All They Want For Christmas Is You
Let me guess. You're chugging coffee and frantically flipping through catalogs while shopping online.
Only 11 days till Christmas! So, what are you giving your parents?
They say they don't want anything. But that’s not an option. You're so desperate you're considering those portable heart attack monitors they sell on TV. Or matching I’ve-fallen-and-can’t-get-up pendants.
Save your money. I may be able to help.
First, some background. Travel back with me in time about 21 years, to an old house on a leafy street outside Trenton, N.J. I was there to visit my formerly chain-smoking mom who'd just finished her second or third round of chemo. And my health-conscious dad who was taking care of her.
It was just an ordinary weekend. I’d taken a day off from work and made it a long one.
Yet, if I'd been able to peer into the future, I would have known it wasn't ordinary. One year later, both of my parents would be gone. First the ruddy-cheeked jogger would drop dead of a heart attack. Four months later, his wife of 51 years would follow.
My mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 1996 and given three months to live. Her doctors were off by two years. After she got sick, I made weekly jaunts to Jersey. Six hours of nothing to look at each way.
Once you leave Virginia’s Eastern Shore the scenery is relentlessly awful.
Usually my whole family came along. Occasionally, I took just one of the kids. Only once did I go alone.
This was that time.
When I arrived, they were thrilled to see me in the way only parents are when you come through their front door with an overnight bag.
We didn't do much, Mom was too weak. We sat around the old oak kitchen table and talked. We sat around the screened porch and played cards. We sat around the living room and watched TV.
On Saturday, Mom put on her wig and we went out to dinner – at about 4:30 in the afternoon - to avoid the crowds. They’d grown partial to a chain restaurant that had a little neon light in the window signaling if tables were available. No getting out of the car just to turn around and leave because the wait was too long. Their kind of place. Mom’s anyway.
Dad insisted we all have dessert, and on paying, of course.
We went to bed early. Got up early, too. My father always rose before dawn to make the coffee. And in all my years of coffee drinking, none ever smelled as good as his Maxwell House perking on the stove.
I was packing to leave on Sunday afternoon when my mother wandered into my old bedroom.
"I'm so glad you came alone," she said quietly, sitting on the edge of the bed. “Daddy and I can't remember the last time we had you all to ourselves."
She quickly added that she loved my husband and adored the grandkids. But every once in a while – you'll understand when your kids leave home and get married – they wished they could have a little one-on-one time with their only daughter.
Geez. Who knew?
On the drive home, I tried to remember how long it had been since I'd visited without babies, husband or a boyfriend in tow.
Fifteen years, I reckoned. Too long.
On that lone solo weekend, we were able to reminisce without interruption. We talked about my late grandmother, eccentric relatives and family road trips without boring anyone. We laughed about my favorite childhood ice cream parlor that we nicknamed “Dirty Shirt’s” because the guy who owned it always wore a T-shirt stained with chocolate. None of us could remember the real name of the place.
For three days in 1997, we were the way we once were.
Now, back to Christmas shopping.
If you're lucky enough to have your parents this Christmas, there's something you can give them that you won't find at the mall.
Time. With you. And no one else. Make it happen.
It may be what they've been wishing for all along.