I did what my mother always did. Mama always, ALWAYS, made the best of every situation. And, after several days, that was all I could do. It’s been rough lately. Mom died 4 years ago, a few days before Thanksgiving. And Daddy just died, exactly one week shy of his 96th birthday. During one of my pity parties I sobbed to my husband, Jimmy, snot coming out of my nose, “I know he had a fabulous life and I know I’ve been so fortunate to have such an incredible family but I want more time with him. I want more time!”. Well, last weekend I met my little sister, Pamela, at our childhood home, the home where we were raised, for one last cleanup session. The house had been put on the market and sold within three or four days. It’s a tear-down so our time there is rapidly dwindling. We cried and cleaned. Found more papers and photographs and cried. Looked out across the water and cried some more. “How can it be?”, we kept asking. “How did we get here? This is our HOME!”. I had planned to reward myself when I left the house by getting our Christmas ornaments in preparation for decorating the tree and entire house. I knew after an emotional morning I would need some sort of pick-me-up and Christmas decorations were just the thing to make me feel better. Mama started giving exquisite crystal ornaments to the four of us, my siblings and me, many, many years ago. And when the grandchildren were born they received them as well. Waterford, Orrefors, Baccarat and Lalique, each ornament was engraved with the corresponding year. There were ornaments I bought when Jimmy and I were dating. I had a wonderful collection of handmade treasures made by our son, James, from Pre-K, kindergarten and on through his younger years. My brother, Tommy, had made for me a fantastic ornament from a scrap of wood of a coyote painted black, howling at the moon while sporting a red and white striped Santa hat. You could almost see his fat, furry tail twitching while singing to a cold, white moon. I looked forward to unwrapping the small, beaded Miccosukee Indian while deciding where to hide it on the tree and anticipating the game Pamela and I played every year since Jimmy and I were married of me hiding the tiny ornament and Pamela hunting and finding it after several cocktails. So many memories were wrapped up in one enormous and heavy styrofoam box which held all the precious decorations. Even the box was precious to me. Eons ago Daddy gave us each one of the same boxes he used to ship the tropical fish he developed to Asia and Europe. The walls of the boxes almost two inches thick made going through a doorway a bit of a challenge. But my most precious treasure is our Christmas star made by James when he was five years old. He had received a Disney Christmas coloring book and had colored young Simba’s happy face smiling out from the middle of what looked to be poinsettia petals. We carefully cut it out and mounted it with scotch tape onto a cardboard toilet paper tube. It makes my heart sing! I always packed it in tissue and stored it in a pretty, red, Neiman-Marcus box. When I arrived at our storage unit I required the help of an employee as our lock was stuck and I positively could not open it. But he did and when he swung open the door, well, we just stood there…staring…in disbelief and incredulity. Something was wrong and I recall my brain refusing to register what was to be the cherry on top of my personal mountain of tragedy and sadness. We had been robbed. Someone, turns out the police said it was probably a crack or meth addict, had popped the lock on the outside door and unscrewed the entire hinge on the unit door. He had free rein to ransack our things. The thief had thrown James’ wooden rocking horse from the back of the unit all the way to the front. Years of papers were scattered hither and yon. A lovely wicker chaise longue was in pieces after having been jumped on repeatedly. The Christmas tree stand, which lived in the front of the unit with all the favorite Christmas “stuff”, peeked out from a corner in the back where it had been thrown. James’ baby clothing was everywhere and his high chair, (why did I ever save THAT?), leaned on top of the five foot high pile, all twisted and almost leering at me. I kept repeating as I tore through the mountain of odds and ends, “No, no! This isn’t right! This isn’t right!”. I burst into uncontrollable tears and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed because I knew, I KNEW, the styrofoam box was not there. I could dig and tear through all the boxes of paper and all the other stuff but my Christmas, the Christmas we had built up over so many years, was gone. I called my little brother who had his older boy with him and, in between spasms of grief and disbelief, told him what had happened. 15 minutes later they were at my side, comforting me and taking charge. My brother held up a red box he discovered. “Do you want this?”, he asked. I burst into fresh tears. It was Simba! Our robber had opened the styrofoam box, looked in the Neiman’s box, unwrapped Simba and thrown it aside. We found the Christmas manger that Mama had given me decades ago. The same manger that when I opened it for the first time, decided I didn’t really like it because the angel on top kind of looked like a hooker. That manger. I wept with happiness seeing I still had the crèche Mama had given me with so much love and thoughtfulness. The Christmas village, another lavish gift from Mama, was pretty much intact. It had been years since I had set up the village. I liked it but James had grown up and it was such work assembling it. We already had so much for Christmas. We had collected so so many things, five or six exquisite little trees I put all over the house, countless Advent calendars, random Santas, we had so much that I never brought home and so much of it was gone. My brother handed me shiny red apples, one after another, some busted up, that were loose and I tossed them into a garbage bag…my new storage box. He found scattered and loose all the sub-par ornaments which never made it home because they weren’t special enough but, for various reasons, I could never bring myself to throw out. My nephew, little Tommy, whom we adore, loaded their truck with my things in between stroking my back and murmuring, “It’ll be okay.” and took all the remaining ornaments to our house while Jimmy and I met with the police. When I finally got home, I sent the boys off to enjoy the weekend as best they could. There wasn’t anything anyone could do to make things better. Alone in the house I screamed and cried. As I write this I feel the all too familiar sting of tears rising. I prayed to God this wouldn’t harden my heart to those I encounter battling addiction or those who have hit a rough patch in life. But mostly I screamed to God, “Why, Lord? Why? I know they’re on drugs but they know better and that’s so mean, Lord! What kind of person does that, Lord?”