She loved Christmas Eve. Christmas was always so much fun, so lovely, but Christmas Eve was extra special, magical in a way that only the holiest of nights can be.
Most of the day on Christmas Eve was spent finishing up in the kitchen on all those handmade goodies–cookies, candies, gingerbread, and hot cocoa mix– before we delivered baskets of them to neighbors and friends in the afternoon. Then the four of us, Mom, Dad, my brother, and I, would gather at home.
She loved maple nut goodies. And French Burnt Peanuts, too. Dime store candies that are easy to find and never melt on road trips.
So many road trips we took. Visiting family, going on camping trip vacations, and sometimes, just driving. Those were my favorites. And when the candies would most often come out.
I don’t know what kind of magic spell she cast on that purse but there was always something sweet to be found in one of the corners. After we ate cheese and crackers from the mini cooler that often sat on the backseat between my brother and me, we’d eat those little candies and play the license plate game, or the find-the-alphabet-on-the-billboards game, or I Spy.
I miss you. Funny how so few words can mean so many things, how they can abbreviate a layered complexity of emotion. Nostalgia, melancholy, laughter, pain.
I think of you every time I finish something I’m proud of.
I think of you every time I think of Christmas.
I think of you every time I’m in a hospital.
I think of you every time I laugh so much it hurts my belly.
I think of you every time I sing.
You loved it when I sang this song.
faithful to me
She loved the stories hands tell. What every nick, scar, wrinkle, and freckle represents.
Artists’ hands with paint embedded in the knuckles. Farmers’ hands with dirt under the fingernails, rough patches from years of work, freckles from the sun. Mamas’ hands with pinpricks from quilting needles, wrinkles from being wrung during missed curfews, a little worn from countless hours in dishwater. Guitar pickers with their calloused fingertips, bakers with their burns. She could look at your hands and tell you your life story.
I used to hate my hands, blocky and sturdy with thick knuckles, not dainty and delicate in the least. I always thought mine are better suited for a plow than a piano. I told Mom this once. She held up my hands and called them beautiful. She said, just think of what these hands will do, what they will create, who they’ll care for. These are hands that can accomplish things, that will get things done. Love your hands, she told me, and they will serve you well.
I miss her hands, always warm, always ready to give. She held mine through every childhood fear, every insecurity, every anxiety. She squeezed mine after every amen around the dinner table. Her hand swung my arm back and forth on walks in the pasture and dried so many of my tears. I held hers for hours on her last day here, until she was gone, until the nurse had to make me let go.
May my hands endeavor to give the world a fraction of what hers did.
Five years and I still dream about you as though you never left. I still pick up the phone to call you. I want to show you the things I make.
You loved this song and I did, too. I love it even more now because it reminds me of the greatest promise we could never ask for. My greatest comfort.
She loved planting from seed.
She told me once that this is her favorite time of year, spring. When life pushes back against the earth and melting snow, when the air is cleanest, when the birds are happy and the world is in love.
Mom always preferred starting from seed to buying plants. She never stopped being amazed at how these hard, dry, tiny little things could transform into tall creatures with ruffled petals and thorny branches or curly stems with delicate pods of green. Every year, she’d tell me what a miracle it was.
Where most people keep the butter, our fridge was crammed with seeds we’d gathered in the fall or gotten in the mail from faraway cousins. Coreopsis in envelopes, snapdragons in pillboxes, cosmos and zinnias in plastic baggies. We’d pull them out and lay them on the kitchen table next to seed catalogs and graph paper. Then we’d map out our gardens: cucumbers and bells of Ireland, beans and cockscomb, tomatoes and marigolds. When we were tiny, my brother and I would order the penny packet of seeds, full of mysterious kernels that only needed a little coaxing to tell their story.
I learned a lot from Mom and her seeds. Like how some of the ones that sprouted easiest were the hardest to maintain. Or how the littlest ones needed extra attention.
Then there were the hardest seeds. Shiny or textured, impossible to crack with force. But soften them, give them time in a cup of warm water and watch the rough layers flake off and roots start to form. Those were always the prettiest flowers to me, the ones that grew from the hardest seeds. They came the furthest, they proved the most. They were the ones with the most magic of all.
She Loved Beautiful Star of Bethlehem. It was her favorite Christmas song.
It was her favorite because it was her mom’s favorite. Mom told me many times about how Grandma used to sing it all year long. It was more than a Christmas carol for her: it was a hymn and a lullaby, too. I think the song rings so true in part because it was written in a barn, someplace very much like the place Jesus was born.
I remember Grandma singing it to me while I sat next to her in her living room, her arm around me and my head nestled against her. I’d watch the little figures swing back and forth on the clock across the room while she sang, and listen to Grandpa turn the pages of his newspaper as he read it at the kitchen table in the next room.
This song is my mom, my grandma, my grandpa and his ever-present newspaper. It’s mantle clocks, purest love, warm cuddles on a cold day. It’s peace.
Beautiful Star of Bethlehem