for Magpie #45
I wrote this letter to my elder daughter the year she moved to Florida. That was in 1992 but my sentiments have not changed in all these years.
The little people—that’s what your Pepere used to call you and your brothers and sister. Nothing pleased him more than hearing that the little people were coming to see him. Now the four of you are grown and on your own, scattered across the country from one coast to the other and nothing pleases me more than knowing any one of you is coming home, if only for a short visit. You are the first to be married and your new home is far from here. You will not be making the journey to be with me for the holidays.
It is almost Christmas Eve. The tree stands in its customary place, waiting for bits of colored glass and tinsel to work their magic. Each ornament I lift from its nest of tissue evokes some memory of Christmas past. Here’s the small blue angel your Memere gave you when you were just a toddler. With your gold-spun hair and your big blue eyes you looked like an angel yourself. “Let me do it,” you insisted, hanging the trinket on the highest branch you could reach.
Trimming the tree is a task for children. How your eyes sparkled, reflecting the lights your older brothers strung carefully among the branches. I lift a small elf out of the ornament box, a homemade dough creation given to you by your fifth grade teacher and think, “You should be hanging these on the tree, Jen.” Early Christmas morning I will get up before everyone else and turn on the tree lights, remembering the morning so long ago that you sat in your bunny-feet pajamas and gazed at the twinkling lights, saying over and over again, “Isn’t it pretty, isn’t it nice?” I will whisper the words softly to myself and think of you.
For more than twenty years you made Christmas cookies with me, decorating them with gobs of colored frosting and sugar sprinkles. Each year you became more adept at rolling and cutting and decorating. On each gingerbread man I make alone this year I will put a big frosting smile in memory of the little girl who helped at my side.
I hum along with the carols playing on the radio as I work and remember how we sang aloud every Christmas carol we knew as we baked or wrapped gifts or marched from store to store in search of the perfect present. How excited you were on Christmas morning when you and your brothers saw that Santa had come in the night. To this day there’s still a gift “from Santa” under the tree for everyone. This year your perfect present is on its way to you. I can picture the look on your face when you open it and will hear the echo of your voice—“Oh, thank you, Santa and you too, Mom!”—across the miles.
Isn’t it odd that a heart can ache and be joyful at the same time? We will all sit a little closer at the table so your place won’t look so glaringly empty. We will take turns talking to you on the phone, wishing you a happy Christmas. And I will wish this for you, my daughter, that all the joy you’ve brought me through the years will be returned to you a thousand-fold.