Christmas Eve, Present Day.
No visions of sugar plums danced in their heads, for the simple reason the children were too old to be tucked in and made snug in their beds. By the properties of logical extension, their mother was also entirely too old, something this aged lady dwelled on in the quiet. Oh, there was a time when her home was the center of all the holiday festivities and she did it all. The turkey in the oven always prepared to perfection, along with the fixings, the presents all carefully selected and wrapped, the house itself appropriately appointed for the season, and everyone's clothes laid out for Christmas Mass.
So expert was she that her family took to good naturedly calling her "Mrs. Claus". That was long ago, mind you. Now, she was too feeble to handle all the holiday chores. After her beloved's passing, the children took on the onus for the holidays and entertained her the past number of years. This year however, she felt too weak to make the chauffeured journey to even the nearest child's home.
So her children, a son and three daughters, and their spouses and kids, her grandchildren, did the next best thing. They handled all the preparations, bundled them together and brought Christmas once more to the ancestral home.
The old lady's sole responsibility was to set the table. She did this the day before, taking out the good china and the holiday serving platters with trembling hands. Fortunately she managed without any mishap, the precious china surviving for eventual handing down to the next generation. Her own mother, now very long departed, had always said getting the table just so was the most difficult part of the day's preparations. She had laughed then, but now in her own old age saw some of the truth in that remark. Setting the table had indeed exhausted her.
She revived mightily, courtesy of the food, good spirits, presents and the unadulterated love that accompanied the feast. Well after dinner and Church and gift giving (she always enjoyed the giving more than the receiving), her children approached in what she thought of as an "intervention."
"Mom," her eldest daughter said, "It's not right for you to live alone any longer. We want you to come live with us!" And each of the other children pledged the same, assuring her no one's feelings would be hurt based on which child's home she preferred.
Looking at them as she always did, which was lovingly, she said, "I am so very touched by your generosity and love. But this (she motioned to the house around them) is home. It's where I still feel the presence of your father, and you all and the grandchildren (said with a wide smile), and even my parents. I have my own routine carved out here, and with your help to do the grocery shopping and such, I make do." Though at the thought of her father, the old lady's voice caught.
There were much hugs and kisses and her adult children went to the other room where the grandchildren were playing. Shortly thereafter, a delegation of the three sons-in-law and the one daughter-in-law solemnly processed in. They also told the old lady they very much would enjoy her presence in their daily lives, that she would never be a bother, and that their homes were hers. The old lady cried, for she was so touched, knowing she had less claim on her in-laws' hearts than of her own children's. She again lovingly assured them of her gratitude, and affection, and certainty that she could still manage and preferred to do so on her own. She wiped at her eyes and assured them hers were "the good kind of tears." The in-law sons were perturbed that there could be such a thing as good crying, but daughter in-law assured them that was a thing.
One of the grandkids asked why Grandma was crying, and one of the adults explained, "She always gets emotional, on account of what happened to her father on Christmas."
The rest of the day the old lady mostly sat in her easy chair, enjoying the sights and sounds of merriment all around, especially of her grandchildren, in whom she also saw much of her own children, and truth be told, something of herself and her husband.
When at last all had been cleaned and put away, and the happy crowd had departed, the old lady walked slowly back to her family room, where the tree her son had put up stood. She was so very happy, but yes, a tad tired, and she knew that in her old age it was almost as if she was herself becoming something ethereal, a flimsy, lace covered presence standing before the tree. She fingered the favored ornaments. These were the ones the children had made in school a hundred years ago it seemed, not expensive and yet priceless.
The old lady pushed back a stray wisp of white hair as she slowly sat in her chair and stared at the tree. Her thoughts moved from the present day's events and her wonderful children and their families, and she thought again of her own mother.
She hoped that she had inherited much from that wonderful woman, who had practically raised her single handedly for so very many years, her father having passed on way too soon. Thoughts of her mother made the old lady pick up a treasured heirloom, a music box that played a French carol that had been a favorite of her mother, indeed had always been cherished by her grandmother as well. She listened to the melody and it swept her back through the years.
Placing the music box aside, she fingered her most prized possession, which was rare. Not that the item was rare or that the old lady valued commodities. She did not. She was old but her heart was young beyond its years, having had regular exercise by being extended to all she came in contact with throughout her life. So the physical things that too many people sadly misplaced their worth in, she knew were unimportant compared to the eternal things, like love.
No, the item she fingered had value because of what it represented. It was a gift from her father. A beautiful ring, turquoise in color, but not a gem by any means. Despite that, it was valuable to her because of what it represented.
She was so old now, the old lady's fingers were weathered such that the ring no longer fit, not without significant risk of falling off and being lost. So it was that she had several years ago placed the ring on a gold chain and now wore it as a necklace. As she lovingly caressed it, her
thoughts turned to her father. She gazed at the portrait that had been on the mantel as long as she could remember. The lady was old, but she understood how Mom would have been so attracted to Papa. Even in the photo in his soldier's uniform, his handsomeness and kind eyes showed forth.
She looked at an ancient ornament, one she had made in fourth grade. A simple gold ball, it had a picture she had pieced together from separate photos of her and her father with the word inscribed by a glitter pen in her then childish scrawl, "Papa."
As she stared at the beloved decoration, the old lady's mind wandered to the stories Mom had oft shared about Papa. One story in particular had always resonated deeply because it was still so hard to believe, from the war time, and it to this she now turned, replaying it ever so slowly, and lovingly.
Christmas Eve, 1944.
What would come to be ca