus. But how did Santa get down the chimney to eat all those chocolate chip cookies when the flue had long ago been bricked up? Mom assumed my six-year-old brain wouldn’t think that one through. A logical child, I figured it out.
That didn’t mean I wasn’t impressed with her effort. She even knew to leave crumbs on the plate, making it appear that the yummy cookies had been eaten, not removed. Mom sweated the details.
Our tree may have been smallish and fake—stick green branch A into green hole B; yellow branch A near bottom of pole B and voila, tannenbaum, voila—but the decorations were colorful and artfully arranged. So was her gift presentation.
My blonde Susie Walker doll towered above my new foot-long fire engine filled with bubble bath. What kid doesn’t love bubble bath?
Her energy to accomplish all of this in addition to her grueling work schedule was a wonder to me always.
So many years later, when Mom’s necessitated her being in a skilled nursing facility, it was my turn to make Christmas sweet for her. I tried to match the passion she’d always shown by offering up lots of pretty wrapped presents to make her eyes open wide, just as mine had at six. My hubby David and I recorded every moment of her happy reaction.
Mom and I had had a long and complicated journey together, especially through the elder care process, as we jockeyed for control of her life. She wanted to keep wearing high heels. I wanted to keep her safe. So the sweetness, acceptance and calm of this later holiday season was welcome indeed.
While I’m sure I could never match her old trick with Santa and the cookie crumbs, she was thrilled with my efforts nonetheless. I didn’t want to make a big deal about her compliments, but they were a big deal to me. I held her words in my hands like flowers. I’m thankful for all our years together.
This holiday season, as always, I’m grateful for every loving family member and friend. You make my life brighter every day.
Wishing you all good health, all the joys of the Season and an inspired New Year!
What’s your favorite holiday story? Please share…I’d love to hear about it.