Tag Archives: family stories

Christmas Star

15442297_10154249676151491_841160323482067397_nI have a brass star that sits on the top of my Christmas tree. No matter the size or state of the tree, the star is there. It matches the star that lived on the top of my family Christmas tree; the one made by my father the second year he and my mother were married.

Polishing the family star with Brasso was one of the key Christmas traditions. A designated child would take the star reverently into the kitchen, dig out the smelly Brasso, and polish the star until it shone. It had to be done quickly because it was the first thing put on the tree.

When I got married and moved away from home, I begged my dad to make me a star for my new family. He was living with cancer at that time, not up for travelling or finding brass – but it turned out there was still brass left over from when he made the first star, and he worked it into a beautiful five-pointed star and wrote a message on it, blessing it with his hopes for happy times. My children followed the same polishing ritual at our Christmases, when I’d let them.

My father didn’t live long after he made me the star. I never got to spend another Christmas with him, and he passed away on Christmas Eve, while both of his stars shone down – one on my mother and siblings in Boston, and the other on my little family, living far away in Germany.

Every Christmas I reverently take my star out of its special box. I no longer share my Christmas with the man whose name is inscribed with mine on the back. I wonder how my father would have viewed my divorce; I grieve how he never got to know my children. I think of all of his Christmas craziness, about us all singing around the family piano, of his flambeed desserts and chocolate covered bugs, of his perfect understanding of us and his forgiveness of what we were.

free-elf-clipart-1And I think of my mother, the more silent Christmas celebrant – the one who didn’t join us in singing, who sat out much of the foolishness, who seemed absent – but who was in reality racing around making hot chocolate, cooking the dinner, baking the goodies, tidying and sorting and making Christmas happen. For her, I put out her little elf, not the “elf on the Shelf” spy, but one from well before that time. It has a striped hat and is dressed in green. It was her ornament in our family setup, the one she made sure was out and front and centre. (You can see him in the bottom left of the photo above…)

So appropriate. My dad was always the star of Christmas. My mum was the engine, the busy elf acting in the background. She reminds me of the Brownie Pledge:

“Twist me and turn me,
And show me the elf-­
I looked in the mirror and there saw myself.”

The star shines on. The elf finally gets to take a rest and just hang out. Though my parents are long gone, their icons are still with me, filling me with memories of Christmases past.




My parents passed away over 19 years ago.  It’s so hard to imagine a life with them, and yet, I can still hear their voices and still think of little things, like the delight my dad would have had in the small computer devices we have these days (he worked on some of the first ones) and the pleasure both of my parents would have had in my children, all three of whom are interesting, wondrous individuals who I wish could have met my folks. My dad was gone before the first was born, and my mom a year after the last was born.  They have few memories of them, and I’m sure my daughter’s memories of my mother are tinged by seeing her in the last stages of cancer.

I’ve been lucky, though, in that my ex’s parents were there to get to know the kids, to provide that grandparental experience that I didn’t really have, either, to be delighted with them even when they were horrid. Well, most of the time when they were horrid….

I remember having them babysit while we were in a hotel and my son screaming, and them putting him out in the hallway, no doubt wishing for an abduction…I remember being told that I was the reason for their toddler sicknesses because of my sloppy house. I remember, unfortunately, some of the hurtful things in amongst the good.  It’s too bad, because, since my parents were gone, all I tell the kids about are the good things. I figure that since they will never know them, it probably isn’t necessary to dwell on their little issues. But they’ve seen their other grandparents, and love them and get cross with them as you do in any relationship.

My ex-mum-in-law is being remembered tomorrow, some three months after her death.  She’s not having a funeral as she donated her body to science in a final act of generosity. I’m digging through memories, trying to think of something to say at the event, some snippet that captures my love and complex feelings about this second mother of mine. I was always much closer to her than I was to my father-in-law, not that I don’t love him also, but she and I would talk about sewing and cooking and parenting and writing and painting and the parts of the world that we were both involved in.  She was much better at everything than I was, but I never felt belittled or looked down upon. We’d laugh together at our respective less-than-successes and cheer each other’s wins. She was fabulous.

I remember:

– renting a cottage for the first time in our lives.  She came up to visit and, at 80+, lay on the dock and caught fish with her bare hands.

–  Dragging herself, with a broken leg, down the block to her house. Strong strong woman. I would have given up and frozen to death.

– Coming to my house for every birth and being so helpful I felt positively inadequate.  I’d sip a cup of tea, and the cup would be washed and put away before I had time to swallow.

– Driving with her in the snow swept Prairie and hearing her panic as the road disappeared in the drifting snow – and yet she trusted me to drive.

– Conversations in the evening after the kids were off to bed and while ex was away, and the secret we shared.

– When my daughter was born, she knitted up a storm, all in a peach coloured yarn. She’d make these exquisite sweaters and mail them to me, with a tiny torn piece of paper on which she’d written “I don’t know how these will wash – they are made of 100% unknown fibres”.  They washed like magic.  I passed them on to other mothers and I imagine they are still circulating now, well constructed and indestructible.

– Potato cake and Pavlova, two things that will always remind me of her. Potato cake – solid and nutmeggy and hearty and sometimes with raisins except for when she learned the kids didn’t like raisins. Delicious and almost as indestructible as the sweaters, except they were so tasty we had to eat them. Pavlova – light and fluffy or flat and sugary, depending on the weather, covered with kiwis (a fruit she introduced me to, and one which remains a favorite) and strawberries. I remember her talking about how huge Pavlovas made with duck eggs were until her daughter told her, “Well, mum, the eggs were bigger!”

– The expression on her face when I inadvertently mentioned the truth of  the Burma-lean bread.  Honestly, dear ex – I thought she knew….but it was a secret kept for 40 years and she was shocked. Suddenly her perfect son was somehow imperfect and it threw her for a loop. It was hilarious.

Even now I feel tears and smiles at the thought of her.

Cheers, dear one.  I hope they are keeping you busy in heaven. I know how you like to feel useful. If you only knew how much you were.