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A tough act to follow

Over the last 10 days, I’ve approached the keyboard to spill my latest observations. I’ve started several blog posts, all of which remain unfinished, like the homework assignments of my less productive youth.

Each time, a distraction beckoned and I fled my desk chair—to tend to a client, an errand, a chore, a phone call, a doorbell, a cat, a newspaper, an egg timer, or a call of nature. Let’s just call it seasonal attention deficit.

A week’s worth of grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning are finished now, on the eve of December 23rd, as finally I sit quietly, with my feet on a pillow, laptop atop my lap, glass of wine nearby, committed to reflect quietly before the Yuletide.

It’s times like this I wish I could communicate with my late mother-in-law, who used to make the most wonderful Christmases.

Many years in a row, on December 23rd, we pulled into her driveway in Shelby, North Carolina, where the streets were lined with luminaries. We walked into the house to the smell of pot roast and pound cake. Her pound cake was the best, but at Christmastime, it snuggled beneath a warm blanket of caramel frosting. For days, she pampered us with our favorite drinks, savory hors d’oeuvre, special ordered breakfast ham, homemade pecan pie, ambrosia that took hours and hours to make. The house was beautifully decorated and the bed sheets crisp and line dried.

Christmas morning brought one thoughtful gift after another, perfectly wrapped. She would sit straight up, on the edge of the sofa, hands clasped between her knees, delighting in our smiles as we opened our gifts. Every year, after all gifts had been opened, she brought out one last surprise for each of the three of us, my husband, his brother and me. It was always the same sized box—three inches square, tied with an elastic gold ribbon, and holding inside a crisp one-hundred-dollar bill. She and my father-in-law likely didn’t have it to spare, but they knew how deeply we needed, wanted and appreciated it.

She allowed everyone to nap or watch sports until dinner and then again after the big meal, while she and her husband washed all the dishes.

When it was time for us to leave, she packed turkey sandwiches with Duke’s mayonnaise and sliced dill pickles wrapped in foil into a cooler, along with several cans of Coca-Cola (and occasionally a can or two of Schlitz) for the ride home, and waved good-bye from the porch.

As a young bride, I never gave the first thought to what kind of preparation this all required. She made it look so effortless. No sighing, no brow-wiping, no complaining, no asking for help in the kitchen.

She passed away right after Thanksgiving in 1993. After the funeral, her sister asked my help in cleaning out her things. We came to the closet where the Christmas decorations were stored. Her sister regarded the stacked boxes of glass balls and garland. She turned to me and said, “Nancy always hated Christmas.”

Nancy, if you can read this, please know you’re my hero and my inspiration. I’ve tried to make a beautiful Christmas for my family, as you did. I just can’t seem to control the sighing, brow wiping, complaining, or asking for help in the kitchen. How ever did you do it?

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December 22, 2011 · 11:13 pm