My Mother's Last Gift
Tonight or tomorrow the ornaments will come down. The tree will go out in the trash or in the back of our lot where the fox might use it for shelter. All the holiday trinkets will be wrapped in tissue paper. They’ll go back into plastic boxes, to be carried down to the basement and stored for another year.
I will linger over each ornament, but one in particular will be hard to put away. This small Bichon in a stocking (above) is a very, very special ornament. Not just because it’s cute, or because it’s different, but because it marks the end of an era.
We have a tradition. On Christmas Day, one member of our family (my mother) would direct the opening of the gifts. She’d pass them out and make sure every person had something in hand. Then she’d allow us to open up, and oooohs and aaaaahs would ensue. We’d all examine our gifts–examine everyone else’s gifts–and wait for Mom to pass out more presents. There was a strict sense of ritual to all this. But as constrictive as it sometimes felt, we all loved it. Mom’s method assured us that each and every person had something to open. Each and every gift was given its due amount of appreciation.
This year, we celebrated Christmas in a hotel room outside of Disney World. At a Walgreens, I found a darling little Christmas tree made of curls of gold wire and hung with beads. This I put on a table in the middle of our hotel room in the Omni at Champion’s Gate. Then my family gathered around.
The passing around of the presents was a bit more sedate. We felt Mom’s absence keenly. My sister Margaret orchestrated some of the distribution and opening of gifts. But it was a bit more, um, haphazard without Mom doing her combination marinet and benevolent Santa routine. We were all opening gifts while fighting painful lumps in our throats.
My gifts for my sisters caused teary eyes. Years ago, I’d taken Mom to an art fair where a silhouette artist had cut her profile freehand using sharp scissors. During our move to the metro DC area, I’d uncovered these. So I framed them for Jane and Margaret. (I scanned one for myself, and it’s on my computer, but I gave them the originals.)
After all the packages were unwrapped, Meg said, “There’s one gift left. It’s for Jonie.” (That’s my nickname.)
Meg handed it over. “This was the only Christmas gift Mom bought before she died.”
Inside was the Bichon ornament.