Wednesday, December 07, 2016
The Christmas Gift
Yesterday I visited my elderly mother, soon to be 91 years of age. I took along a Christmas wreath for her door in the assisted-living residence which is currently her home. Over the past couple of years Mom's health has failed, and a series of minor strokes have left her befuddled. She will do reasonably well in conversation, then develop a surprising "speed wobble" that reminds us that the MRI spots on her brain that indicate transient ischemic attacks have taken a toll.
Our conversation faltered as we began. While she was cheerful, she couldn't put a sentence together on any subject. What had she just eaten for lunch, I wondered. She couldn't remember, nor could she recall a recent phone conversation with a relative.
So, I asked her about the occasions when she, as a travel agent, had taken groups to Israel over the Christmas holidays. She did this several times after her marriage to my father ended, in part, I suspect, to escape the family politics and pain.
Suddenly she was back on her game. When I asked about Bethlehem she reminded me that they never stayed in the West Bank but would drive the few kilometres from Jerusalem in the late afternoon as it was getting dark. Rather than going to the Church of the Nativity the coach would go to a spot in the countryside, the "shepherds fields" where they would climb out and hold a brief service. "Would you sing?", I asked, knowing the answer. My mother had a lovely, strong voice and she was fearless in leading in song or offering a solo without accompaniment. With her Salvation Army upbringing making music was akin to breathing.
"What did you sing?" O Little Town of Bethlehem. Silent Night. Once in Royal David's City. While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks. "Washed their socks?" I asked, and she laughed. Mother's tend to laugh at corny quips.
Our conversation continued, moving to other subjects, with personal information shared from her youth which I'd never heard before. I knew she had been unlucky in love as a beautiful twenty year old, but for the first time she spoke to me about it from the heart. We realized that I wouldn't exist if that relationship had come to fruition. As I left she hoped aloud that I didn't mind that she was so honest. Of course I didn't.
I arrived with a Christmas gift and we spoke about Christmases past and she gave me a Christmas present. What more could I hope for?