All right, I’ve written about this in passing before, but recently after Mass I saw the Nativity set up and had flashbacks that made me simultaneously chuckle and choke up. I felt that called for bringing it up in its own blog. Because these memories belong now to no one but me (and Mom), and that’s it.
I think that I cherish these memories because it was the one time of the year that I did what Mom asked. I knew how important it was to her, and as much as I might get churlish and snarl about having to do it, I showed her that I really loved her and would do anything for her.
I wish I’d shown her that more often. I always will.
Our very special tradition was that I would accompany her to the late 12:30 p.m. Mass on Christmas Day at St. Camillus, the “first church” for our family. Because the perfect way to cap off a morning of eating, presents and sleepiness was to go Mass one more time. Of course, the funniest bit is that now, I understand it. An hour when no one can ask anything of you, save for The Lord? Totally down with that. Even if you’re not devout, you get to shut out all the demands of the world for an extra hour.
Part of the traditional visit, though, was to satisfy a superstition my mother had.
She believed that if she took some of the real hay from the creche in which they laid the figure of the baby Jesus, then our family was going to be all right in terms of finances. It was a strange custom and one I’ve never encountered since. I think someone once told me that they’d heard the same thing, but The Google turns up nothing.
But imagine being a young “man”, convincing yourself you’re being “forced” to go with your mother to do something.
I remember the first time, though. That dawning horror that I had to desecrate a church display so she could get her hay.
We ran into people we knew as Mass was letting out. It was a family my mother knew, and the daughter – Lisa – was someone I had dated for a short time.
Years later, in a way that still blows my mind, Lisa passed very briefly into my oldest daughter’s first days of life. See, Roo had turned in the birth canal and escalated to a C-Section, but not before getting a hematoma on her head. So Nervous Daddy was standing above her, fretting as they told me they had to do a scan to make sure there wasn’t a skull fracture.
In walks the nurse to care for my newborn daughter, and it’s Lisa. Funny how things tie together.
Back to that moment, Mom chatted pleasantly. The whole time, I’m figuring out how to get out of it. But though he would fight, in the end, I never could say no to my mother. Frankly, I loved her too much.
So after everyone cleared out I had to walk up to the little fence, which was there to keep people out of the display, reach in and grab hay for her. Then grab more to get the amount she wanted.
So the next year we go and the Mass has converted to a Spanish-only service. They closed the Mass with Feliz Navidad and my mom sang and danced while I look over at the display and realize, “Oh Lord, they’ve moved the infant Jesus farther away from the fence.” This realization is coupled with the fact that this will in no way dissuade my mother from asking me now not to reach past the fence and grab hay, but rather step over and into the display. You can imagine how thrilling an idea that was.
Moore’s Law of Christmas Hay
It kept escalating every year like that. I’m pretty sure in retrospect that someone was seeing me do this every year and their Christmas tradition was watching me lumber through this sacred scene to get magic hay. I hope they found it as funny as I didn’t.
Then, of course, there was that last Christmas.
My mom had gotten pretty sick and we were all confused and I’m sure handling it all the wrong way. It happens. Mom kept insisting it would work out, and any arguments or regrets at this point are just something that need to be let go.
But she was really sick. Really thin, wasn’t processing food correctly. Very emotional, I’m sure she sensed things were very wrong.
I got her a Winnie the Pooh that year. Winnie the Pooh was our special connection to when I was a cheerful little tub of love for my mother. She opened it and started crying. Really, truly crying in a way that I didn’t usually see my mom cry.
The Moment of Truth
I was deeply involved with my girlfriend at the time, and made clear to my mother that I was ditching Mass because Erin wanted me to spend time with her – Erin and I had argued about it and I gave in. My mother was clearly upset but took it in stride.
I was wracked with guilt. I called my girlfriend and things got shifted.
I raced out to my car and broke every speed law I could to get to Mass. I rushed into the church and my mom looked over to the door from over a sea of heads, to see her son barge into the place. It wasn’t Hollywood, but it was noticeable.
I walked hurriedly over to her pew and when I sat down next to her she was crying. I suppose I’ll never be able to convey that terrible feeling to anyone properly, because my mother was such a strong person that for her to truly cry in public like that took something. In that moment, I think it was the first time that I understood on some primal level that it was the last Christmas I was ever going to spend with her.
So if anyone is still reading by this point, let these be the lessons I pass on to the world. Pull close those you care about and those who care about you. If someone cares about you but they irk you in some way, try simply to treat them twice as good as you think they deserve. In the words of the Ghost of Christmas Present from the 1970 Scrooge,
There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have. Remember Scrooge, time is short, and suddenly, you’re not here any more.
Indeed. Hold ’em close, tell ’em you love ’em and be happy that you can.