I swear it was was 105 degrees in the shade. If she said it once, she said it 20 times. "I'm hot." "Well, Mom, you're the one that wanted me to take your Christmas card picture in JULY." "I know."
For months (i.kid.you.not.) she had been asking, "When are you going to take my Christmas card picture?" I kept putting it off. "Mom, it's 10 months until Christmas." "I know. But, I like to put them in the mail the day after Thanksgiving." It became the dripping faucet in my mind. drip. drip. drip. drip. So, on a blazing July afternoon, I called her and said, "Today is Christmas Card Picture Day. Are you ready!?" She was very ready.
Coming up with Christmasy clothes in July was a bit of a challenge. I quickly decided that her blue blouse would suffice if I covered it up with a Christmasy pashmina. Walking through the living area of the memory care unit loaded down with Christmasy pashminas, I offered explanations to the staff members we encountered - the residents saw nothing out of the ordinary. "It's Christmas Picture Day. She likes to send her cards out the day after Thanksgiving. Therefore, she wants me to take the picture in July." Polite smiles and understanding nods followed our parade.
The spacious memory care courtyard wraps around the building with a sidewalk that meanders along beckoning 80-somethings to exercise in the great outdoors. There are flowerbeds along the way filled with random greenery and a few flowering plantings. The one thing missing was shade. I improvised by shoving Meems' walker up under an overgrown crepe myrtle and then helping her navigate with baby steps the 3 feet from the sidewalk across bumpy mulch to our makeshift photo booth. "I'm hot." She held on to me for dear life urging me to not to let her fall. "I won't drop you, Mom! I hate sleeping on hospital room chairs." "I'm hot."
Once I had her securely placed on the seat of the walker, I began the task of trying to capture the exact moment when this precious, sweltering 89-year-old was smiling somewhat naturally with her chin tilted at an appropriate angle while keeping her eyes wide open in the glaring sun. "I'm hot." She tends to smile with squinted eyes and lift her chin up unnaturally high when a camera points in her general direction. "I'm hot." "Well, as soon as you stop showing me the insides of your nostrils, we can get this photo session over with." Sweat was trickling down the backs of my knees. "I'm hot."
I tried the red pashmina. "I'm hot." The green pashmina. "I'm hot." Then, I switched to the fuscia and turquiose pashmina. It was perfect. "I'm hot." "I know, Mom, but don't you want to look Christmasy for your Christmas card?" "Yes." "Well, lower your chin and stop squinting so we can get this done!" "OK."
We ended up on the porch where the shade was deep and cool compared to that of the crepe myrtle. I got her settled into a chair that sat next to a very un-Christmasy brick wall. "This is better, but I'm still hot." Beads of sweat now trickled down my back. I reached back and tugged my damp blouse away from my skin. Then, all of a sudden, it happened. She smiled brilliantly, ducked her chin, and flashed her beautiful blue eyes! Click! BOOM! Done!
In that moment, it was all worth the heat. The sweat. The lower-your-chins and open-your-eyes. The I'm-hots. I had captured something that I rarely see these days. My little mother looking vibrant and aware. My throat tightened with longing for the mother that danced during happy hour at Raider Ranch just the year before. Then, I "went there" wondering how many more Christmases. Blinking away tears, I guided her back into the air-conditioned comfort of the building.
The tears were short-lived because once we were inside she asked, "Have you gotten my Christmas stamps yet?" God, give me patience. Amen. "You can go ahead and make the things with my address on them (lost words: return address labels), but don't do the ones with the people's addresses on them yet. You never know who will still be alive by the time I mail them." The day after Thanksgiving.
The Christmas cards, Christmas stamps, and return address labels lived on the lower shelf of her nightstand from August until the first part of November. Meems felt secure knowing that her greetings would go out in a timely manner. She became the Master of her Christmas Card Domain. Peace on Earth. Finally.
BLESSED. I am the one who is BLESSED. Oh, how I am blessed! I'm looking forward to taking the next Christmas picture for the Meems. It will be a privilege. Nay, an honor.
Merry, Christmas dear ones! You are loved!