y idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?
~ Bob Hope
“She’ll be here any minute, girls,” Mom called to us, hurrying to last minute Christmas dinner details. “Can you keep her busy while I finish up in here?”
If I knew how to really do it… the way they did in books… I’d have harrumphed right then and there, teenage style.
Who was this old lady anyway? And why was she coming – interloping – on our usual family and friends affair? The last few years had been enough of a trial, marked by serious family pain, struggle and eventual tragedy. I just didn’t feel up to entertaining a stranger. Keeping conversation going… especially with one who was in her 70′s and probably hadn’t a clue about kids today.
A loud roar suddenly enveloped our driveway with a splutter and a light boom. What in the world? I peered out the curtains, from my bedroom. A huge old Chevy, a bit banged up for wear. And a tallish yet wiry-looking woman standing with her head in her car trunk as she rummaged around inside for who knows what. All I could see of her was a flashy, wild-print, orange and yellow tunic – worn over neon orangey-red…and flared…pants. All she needed was a fiesta hat. She was reaching here, grabbing things there and seemed to be stuffing odd-shaped items inside a pouch.
Then… out of the trunk came an over-sized paper department store bag… looking somewhat like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. Only somehow, I didn’t think she had any magic or spoons full of sugar hidden inside. Humming to herself, she settled the bag at her feet, took one last look around the cavernous trunk, patted her short and bristly white hair, slammed the car lid down and stood straight up to get a good peer at our house. I leaped away from the window. Had she spotted me checking her out? I didn’t think so…
Oh heavens… she was already ringing the doorbell as I slipped on my shoes. My sister stuck her head in. “C’mon!” she urged in a stage whisper. For all we knew, it might take both of us to keep conversation going… Ugh. I hoped this wasn’t going to be an ordeal. I scrunched my face at myself in my bedroom mirror and put on a smile. Well…the best I could do.
“Oh, Mae…” Mom was greeting her, “Come on in! I’m so glad you could join us today!”
“Oh my dear, it was so good of you to ask me!” she sang out. “And these must be your lovely girls!” She reached out for our hands, the huge bag still in hers, then laughed at herself as she slipped the handle onto her arm. “Mustn’t give away my surprises too soon!” she chirruped, tucking the opening of the bag a little closed, but unable to hide several bulges. Hmm… I thought. Wonder what it is she has in there –?
While she chattered away about her morning’s adventures apparently driving hither and yon, visiting friends and acquaintances up and down the coast… I suddenly realized, here was one woman who was not at a loss for words. Well…good. Listening was easier anyway.
“Won’t you come in and sit down?” I asked, graciously, leading the way to the wing chairs by the tree, even as she talked on and on.
“I stopped by Lydia’s and Ralph’s, on the way in,” she was saying in a tch tch sort of way. “Poor things. They’ve been having such a tough time this year what with this and that…” Making herself comfortable in the chair, she explained about some sorrowful occurrences that made me feel a bit sad for these people I didn’t know.
“They were so cheered up by the few goodies I brought that they gave me something still unopened right from under their tree…” she went on with hardly a breath. “And then, I had to stop and visit with Rosalie… I told her how I’d been waiting all year to hear her play the piano again. You know, she’s so lonely since her kids moved out of state, and she gave me the best Christmas concert there in her front room…”
My sister and I just nodded.
“And John and the boys, they were so proud to show me the tree they cut down in the mountains this year… They said they wished I could stay for dinner with them…” Her voice trailed off for a moment. “But – well, I told them I’d love to, but I was invited to share Christmas dinner with this wonderful family… and they said, well, sure… it surely sounded like fun.”
We smiled at her.
“And then… I decided to go out of my way and surprise Lottie just to say happy Christmas on the spur of the moment, don’t you know…” She tugged her tunic blouse up a bit, straightened out some wrinkles, then settled her head back against the chair with a sigh.
We waited, listening. She closed her eyes for a suddenly-silent moment, then looked meaningfully into ours. “It’s so good to have somewhere to be on a day like this, isn’t it?” she reflected, her voice turning soft and thoughtful. Like a little girl’s – almost.
Something about her words, the wistful tenderness in her tone, put a lump in my throat. My sister and I stole a look at each other, stirred a little uncomfortably.
Mae reached across to the couch where I sat and patted my knee. “You probably don’t think about it much at your ages… I know I never did,” she ruminated.
She fingered a little ornament on our tree, continued. “…Dear Lottie… she’s stuck in that home, sitting in a wheelchair. Still sharp as a tack. But all around her, poor unfortunate folks who aren’t doing as well as she… No one to really talk to. Or sing with. And no visitors but me. I promised her to stop by and tell her all about you and your lovely family… and this Christmas we have together… soon…”
Something inside me did a flip flop, sitting there. Unexpectedly, I had a wild wish that she could have brought dear Lottie along today…
And another thought occurred to me. Mae might be talking about Lottie…but maybe she was talking about herself too. All these people she’d stopped by to see today. They’d apparently given her some little tokens of the holiday. Sent her on her way with well-wishes. But – had they been thinking about Mae on this day? Had they even planned special gifts for her or just given her some castoffs? An elderly single woman… no kids. She had spent this day in her own “It’s A Wonderful Life” way… going from person to person… letting them know they were remembered, cherished.
Suddenly… she didn’t seem like a strange old lady interloper anymore. And I hoped… prayed… sharing our Christmas together somehow made her feel cherished.
“I brought some small surprises for you,” she was saying then, opening up her Poppins bag and beginning to pull out gaily wrapped packages. Each one in a different paper...
Suddenly I knew. These were gifts given to her by those she’d visited today… and she was passing them on to us, unopened. And I understood. These were the only treasures she had to give.
We oohhed and ahhed over some old-woman scarves and jewelry we would never wear… thanking her heartily for thinking of us.
Our doorbell was ringing then… My aunt and cousins were here. Our close family friends. Father H. and his cheerfully booming Christmas hello! He was another one who liked to visit all and sundry of friends and acquaintances, but always chose OUR invitation above all for dinner and fellowship. And like Mae, he came bearing wrapped gifts…He was handing Mae a box of what looked like See’s chocolates (yum!)… more than possibly passing on a gift someone else had given him… And her eyes were dancing as she accepted the prettily-wrapped box… The Christmas angel and the priest…
Mom was introducing all to Mae. She was rapidly becoming the belle of the ball, walking to the table on Father H’s arm, as Dad carved the turkey… and we all took our places.
Every season, I perpetually wished we would carol together or do any of the Christmasey things people always seemed to do in movies or on TV. We never did of course, but somehow… this year, with the coming of Mae to our home and table, our little Christmas celebration seemed to sparkle more than expected…wreathed with good conversation…winks and smiles…and carols of a new and different kind.
I wondered… did Mae hear them singing? And what words might she sing to Lottie about this night?
© Pam Depoyan
On a side note… to catch up with uncovering the Twelve Days of Christmas for yesterday and today…
… Because of religious persecution between the 1500′s and 1800′s, this carol was used to surreptitiously teach faith to children…
- Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.
- The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John…
…More about this to come…