The Jewel of Christmas

I knew I was a grown-up when I checked into the motel in my hometown on Christmas Eve. My nostalgic thoughts of Christmas trees cut from the woods and Mom making sure she didn’t overcook the lutefisk were all in the past. My dad was being helped into bed at the nursing home a few blocks away. I unpacked some lefse and a jar of pickled herring for Dad on Christmas Day. They looked very pathetic on the motel room dresser. Nostalgia, I reflected on the 17th century definition. It was thought of as a psychopathological disorder hallmarked by extreme longing. I felt it. The highway outside the motel would round the hill by the golf course and lead to the county line road. The old farm house of my childhood was pushed into a hole, decades before. What was I longing for?

Since sleep was fugitive to my being, I had a chance to think about that question. Most of the images conjured in my mind were not even mine. Images and scenes have become a part of me that I had never really experienced. It was Norman Rockwell mixed with Walt Disney and stirred by movies like “Holiday Inn” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” As I struggled for sleep I found an image of my own, the Christmas of 1965.

My nostalgia for Christmas seemed to be locked in 1965. My Aunt and Uncle from California were coming for a visit! I was so excited as everything was being prepared. Dad flocked the tree with the new Kirby vacuum, right in the living room. Those attachments were wonderful and that splendid machine showed its power through sound. We couldn’t hear each other when the Kirby was running. Much to Mom’s dismay the drapes were also flocked, the repeating pattern of southern plantation houses were festooned with soap flakes. Aunty Vi and Uncle Steve were our fancy relatives, living in the hills of Oakland. They drove a T-Bird convertible and had enough money to have a bar in the basement of their home. Steve wore silky shirts and hated children. I wanted to be the exception! They both drank considerably, so Dad went to the town Muni for supplies. He hauled the clinking bottles of booze to the cellar while Mom shook her head in disgust. She knew the scorn of Aunt Luella who would also to be in attendance. Luella was A-listed in the Women’s Temperance Union.

Everything was so exotic that year, from the boozy, smoky cellar to the uneven, soapy Christmas tree. Even the lutefisk smelled different in the enhanced atmosphere. Before the gifts were opened Luella enforced her tradition of reading the Christmas story in the slowest cadence possible. We gathered in the living room and listened to the story while trying to use x-ray vision on the packages. About the time the shepherds were feeling “sore afraid”, candle wax dripped from the dining room centerpiece onto the deserted table, igniting the tablecloth. Dad seemed to fly across the room. Luella screamed, obviously sore afraid, adding a new dimension to the sacred story. Viola tottered on her high heels, her skin-tight red dress crawling higher up her shapely legs. The fire was extinguished by emptying the water pitcher left on the table. My mother remained in her chair with a look on her face that took me years to understand.

In a motel room on Christmas Eve, I understood my mother’s look more profoundly than before. I wasn’t in Bedford Fallsor a snowy inn with Bing Crosby. It was my life with all its variables, where happy endings sometimes happened but were not guaranteed. I was a grown-up, a care-giver, a daughter. A deep wave of gratitude swept through me. I understood that I could not expect a Christmas filled with perfection. Still it was Christmas. I wondered what my dad was thinking about while waiting for sleep at the nursing home. I hoped it was that Kirby vacuum. The jar of pickled herring on the dresser sparkled in the light from the highway, my jewel of Christmas.

The holidays carry many expectations, some real and some imagined. It can be an especially difficult time for persons struggling with memory loss and for their care partners. Augustana Care Open Circle provides respite care for caregivers while helping people with changing physical, cognitive and/or social abilities to enjoy fulfilling lives. We offer three convenient locations throughout the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area. Each of our locations offer programs, recreation, personal care, respite and social connections to individuals with memory loss or other emotional or physical needs. Contact one of our centers to learn more about how Augustana Care Open Circle can support care partners to find balance and meaning in a life touched by memory loss or other diagnosis.

The author, Patty Crawford, is the Center Manager at Open Circle of Apple Valley. She has been a part of Augustana Care for 41 years. Patty is also a sought after public speaker on subjects of ageing. She weaves her insight and research into meaningful presentations. Patty is a Master of Leadership graduate from Augsburg University.