I talked to her on the phone this morning. She was surprised that Christmas was coming, and asked me how my two little boys are doing. She told me that she had a lovely Christmas dinner at Hildegard’s house (but she was thinking of years past). She told me three times that this was the first year she didn’t have a tree. She is foggy and tired, her memories twisted and tangled in her mind, no sense between morning and afternoon. Days have lost their shape and form, their moments bleeding into one another with no distinction.
So I asked her about Christmas in Sweden, when she was a girl. She described standing at the stove, stirring constantly so the milky sweet rice porridge would not burn. She described the difficulty of having to wait while the dishes were done, and supper was cleaned up. She described the candles on the tree, and running into the big room where mother and father sat by the tree, handing out wrapped packages one at a time. Children singing before they received their gifts. Unwrapping beautiful things, blouses sewn by mother, black handknit stockings that rose past the knee. Sometimes, she said, there were candies.
And she told me of the shelf where mother kept the copper pots. The black bottoms on the pots, and how beautiful the copper looked when it was polished. She spoke of learning, at 8 years old, that if she offered to polish the pots with the red powder, she would be allowed to stay up later to do the job.
She was a child long ago, and yet the wrappings on the floor by the Christmas tree were scattered around the room, just as the wrappings will scatter here on Christmas morning, eighty-nine years later.
Those memories, those gifts of time and place, of childhood are preserved in her mind, even as the details of whether it is December now, or July tangle around in her head. This morning I received those memories as a gift, as a story to give my own.