Archive for December, 2017

A Christmas Story

Some holidays are better than others. We have a small family, and our Christmases, past and present,  are a lot of fun but celebrated in a low-key and quiet way. Being the predictable family that we are, we can rest assured that our future holiday celebrations will probably be the same. It is nice to visit the Christmas traditions of others, though, if for no other reason than to celebrate the joyous holiday and gain a  new appreciation of your own family. One of our most memorable holidays comes to mind, from a Christmas of long ago:  Our only child had been invited to spend Christmas Eve with her boyfriend’s family, first at an elaborate Italian feast and then attending midnight mass. Since we had no family living close by and needed something to do,  we were invited to a friend’s house for dinner. HE really preferred a quiet evening at home and said as much, but I was feeling our empty nest and needed a little Christmas cheer.  I volunteered to make my special Minnesota wild rice hotdish that was a tradition in our family and promised HIM we wouldn’t stay long. We arrived right on time, and my friend answered the door with a panicked look on her face. She was not ready. The Christmas tree looked great, though. It had to be eight feet tall with so many twinkling lights that I’m sure the electric meter was spinning like a top. Her husband had perhaps sampled the Christmas punch a few too many times, because he had a lopsided silly grin on his face and had somehow forgotton to replace all the couch cushions that he had vacuumed under in a feeble attempt to get rid of the cat hair from their five indoor felines, who were (thankfully) nowhere to be seen. The table was set beautifully for a holiday feast. Since her hubby had also forgotton to peel the potatoes, I rolled up my sleeves  and started in, because that’s what friends are for. My own  beloved hubby gave me the first of many looks that I would receive that night. I know you married folks know THE LOOK well…the one that says, “time to go”, but since the fun was just beginning, I pretended not to see.  The guests were as varied as the ornanents on that lovely tree: Her daughter, son-in-law,  and their four children, three of whom had been eating sugary Christmas goodies all day and were bouncing off the walls…and the furniture. Mr. Punch Drinker started tossing presents to them right and left and there was a cacophony of  squeals, tearing paper, and flying couch cushions. At one point, the tree was close to toppling. They blamed the near-disaster on the kids, but I’m fairly certain it was a cat or two, trying to stay out of the way. As a side note, the mother of this crew was dressed in a fairy princess gown, complete with a jewel-encrusted  tiara. She dropped off the kids and came back with her friends, one of whom had been in an unfortunate accident and was wearing a halo brace to protect his head and neck. Despite wearing a halo, he was no Christmas angel.  He couldn’t stand, so they put him in the recliner in a supine position, which took up much of the living room.  He started in on the Christmas punch immediately, using a straw.  His wife, who appeared to be in better shape than he was,  had been smuggled out of the local hospital and arrived wearing her hospital gown and robe,  along with a functioning (and beeping) IV pump on a rolling pole. I wondered to myself how a person dressed like a Disney princess could possibly  sneak a patient and a beeping IV pump past hospital security on Christmas Eve, but maybe I tend to overthink things. Another friend,  who was supposed to supply the dessert, arrived with one pie for fifteen guests, a can of sprayable whipped cream, and a whole bunch of whipped cream stories not appropriate for mixed company.  Another relative arrived, this one dressed in a three-piece suit, gaudy gold jewelry, and topped off with a fedora hat, which was never removed. In this family-friendly story, I cannot tell you what I think he looked like, but I can say that I am almost certain  he was coming down with the flu, as he kept wiping his nose with his hand and reaching for the sliced turkey with his fingers. I did tell my friend, and when she didn’t remove it from the buffet line, I whispered to HIM to not take any turkey. HE whispered back that it was REALLY time to go. I pretended not to hear. The Pie Lady interrupted her bawdy stories, some of which she claimed to be true, to inform me that I should fix that @#%!$ beeping IV pump since I was a nurse and should know these things.  When I told her that I wasn’t comfortable taking care of the life-saving medicine that was being pumped through a  stolen IV pump and into the vein of a person who was SUPPOSED TO BE UNDER CONSTANT MEDICAL SUPERVISION from the same hospital that employed me, she took care of it herself.  Good Lord. I finally convinced Princess Tiara to drive her back to the hospital and to take Halo Guy along for the ride.  Out of both patience and Christmas cheer,  HE finally just put on his coat and waited for me by the door. As we said our goodbyes, my friend gave me a hug and whispered in my ear, “You’re never coming over for another Christmas with us, are you?” I hugged her back and whispered, “Nope.”