. It wasn’t pretty. But eventually I came to terms with the situation and even made it to Target a few days later to get lights. On a day when Jimmy was in Boston I decided I had to do something with the decorations I had; that my tree and mantle were not going to decorate themselves. Christmas carols filling the house, I poured myself the biggest drink ever, set up the manger and put the lights on the tree. Easy-peasy. Now for the hard…really hard part. Fortified by my vodka-cran, I opened the dirty, black garbage bag holding what was left of my ornaments and peeped inside. “And what to my wondering eyes should appear but” a silky, blue ribbon…dated 1997. It was James’ first place award for Saint Anthony’s Field Day tricycle relay. He was in 1st grade. Is there anything more precious? Front and center I hung it on the tree. Reaching back into the trash bag I smiled as I pulled out a way-too-big paper snowflake James had folded and cut out long ago. As a little boy, he went through a phase where he spent all his free time making cut-out snowflakes from copy paper. He even gave his cousin, Alexis, a box of them for her wedding present. Anyway, the snowflake I pulled out of trash bag had never made it back home from storage and onto the tree because it was so darn big. As I held it open in my hand and stared at it a feeling of thankfulness poured over me. I wasn’t poor. I was rich. As my priest and good friend, Father Baker, aka Juanito, once texted me, “God provides”. And it’s true. I found the wide-brimmed, brass sun hat ornament, so sweet and girlish with its red, silky bow that Jimmy and I bought together on our first trip to Boston. We were in Provincetown, staying at a B&B. It was late afternoon and we had climbed to the end of the jettys with big glasses of bourbon and spent hours laughing and telling stories about ourselves…truly getting to know each other and really liking what we were learning. The following day I bought the happy, brass sun hat I was now staring down at from the top of the black garbage bag. It had never made it back home from storage because it was so heavy on the tree and, well, there just never was enough room on the branches. Until now. As I pulled my hand out of the bag something fluttered to the floor. It was a gift enclosure card from one of my dearest friends ever who died some years back. For many Christmases we exchanged gifts. Cookbooks, ornaments and treats were shared. One year she sent me a gorgeous, vibrant mermaid ornament. I loved it. It caught the light just so and made the cut to be on the tree every year.. However, this year, it was gone. But I had an enclosure card with her writing…her perfect penmanship. It read “To Alicia and Jim, XO, BL and Mikey”. I tucked it into its place on the mantle as I marveled at the joy and peacefulness I had found. Or maybe it found me. I felt complete. The raw hole inside me was being filled. I laughed at the Polaroids Pamela and I had taken of us with Santa. We gave them to Jimmy when he and I were dating. Propped on some antique opera glasses, the photos took their place on the mantle. And then Simba took his revered spot on top of the tree. Mega-drink in hand, I stood back and surveyed the living room. All the most precious memories were still physically represented. I found a huge bag of plastic, faceted, icicles Mama had given to all of us years ago which I never hung on the tree because I had so much already. There was never any room for “fillers”. The shiny, red apples I bought when Jimmy and I were dating? Fillers. The orange construction paper bell ornament with Jamesy’s photo in the middle never made it home either. Too big. I’m now so thankful. So thankful for all of it. I rejoiced when I heard New Edition crooning “Give Love On Christmas Day” because isn’t that what we want to do everyday? Lesson learned, Lord. Lesson learned. We all have so much. Our lives are beyond rich. Painful as it can be, we sometimes need to be reminded how fortunate we are. So thank you, Mom, for consistently being such a fine example, for teaching us what true joy is and where to find it. We are so grateful for showing us what is important and to always count our blessings because, although life isn’t always fair, it is up to us to find the good in all and everything and then say “thank you”.. This silly recipe I’ve added is making the most out of a few humble ingredients you probably always have on hand. Blessings!
This is the easiest recipe ever! I put it together this past summer when I was craving something sweet after dinner but also determined to lose some weight. I’m almost embarrassed….no, I AM embarrassed at the simplicity of this treat. Any crunchy cookie will work as well as any milk, whole, low or reduced fat, nut, pea or cow. Although, thinking on it, I don’t think goat milk would be something i would enjoy but that’s just me. I adore Costco’s frozen blueberries because they’re small and flavorful like the blueberries you find in Maine but big, Dole frozen work well, too! I suggest you use what you have and be happy.
- 3 whole sheets of cinnamon graham crackers, any of the following flavors will work well: plain, low-fat, cinnamon low-fat
- 1-1 1/2 cups of any of the following frozen berries: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries
- 1-1 1/2 cups of any of the following: almond milk, whole or low-fat milk, cashew milk
- stevia or sugar to taste
- Crumble graham crackers and divide evenly between two good size mugs.
- Divide both the frozen berries and milk of choice evenly between the two mugs.
- Sprinkle with stevia or sugar and jump in!