Christmas is a time for joy, but also a time for grief.
Holiday preparations remind me of my mother-in-law, Dee Ewing, who died in 1993. My childhood Christmases were fine, certainly not traumatic, but sometimes strained and stressful. My Christmas nostalgia dates instead from the ‘80s, when I was newly married, and then a new parent, when I spent part of Christmas with the Ewing family.
I’ve written before about a sweater Dee gave me when John and I were dating. That year, she bestowed on all her kids and husband a patchwork sweater. Including me seemed to make me a part of the family. I still keep that worn and torn sweater in a dresser drawer as a memento of her welcoming.
Every November thereafter, Dee would hand me catalogues from L.L. Bean and Land’s End (two companies I had never heard of in my pre-Ewing life) and tell me to pick out what I wanted. The first year or two I checked off three or four items in each book, thinking I was giving Dee a choice. Instead, she’d buy them all. I was more circumspect in my selecting after that, but she never became more circumspect in her buying.
When we had kids, she’d spend a few days before Christmas with us and take the kids to our local big-box toy store. We’d walk up and down the aisles with the kids pointing out what they liked and wanted, which Dee would jot down on a piece of paper. Then she’d go back and purchase them all.
Her Christmas gift wrapping took hours and hours.
Was it too much? Too materialistic? Yes, and yes. Was Dee fortunate to have the money to spend on so many gifts? For sure. But I see Christmas as an outlet for Dee Ewing’s prodigious love and generosity, expressed also in a fully decorated house, dozens of Christmas cookies, and a delicious Christmas dinner.
Dee’s love was a tremendous gift. I wasn’t her daughter. (She already had a beloved daughter.) I was more like a friend and adopted orphan. She loved me and took care of me, and I hope she understood, a little, how much her caring meant to me.
The other day, baking chocolate drop cookies and listening to my favorite cookie-baking music (Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances) brought me to tears. When John walked into the kitchen, I said, “Once again I’m trying to channel Dee Ewing.”
Taking a bite of a cookie, my husband said, “Yours are very good. Not quite the same as my mom’s, though.” I’m going to keep working on it.
Share your holiday griefs and joys below.