With so much to do, I sneak into the attic, and there they are, right where I left them, the year before. The Christmas Stockings. All of them. Seven. I snatch them, leaving behind the lights and talking santas, that I decided were too much now. Left behind in the cold quiet.
The stack feels familiar. So bright. So different. Nothing matching about the ones that belong to our four kids – one has a dancing Winnie the Poo and Tigger, the other has lots of sequins hand stitched by an ambitious aunt, one is perfectly needle pointed with a name embroidered on top and one has snow men on it with real cotton. Mine is sophisticated, because I was trying that on that year, the year that I bought it. My husband’s has an old, comfortable santa on the front. And my mother’s, the 7th, is blue and looks antique, with a tree surrounded by vintage toys. She told me that it looked similar to the one she had as a child. She loved it, and loved having such a special place in our family, with her own stocking and all.
Once to the mantle, I find 7 nails, all perfectly aligned. If I don’t hang hers, the 7th, they’re out of order. Out of order. Yes, we’re out of order now.
You see, she died at Thanksgiving. Still writing the words she died seems new to me. She was old, so sick, with different kinds of cancer here and there and on Hospice. It hurts, because I stand here, with 7 stockings, and 7 nails, but there are 6 of us now.
She lived down the street, when she was well. And when she wasn’t, she lived in the little bedroom off our kitchen. She babysat the kids. She was passionate about them. She hugged them and held them tight and played with their hair. She loved that they came to us through adoption. “Oh someone different, I can’t wait!” She made dinner, she barked orders, she loved the dog, and she hated the dog. She was part of our fabric. Part of our order.
It ached moving up to it. Her death. I knew it was coming. I cared for her. In best times, I took her to doctor appointments, rode in the sunshine, ate soup at restaurants, and laughed about old stories. Hoping for miracles. In worst times, I fed her soup, combed her hair, kept her warm, and laughed about old stories. Still hoping for miracles.
The hurt on the way up to her death made me cry, like a wild animal. The hurt on the way down makes me cry, like a wounded one.
So, 7 stockings, 7 nails, 6 of us now. I kept her nail empty, and put her stocking behind mine, filling up my nail to the brim. Hers held mine up. Hers made mine strong. Even though the order had changed.
Over the summer I’ll move things around and rearrange those nails so that 6 fit perfectly over the mantle. And her stocking will be in the attic, nestled behind mine. And when the next all-too-soon Christmas rolls around, I’ll put hers on the nail behind mine. And it will hold mine up. And make mine strong. And there will be a new order.
Written at Christmas Time 2004