“Wouldn’t you like a new one, Mom?” Her dull wedding ring reminded me of the metal band on the leg of the fresh turkey in a box outside on the porch waiting to become our Christmas dinner.
“Mine’s just fine,” she said, twisting it around her finger as we passed through the store’s jewelry department. “I’m not keeping up with the Joneses.”
I knew she was thinking of the mothers’ club ladies who wore fur coats and twinkling diamond rings. Mom had a wool coat with a modest fur trim on the collar and cuffs. I wasn’t convinced.
If you’ve read my memoir, The Red Kitchen, or any of the pieces I’ve linked to on this website, you know I was the family “fixer.” I tried, failed, tried harder to make everyone happy, except maybe my older brother who seemed happy enough. (Mom and Dad on vacation – happy? At least they weren’t arguing. I made them stand together. “Closer,” I said.
When I told Dad that Mom had lingered at the jewelry counter, it didn’t take too much nudging on my part plus a bit of guilt on his to get him to agree with me. Even if he and Mom didn’t exchange Christmas presents anymore, I thought it might go a long way to patch up their marriage by surprising her.
“She wants a band,” I said, “wide and gold.” Dad and I were on a secret shopping mission and standing at the same jewelry counter.
“Your daughter’s right,” said the salesgirl sliding open the door of the case of rings. “That’s what the ladies want these days.”
We looked at several and then Dad pointed to the one I liked.
“That one?” he asked, looking at me for my vote.
“Perfect,” I said.
“Yes, a very good choice.” The saleswoman gave Dad an approving smile. He caught the spirit of the holiday and sprang for a velvet box and gift wrapping.
On the drive home from the store, I started to sing “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me . . .”
I sang alone and then paused at
“On the fifth day . . .” long enough for Dad to look over at me.
“Wait. Here’s a new version.
“On the fifth day of Christmas my Dad gave my Mom one gold ring.” Dad laughed and in his best, tuneless voice joined in. We started over and sang the whole song with my new lyrics for the fifth day.
That year Dad got into the spirit of the holidays and volunteered to go up in the attic and bring down the boxes of ornaments and the tree stand. Right then I knew this was going to be a great Christmas. My brother and I waited at the bottom of the attic pull-down stars for Dad to hand boxes down, looking up into the dark void of the attic like stargazers.
Photo by Robert Katzki
The next night we went caroling in the neighborhood. I was chosen to go up to each house, knock on the door, and ask the person for a donation to the March of Dimes. While the carolers sang “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” I blurted out “trick or treat” by mistake. The man standing in the doorway smiled, patted me on the shoulder like grownups do when you’ve done something foolish, and took three dollars out of his pocket and put them into the collection can. I repeated “Merry Christmas” over and over on my way to the next house.
On Christmas morning Mom was surprised when I handed her the little box from under the tree. “It’s from Dad to you,” I said, waiting for Dad to say something but he just smiled and looked a little shy.
“Oh, my,” Mom said, with so much happiness her voice twinkled like the glitter on the paper when she opened the box and saw the ring.
“Put it on her finger, Dad,” I said, imagining what the scene should look like based on the Hollywood movies I’d seen. Dad got up out of his chair, slipped the ring on Mom’s finger, and stepped back.
“It’s beautiful,” she said, looking up at Dad and then over at me. “Thank you. Both of you.”
With the ring presentation over, I moved into my Hollywood director mode again and pointed to the mistletoe. I’d tacked a sprig, tied in red ribbon, in the archway of the living room. In the spirit or humoring me, they stood together and kissed on the lips. “Yay,” I said and clapped as they blushed. This was going to be the best Christmas ever.
Me, Grandpa John, Dad, Grandma Rosie, and Mom