As I look out the windows of the sliders, the December wind escorts snowflakes that are falling onto autumn leaves. Layers of sparkling flakes hide Mother Nature's paintbrush strokes that turned greens into a kaleidoscope of brilliant hues. Another chapter in my Book of Life as a Caregiver has begun.
This is the second December I am a Caregiver for a beloved elder in my position with Abundant Blessings. This is my 18th month of watching the sun rise over the lake at dawn, and enjoying the sunset's pink glow in the evening. I believe conversation is a healthy stimulant for not only her, but myself. She enjoys when I reach into my childhood memories to share bits and pieces of my life. These tales may give her a better understanding of why I am the person I am today - or at least I like to think so. Lately, it's natural to focus on Christmas - "it's the most beautiful time of the year" - so the song sung by Andy Williams says. I realize, however, that I am giving myself a gift, bringing what is hidden in my heart to the forefront. While verbalizing about how Christmas was celebrated, I become the twelve year old who is now allowed to stay up "to help Santa trim the tree on Christmas Eve". That was the year my father whispered in my ear, "When the other kids are asleep, quietly come back downstairs". An hour after the eight of us had each opened the present that mysteriously had appeared under the undecorated tree, (a pair of new pjs to wear Christmas morning) and climbed the stairs to our bedrooms, I tiptoed down the stairs to see my father putting lights on the tree. Boxes of ornaments were on the couch and my stepmother was busy wrapping gifts on the dining room table. That was when I knew who Santa really was. Naïve? Maybe, but gloriously so! And oh how my heart is singing when I think about these times.
That magical night, my father placed the old foil Santa Claus face on top of the tree. It had been the same Santa that graced his childhood tree. My main job was to put the tinsel on each branch -- one piece at a time. Now, this wasn't tinsel that was new and shiny, but hefty pieces of shimmering foil that had been wrapped around pieces of cardboard and used year after year. Dad was like the "tinsel police" - watching that I did the hanging just right and admonishing me if I didn't. After what seemed like hours, my tinsel job was finished. I then helped my stepmother wrap gifts, mostly in green or red tissue paper, with Christmas stickers holding the pieces together. In a family of ten, scotch tape was a rare commodity, only to be used very sparingly. Those little stickers of candy canes, elves or angels barely held up through the night to Christmas morning.
On Christmas morning, my father would turn the tree lights on and have "the kids" come down the stairs in age order - youngest to oldest (me). I still see the joy on the faces of my sisters and brothers as they saw the now decorated Christmas tree and the orderly stacks of presents underneath. My Dad was there taking pictures with the old video camera. We'd sit on the floor and my stepmom would hand us each a present to open. I remember all of this to be orderly and not the harried ripping of paper that one generally sees nowadays. We didn't have many gifts, but what we were given made us smile. Money was always tight in our household. Both parents worked on the B&M Railroad in the neighboring town, and my father also held other jobs at the same time - Police Chief, Fire Chief, snowplower in the town trucks. I well remember the trees he would cut "way up north" and haul back for us to sell at my uncle's hardware store or in our side yard. My siblings and I gathered Princess Pine from the woods and made wreaths to sell. We shoveled walks and driveways till our feet and fingers seemed frozen. That was how we earned our Christmas money.
As I share my childhood memories with this wonderful lady I am Caregiver for, she, in turn, talks about her childhood Christmases. Her eyes light up, she laughs, and long forgotten names and places come out of that hiding deep in her mind. I listen with my ears, but it is my heart that is catching each memory she is reliving. There is no sadness, no tears of days long lost. There is only the gifts of sharing and caring. Laughter fills the air. Unlocking wonderful memories is like opening up the door of the past with the key of love. And so the night ends, and we watch the falling snow blanketing the lake. We both smile, lost in the peace of our yesterdays.
As we celebrate this wonderful time of year be sure to share your own Christmas memories and reminisce with those you love. What are some of your favorite Christmas memories?