Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Angels in the Window [Ellen Stumbo Writing Prompt: A Christmas Memory]

We are having a slightly awkward and unusual Christmas this year; many of our traditions are taking a hiatus as we empty my parents' (I still think of it as my parents' even though my Dad, Jessie’s Grumps, died 2 years ago) condominium in Montreal. My mother, while keeping her beachfront condo on the Atlantic in Florida, has moved into a seniors' residence. Last year was our first Christmas without Grumps, and by this year, we had fully expected the condo to be gone and our family to be forging new traditions. But things, as in life, did not go completely according to plan, and while my mother is delightfully ensconced in her new apartment, we are only now divvying up the significant leftovers, if they can rightfully be called that. They include a beautiful Quebecoise pine dinning table and a full kitchen complete with Cuisinart, kitchenaid mixer, and a full silver cutlery service. Too. Much. Stuff. But, as ours is all falling apart at the seams and hers has so much value—material, historical, and narrative— most of our Christmas in Montreal will be spend packing. I will say that my mother has done all the difficult work of sorting, and deserves a medal. As do my brothers, who live in Montreal and have dealt with the daily-ness of the downsizing.

So, the short part of this long story is that at home here in Ottawa we do not have a tree. It is the inherited one sitting in a box (along with the reindeer) in Montreal. We do, however have Christmas decorations and a tradition (mostly) of breaking out the Christmas music and books on December 1st. Which usually morphs into a much later date, but I am sure you all know about that kind of tradition. Last year, in preparation for our own kind of downsizing, I put all the angel ornaments that Jessie had been given over the years into one box, separate from the other ornaments. When we did get around to the music and the books, I also felt the need to add to the festiveness and brought out two extra boxes—the boughs and this box of angels.

I placed the box on Jessie’s lap and said “These are all your angels from all the different angels in your life.” And together, as a family, we unpacked them and placed them in the window:

As we were unpacking we shared the stories of their provenance—some funny, some mundane, some bittersweet. I think the first angel came from my parents' friends in Montreal, the Garners, who always have a special place for Jessie in their thoughts, at their home, and in their gifts. While we don’t see them as often as she (Jessie) and we would like, their angels grace her life, and that is gift.

There is the angel that I am sure Dan stole from some theatre group’s Christmas party, and the one that our laughing neighbours Randy and Nancy gave us. We live in an old neighbourhood, one where the lots are tiny and the houses cheek by jowl, so you really have to have good neighbours. Randy and Nancy were the epitome of that: Randy babysitting in emergencies and making passports with Jessie and traveling by spinning the globe in the living room, Nancy by giving me great educational advice and adapted cooking books and connections to teachers and mentors (she was a special ed teacher). They no longer live next door and we miss them.

There is the angel that I, with forethought, remembered to keep. It was the year that Jessie made and hand-painted angels for gifts. Usually, by the time any Christmas craft was done we had run out of any extras to keep. This one, though, I put aside specifically as a keeper. The bright colours and half moon smile are so typical of her drawings in grade 1.

Then, there is the final angel. The one I take out last, as it was a gift to Jessie from my Aunt Kathy, just a few years before she died. Kathy was just 10 years older than me, so a cross between a sister and a very special aunt. She loved me, and Jessie (and Dan) unconditionally, and you can never replace that kind of love. So this angel is my bittersweet ornament, a gentle prick of regret and deep-rooted love. And I place it with great care on the window, and hug Jessie, and remind her that she is indeed loved.

This she knows. And feels. And she grows silent as she contemplates the window. And then the tears fall. Because I have told her that these are her angels and when she moves away this box of angels will go with her and grace and bless her own home at Christmas. “It is sad to grow up,” she says. “I know I want to grow up and move away, I’m excited to grow up and move away. But sometimes I just want to be a kid again and have nothing change. Its HARD growing up!” She smiles and cries. I hug her. She holds her arm out, beckoning Dan. We have our family hug, blessed by bittersweet angels.


Alison said...

What beautiful memories.

Ellen Stumbo said...

Love the angels!