“I just can’t eat another bite.” I tried coaxing, “You haven’t even taken a first bite. Try a first bite.” I sat in the dining room at the facility where I worked, enjoying my Monday duty of assisting some residents with their noon meal. It was often a welcome break from the other work I was doing, There was never a dull moment in the dining room. Christmas music played in the background. There was a little eighty or ninety-something doll with her jet-black hair sitting to my right. She was a pistol with a deeper smoky voice, reminiscent of some aging former starlet, and had one volume that would carry throughout any room she was in and into any adjacent room, “Well, I did try it, and it’s not spicy enough, if you know what I mean.” I did know what she meant, which made me smile as I peppered her spaghetti. I turned away from her, not wanting to encourage her further, and hoping she would eat if no one was watching. To my left was a lady who didn’t speak but was, however, very aware of her surroundings and what was taking place. Knowing this, I was a little more timid with her. I wouldn’t be able to sell her any lines. I held a spoonful of pureed peas up for her inspection, “Do you want to try the peas?” I read the answer clearly on her face and nervously responding, “Oh, not the peas, huh?” She looked at me like I was a dimwit. “Yeah, sorry,” I ditched the spoon. “How do you feel about chicken?” She seemed agreeable to that, accepting the bite I offered. I got this, I thought.
Perry Como was crooning from a CD player in the corner of the room, “Oh come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant…” Enveloped in the song, I was taken back to another place and time. A three-year old me watched Mr. Rogers change his shoes inside of the black and white magical box in our living room. From the kitchen, Mom was humming along with Perry, then singing along with, “Oh come let us adore him…” Her voice clear and beautiful made me feel warm, I was safe and happy. All was well in my little three-year-old world…
I was brought back to the present by the realization that tears were streaming down my face, dripping off my chin. I tasted the salt as I licked at tears that ran past the corner of my mouth. Across the table sat a lady who often recognized me, in her mind, as a dear friend from long ago, which made me very happy to live in her reality. Smiling widely, she held up her last pickle, “Take it. I’ve had plenty. They’re just so good!” The gesture was so sweet. I fought for composure, “You go ahead. I know they’re your favorite.” I made eye contact with my quiet friend to the left, as I spooned more meat for her. I saw her compassion. She knew. She read me. I was caught. I tried to smile to prove that I was ok. Her eyes told me she wasn’t buying it. So, I let the river flow, and was thankful that my back was to the rest of the room, and that only the two of us knew that I was crying.
I turned my attention to the spicy little doll face to my right, offering her more spaghetti. She had no interest and began to tug at the terry-cloth clothing protector around her neck. I tried to stop her, “Don’t you want to keep that on, in case something spills? You don’t want to ruin your beautiful outfit.” Loud and proud she proclaimed, “No I don’t want to wear this thing! I’m just trying to be sexy.” She had me. I shook my head and smiled. What could I possibly say to that? I wanted to applaud her and her jet-black hair! Under my breath I muttered, “Of course you are. You are bringing sexy back.” I made a last-ditch attempt at getting her to take something, “One more drink of your chocolate milk. You love chocolate milk.” There was no stopping her, “Let’s get out of here and find a real drink!” I knew that I’d been beat, so I wheeled her out, “Lets go see what kind of trouble you can stir up out here.”
After finding her a spot where she would be entertained, or rather, where she would entertain everyone within hearing distance, I headed for my office and the privacy it would afford me. The roller coaster ride I had just experienced had my head reeling, and I supposed I was due for a cry. The first Christmas without Mama was only three days away. Instead of my office, I wandered outside. The cold air felt good on my face. I was still shaken by the unexpected visitation of the FIRST Christmas I could remember with my mom, so I walked. As I walked, I wondered what kind of Christmas songs Mom was singing in heaven. Is Christmas a thing there? It’s probably an all the time thing there. Does she remember? Does she see me? Does she know me? My need for her and the comfort of her voice drew me back into that memory. Free to take it all in, I indulged myself, savoring every detail, the smell of baking, the smell of her, the sound of her voice calling me “honey”, her stunning beauty, the feel of the perfect soft skin of her cheek against mine. It was a pristine memory, and as I relived it again untethered, it became a treasure that made me smile through a few more tears. She had given me a Christmas gift long ago, and in the cool of that day walking through the parking lot, I opened it. So much more than a memory, it was pure comfort and joy!