Sunday, December 11, 2016

Give That Woman A Fish

It’s a winter wonderland out there. Snow is snowing. Wind is blowing. All this snow, plus all the pretty lights on peoples’ house fronts, plus all the ads for sales—Amazon keeps flashing me images of forbidden treats, jiggling temptations before my computer illuminated eyes (could this be customer harassment?) all this Xmasy stuff leaves no doubt that it’s present giving time.

Santa will be coming soonI’ve known that since October when Costco had Xmas candles and Halloween costumes doing row dances for the holly/jolly days.

But, Hey! What happened to Thanksgiving?

Ahh, but Gobble-Gobble day—a sweet dream of a trip to the country, over the river and through the woods—is past, spent devouring my brother Tom’s turkey slathered in bacon. Family. It’s a good thing.

Black Friday is over too, and I duly supported Citi Cards. Now, as Xmas eve draws near, I look forward to the delight of another family gathering...and I’m thinking of my mother.

My mother was a bit of a Grinch. For many years she balanced herself on a tiny stool in the back of the Birmingham Post Office throwing/sorting mail on the midnight shift. Christmas involved everyone in the world sending everyone else in the world a card. She never got a day off from Thanksgiving to New Years, which tends to make a one cranky or go postal. She chose cranky. She slept days, and dreaded the holidays. 

I was already a grown-up with my own family then. She lived with my grandmother and my (way younger) brother and sister. She was a very overworked single mom, and adored by all of us, including our friends. She was a person you could talk to about anything.  She was funny (I got my weird sense of humor from her), sarcastic (I got that too), and loving (I hope I got that). 

“So, Mom, when aren't you working or sleeping so we can celebrate Christmas,” I’d ask.

Baa, humbug,” she’d answer. But she did get one day offChristmas Dayand we did get together.

Gifts were a serious problem. She didn’t like anything. I gave her some cute outfits, but at Easter they still graced the dining room table in their boxes. One year Tom gave her a beautiful down coat that she never wore.

She was compulsively frugal. Seriously. Clinically frugal. Maybe because of the Depression, maybe because most of the time she was the bread-winner and women didn't get paid all that well. 

Her greatest pleasure was finding good (not bulging) dented cans of food and day old bread. She liked brussel sprouts, so one autumn I gave her a stalk of sprouts from the Farmers’ Market. She called me a couple days later and said, “Don’t ever do that again.” The sprouts were too much work.

At Christmas, birthdays, and any, and all holidays, if you gave her a card it should be unsigned so she could give it back to you on the next holiday. Cards were not her favorite thing...remember, she worked at the post office.

So one Christmas, when I was at a total loss of what to get her, I bought her a whole salmon. A whole friggin’ salmon is more work than a stalk of sprouts, but I did it anyway. I was nervous. How should you wrap a twelve-pound salmon? In Santa paper? No, she wouldn’t want me to waste money on wrapping. So I just left it in the grocery bag, and when I handed it to her, I said, “Merry Christmas, Mom.” She took the fish. 

And then, shock of all shocks: it was the best present she ever got. She told me so.

So, Dear Friends, the lesson here is if you’re ever in doubt about a giftgive that woman a fish.

Merry Christmas, Everyone. 

I miss you, Mom.