Thursday, December 27, 2012

Nannie's Christmas

Her birthday was December 26th.  No wonder her son, whose birthday is January 2nd, and she didn't care that much about celebrating the event.  The big deal had already happened. For each of them, I think, that was the way it ought to be.

She was a presence, my mother-in-law.  A great athlete in her youth, and her son's youth, by the time I met her she was on her cancer/heart/macular degeneration way toward the end.  I never ran the bases in Awful Arabs vs Terrible Turks family baseball games in the backyard, but I heard tales of her smacking the ball far enough for the littlest one, who grew up to be my Big Guy, to make it all the way home.

Home was what she made.  G'ma kept us fed and clothed and I always knew I was loved, but home for me was overlaid with a patina of angst, of worry, of waiting for the next shoe to fall.  According to TBG, home for him was safety and comfort and laughter.  It was his mom.

He remembers her sitting at the breakfast room table, laughing at a ribald joke told by her big brother, who'd stop by to see how she was doing in the late afternoon.  He remembers her sangfroid when he was caught smoking cigars beneath Teddy Mortimer's stairwell.  He remembers her whistling louder than any mom should ever be able to whistle, calling the kids and the dog home for dinner.

I remember Christmas.

I'd been to their home before, but Christmas was different.  I watched.  I paid attention.  I took mental notes. All the things my family cherish here are directly descended from that first Christmas, my very first Christmas.

I never missed it growing up, a fact that surprises TBG to this day.  My friends were Jewish, my neighborhood was Jewish, and I had my menorah to light up eight separate nights.  I didn't think I was missing anything.  But, as Big Cuter says, "once you've seen Christmas you realize it's great!" I was hooked from the start.

I think Nannie recognized a kindred spirit from the get-go; we never exchanged a hurtful word.  Strong-willed, she was always willing to listen to another opinion.  She loved to learn, and all things Jewish became a major topic between us.  We learned from one another, she encouraging me to light the Chanukah candles when the holidays coincided, I asking for help in explaining Easter to a toddler.  There was respect, there was love, and there was shopping.

Oh, yes, denizens, there was shopping.  She was good at it.  She enjoyed it.  She never wasted time or money.  She found what she wanted because she knew how to ferret it out.  She was a good teacher, and I an attentive pupil.  After a while, she didn't have to ask if I wanted it.... she just knew.

The fancy presents have been out-grown.  The sentimental mementos remain bright and shiny, just like my memories of her joy when I opened the white cardigan with pearl buttons she'd remembered I'd lusted for months before.  Did I mention that she was perfect?

Her gifts struck the right note - not too silly, not too treacly. Like this Santa from 1980
which has hung at the bottom of my tree for the last .... oh, dear.... 32 years.  He has his own special box, with clouds  behind the hard plastic which holds him in place. I laugh with Nannie's ghost every time I put him away.

Though her house gifts were seasonally colored,

the woman was obsessed with ducks.
There were wooden ones and felt ones and stone ones which hung from the ceiling and rested atop the televisions and the shelves and were nicely complemented by the pterodactyl which flew in the window between the tv room and the living room. When she died, I chose dish towels as my piece of the inheritance
 I've never regretted my decision.

Auntie Em was an Avon Representative for a while.  I was the beneficiary of many fragile ornaments which did not survive the many moves and trees they adorned.  These little angels are called Nannie and Grandpaw
and were also part of the stash I took home.  There were lots of fancy glass pieces and collections of Tobey mugs and commemorative spoons, but the simple, silly things
like this winking Santa, are the ones I treasure most dearly.  They are Auntie Em and Nannie and Cleveland in the snow.  They are long walks after huge meals and cousins of all ages and descriptions dropping in just as the ball is snapped for the final down of the game they'd been waiting for all vacation long.

As the ornament I snagged reminds me
How lucky I was to have so much of it.

Happy Birthday, Maw.


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