Christmas Island

In the backseat of my car, Niki, age eight and Tammie, age four happily sang along with me, “A-b-c-d-e-f-g!” I stopped singing as we entered the outskirts of town. My older daughter finished the song with her little sister.

As my daughters began to chatter to each other after the song, I thought about how long it had taken Tammie to learn how to talk. She had been fully three and a half years old. My wise pediatrician advised me not to worry, “She’ll begin speaking when she’s ready. She’s been busy concentrating on getting over her medical problems and surgeries.”

I would have worried more, but Tammie’s ability to communicate without words was so good that some nurses at the hospital thought she had used words instead of eye contact and gestures!

Tammie was born with Thrombocytopenia with Absent Radius syndrome, TAR for short. Besides missing both of her fore arms, her body made too few blood platelets, had leg deformities and intestinal problems. Until age three, she was hospitalized frequently for blood transfusions, leg surgeries and complications. The last complication resulted in an emergency tracheostomy shortly after her third birthday. I had commented to my husband, Arnie, “Tammie will probably learn how to speak soon, now that it’ll be a bigger challenge.” Continue reading

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Childhood’s Last Doll

During the past several months, my body had developed curves and I no longer looked like a little girl. Things that had once interested me now seemed babyish. I’d even started having crushes on guys. Most of these things were pleasant and exciting, but once in a while part of me wanted to go back to the easy safety of a little girl’s existence.

That year, when I heard the first Christmas carol play on the radio, I felt a sense of relief. The familiar old song was like a good friend I hadn’t heard from for a full year.  I looked forward to once again experiencing the warm, comfortable traditions of childhood.

Receiving a doll every Christmas was one tradition that started before I could remember. As I listened to Bing Crosby sing, “Silver Bells”, I suddenly realized I was too old for dolls. Although I no longer played with dolls, I felt very sad. Continue reading

I Was There!

Even though I ran all the way to the barn from the farmhouse, my fingers, toes and nose felt frozen by the time I stepped into the warm, earthy atmosphere, slamming the door shut behind me. Clutched in my hand was a kettle from our kitchen, half filled with gristle and fat meat trimmings, bread crusts, old grease, mold cut off cheese and leftover casserole that no one had eaten.

Knowing they were about to have a feast, three cats ran to greet me. Daddy looked up from the cow he was washing. I walked towards the stairway to the haymow. The cat’s food dish was there and so were the milk cans Daddy and my brother were filling. My brother was pouring warm, foamy milk from a milker bucket into the strainer sitting on one of the milk cans.

I dumped the kitchen scraps into the food dish and three more cats appeared. Putting the empty kettle on the second step, I sat down next to it to watch the six cats eagerly eat. Hearing the squeal of a teat cup letting go, I turned to look in time to see Daddy stepping in next to a cow to take care of the problem. Having had her fill, one of the cats sat back and licked her paw.

I loved everything about the barn, especially how warm and cozy it felt during the winter. Closing my eyes, I listened as a cow lowed contentedly. A moment later, another gustily exhaled. On the far end of the barn, a calf bawled. The cow next to the steps shook her head making her big ears flap. Shifting her great weight made her hooves creak. In the background I heard our Surge pump for the milking system. It wasn’t loud, but its gentle, comforting chug-chug sound was always there during chores, just like Daddy was always there. Continue reading

The Tinsel Master

I wanted to help, but I could tell my attempts I made annoyed my brother Casper. He frowned at me when I tossed a strand of tinsel over one of the balsam boughs. Both ends of the heavy, lead tinsel strands did not hang down evenly, nor were they across from each other. That would not do! The job needed to be done perfectly. Regretfully, I knew I wasn’t able, nor did I have the patience.

Plopping down onto Mom’s rocking-chair footstool, I looked around at the living room. Our beautiful Christmas tree stood in the far corner. The ornaments were evenly spaced among the branches. Now Casper, the tinsel master, was neatly…so very, very neatly hanging uniform curtains of tinsel on each branch and twig.

All morning Mom had been cleaning the house. Along with the fragrance of the balsam tree, I could smell floor polish. Mixing delightfully with these scents were the aroma of sweet, spicy things baking in the oven. I sighed with satisfaction. Everything was perfect. Mom made me a brand-new flannel nightgown to wear tonight, plus I fully expected my annual Christmas doll would be wearing a matching one! Continue reading

It’s a Gift

I looked at the calendar. A kaleidoscope of childhood memories flooded my mind. December fifth, the Eve of Saint Nicholas had meant so much to me and the children in my class during the late 1950’s. Not only did the mystery surrounding our celebrations excite us, but we looked forward to receiving candy and the satisfaction of letting Santa know what we wanted for Christmas.

Saint Nicholas visited everyone at home while we slept, but for some of my classmates, he left goodies in socks, for others, in their shoes. At my home, Saint Nicholas left our treats in a cereal bowl left on the dinner table.

Before going to bed on the fifth of December, Mom had us write a letter to Santa, detailing what we wished for. My big sisters helped me before I knew how to write. After our letters were put in an empty bowl placed where we usually sat at the table, we were sent to bed.

While we were sleeping, the Saint came by and collected the letters for Santa. Then the Holy Man would fill our dishes with a handful of peanuts in the shell, a few vanilla-chocolate drops, chocolate covered raisins and several hard candies. My favorites were the raspberry-filled and peanut butter filled ones. A big, bright orange topped off the dish. Continue reading

Discounted

Arnie and I gratefully sank into opposite sides of the booth we were shown. Relieved we were somewhere warm, we slipped off our coats. Turning over the menu, Arnie exclaimed with a smile, “What do you know, we’re eligible for the senior discount!”

Our winter birthdays were one month apart. He had turned 55 years old at Thanksgiving. At Christmas, so did I. Up until then, we thought senior discounts started at age 65. This restaurant started them at 55. It was a small perk, but it warmed our hearts on that cold and blustery January day.

Arnie liked to tease me by telling our children that I was much older than he was. After my husband died unexpectedly, four months after he turning 56, I thought to myself as I grappled with grief, “Now I will truly be older than Arnie. What a cruel joke!” Then the years began to roll by as I continued to live and work.

Two years before I retired from being a Certified Nursing Assistant, I had a patient one day who touched my heart. It was an old man who hadn’t received any company during the previous week. Not a single flower or plant had been sent to him. I resolved to spend a little extra time talking with him as he washed, changed gowns and brushed his teeth.

Later, as I charted my activities, I happened to notice that the patient’s age was listed as 63 years of age. That was exactly how old I was at the time. Shocked, I realized I had thought of him as an old man. Soothing my sensibilities, I rationalized, “Surely, we’ve aged at different rates!” Continue reading

Treasure

The air smelled earthy, spiced by the many plants in various stages of shutting down for winter. Closing the garden door behind me, I stood silent, looking around at the rows and listening to the slow drops of condensation dripping from the plastic hoop building ceiling. The sound of the drops falling to the dusty soil below seemed exaggeratedly loud, “plop!…plop!”

The outer leaves of the most delicate plants were dark and wilted, nipped by Jack Frost the night before. A harder freeze was forecast for the next few nights. It was time to put my garden to bed for the winter.

Although I am a hard-core list maker, I didn’t need to make a list today. I knew what needed to be done first and what needed to be done last. The plants that would freeze when the thermometer lowered to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, needed to be carefully dug up, replanted in pots and taken into the house. Poinsettias grow lush during the summer in my hoop-building garden. If too many of their roots are broken when transplanted, they don’t do well. Continue reading