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Thank you very much to all of my friends who still send Christmas cards. All ten of you. I don’t send them out any more, either. Between email, cell phones, and social media, I keep up with everyone throughout the year. For years, my mother carefully hand made each Christmas card, enclosing the latest family photo and a hand-written letter in each one. That was in her spare time between making a dozen different batches of Christmas cookies and her usual six loaves of bread a week. Although I never made my cards, I used to send a hand-written letter and photo in each one, writing with one hand and stirring my umpteenth batch of cookie dough with the other. Yes, I tend to exaggerate a little bit. I would do the shopping and wrapping and decorating and carol singing and candy making until Christmas became more work than fun, and I came to the realization that I WAS NOT MY MOTHER. That brought me to a screeching halt, and right in the middle of the season of joy, too. Guess what? Christmas still came with only one batch of homemade cookies baked. Presents were still opened, this time out of gift bags and not fancy wrappings. Black Friday was no longer a necessity in my life, either for shopping or for decorating. The season of joy became joyous once again. These days, there’s even less to do, and truthfully, that brings a little bit of sadness along with the joy. Our daughter is hosting the family on Christmas again this year. She is not her mother either, and the day will be wonderful as they make their own traditions. This year, I bought a batch of cookies at a local craft fair, because if cookies don’t make HIM joyous, they at least put him in a better mood. We took an overnight family trip to Duluth’s famous Bentleyville to see the lights and watch our grandson visit with Santa. There is nothing that can make you happier than watching the excitement of a four year old talking to Santa. In fact, HE was so filled with holiday joy that he actually stopped at the mall and told me to take all the time I needed. Really, without meaning to, I think I just wrote a Christmas letter! I will share an embarrasing vintage family photo along with a wish that you will also feel the joy of the season. (By the way, I am the angelic-looking sibling). Merry Christmas from The Minnesota Farm Woman, HIM, Barney the Chihuahua, and sixteen chickens, all named ‘Mama’. Peace on earth.

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This Little Light

Long ago in another life, I worked in a fairly large medical facility. Most of the people I worked the closest with were smart and educated women, and we all worked well together doing what we did best: Taking care of the sickest of the sick.  Penny Sue, our housekeeper,  was sweet, kind, and did her job well. She was also not the brightest candle in the box, if you know what I mean. Does that sound condescending? In the stupidity of my youth, I could be rather condescending, and I am almost too ashamed to admit it. Doctor Handyman was a generation older than most,  called us “Honey” or “Sugar”, and was always just a little too familiar as he made his daily rounds.  It seemed he was always squeezing an elbow or patting a knee, and it wasn’t a comfortable feeling. In fact, it gave me the creeps.  I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, and we rolled our eyes and pretended  to be extra busy when he was there so we wouldn’t have to sit next to him as we wrote in our charts. It was easier to hide than it was to confront the discomfort. On one particular day that I will never forget, we were all busy taking care of patients and Penny Sue was sitting at the counter, spraying disinfectant and wiping it down. I didn’t see it happen,  but I heard a yell and a rather loud slap, so I ran into the hallway. Dr. Handyman, red-faced and angry, stomped off and headed down to administration. Penny Sue, also red-faced, told us what happened through her tears. The good doctor had taken a seat beside her, reached out, and grabbed her leg. She told him to stop, and when he didn’t immediately, she slapped him. Certain she would lose her job, Penny Sue wondered how she would manage to pay her bills. One by one, we comforted her. One by one, we told her our stories. We would stand beside her and tell the stories, and we assured her that there is strength in numbers.  She wondered why nobody had said anything before. Nobody.  I can’t speak for the others, but I couldn’t even begin to give her an answer and silently asked myself the same question.  I don’t know what was said in administration that day, but I can tell you that Penny Sue continued to work and continued to do it well…even better…than before. It seemed that she worked with a confidence that we had never seen or perhaps never noticed. Dr. Handyman was a little more subdued when he made his daily rounds, called us by name, and never touched any of us again. I have thought of this story often over the last several weeks, especially when I hear others ask the same question that Penny Sue did that day.  I learned a  good lesson from this and have carried it with me all these years: Sometimes the brightest candle in the box isn’t the one that you might think, but even if the light is small, it will help you find your way along the path that you were always meant to follow.  Speak up, friends, and I will stand beside you. 

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