Memo From Mac



The Burlington Hawk-Eye
The Hawk Eye
Burlington, Iowa

Creche, Carol, Crush and Commercialism; Too Much So, Perhaps 
December 1980

I was sorting the mail, putting the Christmas cards in one pile, the bills in another on the dining room table, dropping the junk in the wastebasket. "Nothing for you today," I said to Nana, who was sipping her morning coffee.

"Oh, I didn't expect any," she lied, "nearly everyone I know is gone."

It wasn't self-pity in her voice. Just the long loneliness that comes not from being alone, for she is not, but from the burden of the years, from the distant view down all the interminal years, past all the Christmases, clear back into the last century.

It set me to thinking and to watching her during the remaining days, there being no children to watch in this near empty house; and because for the first time I could feel the chilly stab of unwinding time between my own shoulder blades. For, I realized with a shudder, I can remember more than a half-century of Christmases myself, and feel myself sliding down the short end of the years. That the incoming mail was so sparse did not slow the outgoing. She sat in the mornings at the table with the sun streaming in from the river, dipping her pen in her ink bottle (she disdains ballpoints as an inferior, even disrespectful tool of communication) and composed daily notes to those few old friends who remain. She watches her soap operas and reads her hometown paper and sits quietly a lot, lost in whatever reverie softens the weightings of the years. The happy holidays were rushing onto her, colliding with memories of a husband gone more than 30 years, children grown gray. There was a new unsteadiness in her walk. Grandmother's down a little, we told ourselves.

Her doctor grandson came by and examined the ankle, which was hurting her and scaring her with its uncertainty. There nothing wrong with it, he told her bluntly. You've been walking on it for a long time and you've sort of worn it out. I'm going to get you a cane for Christmas. Only he could have gotten away with such impertinence.

But then she was up earlier than usual one morning and I heard pans banging in the kitchen. I found her in clouds of flour. The mixer whirred, blending the butter. The mounds of nuts and chocolate bits and raisins filled the counter too.

The knife flashed, chopping dates; rivers of sugar flowed from the scoop, and as the days went on, bowls of batter formed and disintegrated into mysterious little gobs, lined up in ranks on the sheets of wax paper. She consulted the tattered old recipes only occasionally, but the new oven occasionally fooled her, and a batch would come out browner on the bottom than she liked. I would get to eat some of those.

Slowly, the freezer filled with the bags of cookies, poured into the plastic bread wrappers she been saving, each carefully tied. And each day her step became lighter and more sure (even though her cane had not yet arrived) and her eyes brighter and voice stronger. I fussed at her for doing too much and she sent me to the store room to bring up the boxes the ancient tree ornaments, the battered music box with its big black key, which her grandmother had brought from Germany and which rotates a small tree and plays Silent Night.

Finally, they began to come down from Minnesota and Iowa City, up from Kansas, out from Washington.

She had all the work done and her new robe on when Patrick came. Patrick is the newest great-grandson, the July 4th baby she not yet seen. She took him from his father, wiggling and laughing and sat down in her chair by the Christmas tree, in front of the window overlooking the river. They snuggled together and cooed at each other, the two of them, with just a few days more than 84 years between them. Her weariness and loneliness were gone, all the weight of the years and the long, dim roll of Christmases past.

We had our Christmas miracle. It is for children. Of all ages.

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