Blogging in E minor
Usually just a bunch of silly crap.

The Year Mother Cancelled Christmas

My mother is a drama queen. She was a drama queen long before the term existed. In fact, I distinctly remember telling my brother, Jude, that we needed to coin a term to describe our mother’s need for emotionally charged conflict and unnecessary anxiety.

            It did not surprise me when I got the frantic call from mother on Christmas Eve 1989: “I can’t do it!” she shrieked. “There’s so much to do and I’m not getting any help. I already called the Joneses and called it all off.”

            “You did what?”

            The Joneses were my cousins, the well-to-do family of my mother’s deceased brother. They lived in a palatial house with all the latest stuff and were first-rate entertainers. The Joneses typically hosted Thanksgivings and most of the recent Christmas Eve celebrations now that my grandmother was in a state of declining health.

            Entertaining, in and of itself, had always brought out the worst in mother, causing panic attacks, mad fits of cleaning and a lot of screaming in general. The prospect of having the Joneses over for Christmas, however, was cause for an epic freak out of maddening proportions. She had the unrealistic notion that she needed to keep up with the Joneses, which simply wasn’t going to happen. So my brother, my sister and I — who had been emotionally scarred as children as the result of Mad Hostess Stress Disorder — wanted no part of the dysfunctional venture from the outset.

            “You cancelled Christmas?” I squawked back over the phone, semi-incredulously.

            My mother continued about how she had so much on her plate dealing with my grandmother’s maladies. Her condition had started out, much like that of many an octogenarian, with a simple fall and a broken hip. Diabetes, glaucoma, kidney failure and the amputation of both hands followed in rapid succession. She was now in a wheelchair and required in-home dialysis.

            My grandparents had moved in with my mother as grandma’s condition deteriorated. With them came all their stuff, which was scattered throughout my mother’s home wherever it would fit.

            To make matters worse, my grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and required careful supervision. My mother had to hide his medications because he would forget taking them and ingest multiple doses. He’d frequently run routine errands and get lost. One time he drove the wrong way over parking lot spikes, shredding all four tires. And grandpa wasn’t about to surrender the keys any time soon. Not without a fight, anyway.

            So, yes, mother had her hands full. And it was absolutely insane for her to attempt to have family over for Christmas in that house.

            At the time, I was working the graveyard shift in a warehouse and attending school in the mornings. At best, I caught up with the family on weekends and holidays. I felt badly about being so clueless to my mother’s plight and immediately drove over to her house with my girlfriend, Marion, offering to do whatever we could to save Christmas.

            My brother and sister did the same. Marion and I agreed to clean, my brother would help out in the kitchen and my sister, Celeste, would take care of grandmother.

            “But I had already called the Joneses and told them not to come over!” mother protested.

            I got on the horn and spoke to Don Jones, my cousin’s husband and proprietor of the “No Bones at Don Jones” car dealership. I assured him all was good, that my siblings and I had it all under control.

            “Well, we’re just in casual clothes, so we’re just going to have to come over as is,” Don reluctantly consented.

            “Casual’s good.” I replied. Christmas was back on!

            So we all pitched in and did what we could, managing to declutter three rooms while stashing all the excess stuff in closets, bedrooms and the garage. We then finished wrapping presents. Jude, who had extensive restaurant experience, took over the reigns in the kitchen, preparing Cornish game hens, sweet potatoes and stuffing. Celeste bathed and groomed my grandmother.

            By the time the Joneses, the Jameses and my aunt arrived, things were ready as they were going to be. The piles of random junk had been plowed aside, seasonal decorations had been hung and the smell of delicious food greeted them.

            My sister wheeled grandma out from her room to join the festivities. She looked surprisingly radiant considering all she had been through. Her thinning hair was all fixed up and her stubbed arms were wrapped in cloth bandages. She was smiling ear-to-ear, for the first time in months, to see her family together.

            Grandma had always been the driving force behind Christmas. Sure, she always overspent and took spoiling her grandchildren to unprecedented levels. That was because she was all about giving. Grandmother put others first, and it brought her true joy to see people happy. She was Mother Christmas.

            We exchanged presents, ate a good meal, and enjoyed a casual, leisurely visit with my cousins. It was real.


            My family’s rally to save Christmas would turn out to have lasting significance; it would be our last with our grandmother. She passed away the following summer, and Christmas would never be the same without her.

            My mother had risen to the occasion when her parents really needed her. She administered to my grandmother’s extensive medical needs until her death, then dealt with my grandfather’s progressive dementia as he lingered on in loneliness for several years following. Despite becoming a danger to himself, she resisted impulses to put him in a home as long as possible, thereby necessitating the employment of a series of daytime caregivers in her residence. He passed on in 1995.

            Not surprisingly, my mother has since carried on my grandmother’s legacy of spoiling her grandchildren. She lets them watch too much TV, stocks up on junkfood whenever they visit and goes all out on birthdays and holidays. My mother even buys my daughter hardcover books, mind you, rather than waiting until they come out in paperback.

            Bernadette adores her grandmother. She overlooks my mother’s obvious penchant for drama and the fact that she is arguably insane. To Bernie, she is Mother Christmas.


2 Responses to “The Year Mother Cancelled Christmas”

  1. Grandmothers *are* amazing…

    and I miss my Grams….

    Yours sounds like a wonderful lady as well ~

    great story hon 🙂


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