The Gift of a Smile
Ah, Christmas . . .
Jesus. Trees. Lights. Cards. Presents. Carols. Joy. Stockings. Friends. Family. And, Mama.
Mama was always the first one I thought of at Christmas. I’d get to buy her two presents. One for Christmas and the other for her birthday. I never forgot her telling me how she hated being a Christmas baby. She felt either Christmas or her birthday was always being slighted.
At 15, I went to work for Cato’s Department Store. It was the first time I ever had money of my own. That Christmas I bought my first present, and it was for Mama’s birthday, a lavender sweater.
On Christmas morning, we all opened our gifts. Mama had several. Most said, “Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday.” She opened them, set them aside, and politely thanked everyone. I watched and waited.
Later that day, I slipped over to my grandmother’s house and baked Mama a birthday cake. More than anything, I couldn’t wait to see her face when I surprised her.
The next morning, I got up early, ran over to grandmother's and rushed back home with Mama's cake. Proudly I sat it in the middle of the kitchen table. Next I retrieved her birthday gift hidden under my bed, wrapped in the previous Sunday’s comic paper. I didn’t have any ribbon; so, I used a tattered scarf my grandmother gave me. Placing it next to the cake, I waited and watched.
That’s the first time I remember seeing Mama cry. At first, I thought I had done something wrong. I felt a tightening in my chest. You know, the sudden kind only a 15-year-old can experience. Then in the middle of tears, she smiled.
Today, I saw the perfect sweater for my mother’s birthday. It would showcase her bobbed silver hair and blue-gray eyes. I held it up, and then held it close. Tears sprang up so fast I struggled to blink them away. Tenderly I laid it back down with the others, making sure I caressed it before walking away.
My mother’s birthday is on December 26. This is the third year I will not be able to be with her. She died in April 2009. The second year after her death, I did the same thing. But for a minute, I forgot about her death and started to call her to see if she’d like to be daring and go with a hot pink sweater. That time I did cry. Out loud and in public. I didn’t even try to squelch the grief and heartache of missing her.
The first Christmas without her, I ached—a deep, longing ache. I was numb, refusing to believe there could be a Christmas without Mama. I bought flowers and put them on her grave. Then I went out and bought her a navy sweater. It’s still wrapped. In comic paper. Tied with a tattered scarf. Under my bed, until our new dog found it. Now it’s safe in my closet.
I’ve decided when I die if anything can pass through the curtain of death, I’m dragging my present to Mama just to see her smile, one more time.
A smile. The gift of a lifetime and into eternity.
Are you missing someone special this holiday season?