Dear Mama,

Today I look at the calendar, but I do not see today. I see your face.

I see December 23
rd of last year. Or any of a dozen years before.

We almost always had a package arrive that day--and it was never clear if it was for “Christmas” or your birthday. I know you were never picky about the day. The whole week was your birthday week and the celebration never really ended until Jan 1. You always liked New Years. You were good at it.

Usually it began like this: someone would walk in carrying a box—an enormous box, twice the size of the kind of box that holds a television or computer CRT. If you were out playing bridge, we would wait till you got home, and place it prominently.

If you were already here, Lauren or Benji or Josh or I would put the box on the kitchen table, or carry it upstairs to your bedroom. And the opening was never alone; whoever happened to be in the house would gather around you. It was an annual event, after all.

You would open the card, read it aloud, and pass it around—a mailing from my brother. Even though he always took you to a restaurant the week of your birthday (and usually played a round of bridge with you at the bridge club) and gave you a present then, he always sent a couple of these care packages too, in December and sometimes for Mother’s day.

There’s a practical sequence to the unwrapping: the mailing box would be removed. Inside like a russian doll, packed in spagetti or peanuts would be a second box. There was no mad rip and tear which was your natural style; but after 60 years, Daddy had you well trained. The mailing box, or a big trash bag would stand ready to receive stuffing, wadding, tissue, and styrofoam.

Unlike a russian doll, the third box (sometimes it was a fourth) did not hold a single nested package, but instead were dozens of smaller ones, each packaged for maximum dazzle. You always liked the food collections best; although they looked chic, the toiletries always smelled like crayons, and what good are crayon-flavored toiletries?—but whether it was toiletries or the food, there was a moment of oooh and aaaah, and “
can i have that?” from the peanut gallery, and “No, it’s MINE” from you, even over unlovely items like foot-rasps and nail clippers.

We asked only to tease, because you’d give anything away at the hint you thought someone coveted it. But you had enough of the athlete tennis player, golfer, bridge winner in you that you loved to arm-wrestle it away, whether it was a crayon-scented borax foot soak or a box of English water crackers. One at a time, each box was freed of its plastic then carefully opened and examined. Anything to be assembled was assembled; and it was usually, at least once, collected, and positioned to look just like the picture on the cover. Although there was never actually enough confetti to make the basket look quite as stuffed.

There are baskets and tins all over the house, still. All from the annual grand-openings.

So today is the 23rd.

May of this year, you died. You were 92. But I guess you know that.

I hope the post office delivers to you, where ever you are, that the cloud you’re on has well-kept greens and tennis courts, that your competition is fierce the way you like it, that your coffee is always hot, your hands and feet are always warm, that the air is easy and sweet to breathe, and that Daddy and Mamanee will be beside you for the grand opening this year.

Don’t worry about us. We must be content down here with our memories. There are a lot of them.

With love,