For the first ten years of my life, my mother was truly Mom. And once she began working evenings as a nurse, she made the most of the time she had at home during the day.
Her personality permeated our household. She was a creative spirit, always making something, and often invited her children to come along and join in her work. Where the energy came from, after working an evening shift at the hospital, God only knows.
She taught us how to sew.
She loved growing roses and miniature bonsai trees, and she taught me how to prune them.
She had a lovely voice and at one time, before marriage and kids, she pursued a career as an opera singer.
She encouraged us to write stories and songs, make our own comic books, and play musical instruments.
And she loved Christmas. Mom made sure that her children knew the season was a Very Special Time.
She let us choose bulbs from her box of Christmas ornaments, and she showed us how to cut paper snowflakes for the tree.
She set out her nutcracker and bowls of walnuts and Brazil nuts, on display in the center of the living room table. The bowls were always full because we had such a tough time cracking the shells. I think Mom mostly liked the looks of them with their beautiful shades of brown.
She covered the front door with aluminum foil and hung on it a cardboard candy cane that was as tall as Dad. Other years she’d wrap the door with a ribbon, and the house became a gift.
She gave us “snow” to spray and stencil Christmas words and symbols on the living room windows. We made a mess, but that didn’t seem to bother her.
And she made her mini Christmas trees. Back then, TV Guide magazine was the most popular magazine in the country and we read it regularly. It was about the size of a Readers Digest magazine. As we soon learned, Mom saved the TV guides.
“We’ll use them to make Christmas trees.”
If anyone could do what seemed to be the impossible, it was Mom. We believed that.
She took one of the magazines and folded a corner of the page into the center. Then it was our turn. Page after page we folded. When we finished one issue, we started another.
After we had turned down enough pages to her liking, Mom glued a group of the folded magazines together into the shape of a Christmas tree. The wonder point for us came when she sprayed them with gold and silver paint. Soon we had Christmas trees to decorate with anything we could find: string, buttons, ribbon, coins. Mom rewarded us with her smile, and the trees would grace a table or counter.
Mom took what little she had and made sure her kids knew Christmas.
I’m sure there were times when she wished for enough money to buy a box or two of pre-fab Christmas decor. She could then set us aside to entertain ourselves and go off for an afternoon nap or do something for herself — like work on that bonsai tree without having a curious child around, interrupting her with all those questions.
Instead, she gave herself to us selflessly. And in that, we saw a living testament to the true meaning of Christmas.