Christmas, oddly I suppose, is far from my favorite holiday but I’ve had two really special ones I will never forget.
The first was in 1978. My wife, Cindy, and I were recently married and living in an apartment complex in Oberlin, Ohio. She was 29, I was 33. This was way beyond huge as we fell in love in Toledo in 1962 but lost track of each other when I was drafted, and she and her parents moved to California while I was serving in the army. At that time there was no social media, no google, no Cindy. Then in the summer of 1977 I stumbled onto her address, wrote her a letter in the fall, and 10 months later we were married, had our first Christmas together in 13 very long years.
Christmas Eve I came home from work a little before 5. We ate dinner, then retired to the living room where we put a stack of Christmas LPs on the stereo and turned the volume down low. We exchanged gifts but I don’t remember what they were. All the lights in the apartment were out, the only light in the room being the dim rays of a nearby street light coming through the sliding glass door to the balcony.
We sat there on the couch, in the dark, and talked, listened to White Christmas and a hundred other tunes, drank red wine, held each other, made love a few times, but mostly talked. We talked about us, about life, about everything, practically all night. When we finally looked at a clock we were astonished to find it was 4:30 in the morning because it seemed like no more than an hour had gone by.
That was my very best Christmas.
Thirty-one years later, Christmas 2009, after fighting breast cancer for four years, Cindy had recently switched from medical care to hospice care, which meant she was going to die soon.
Around the first of December she asked if I thought I could come up with something to make our last Christmas together as memorable as that first one. That was daunting. Cancer had drained a considerable amount of money, there wasn’t a lot available. But after thinking on it awhile I got an idea for a final little “adventure” for her before we had to say goodbye.
I called around, checked things out, then wrote a homemade gift certificate for a pink ribbon tattoo for her wrist. She was 60 years old, never had a tattoo (nor did I), and I don’t think she would ever have seriously considered getting one, so it was a bit shaky.
Christmas Eve all I had for her was a lone Christmas card with the homemade gift certificate inside. She looked at me questioningly, then opened it, read it, and got a big smile on her face.
“Perfect!” she said. “Absolutely Perfect!” with the accent on each and every syllable.
That was my second best Christmas.
Mike Schneider’s stories have been published in The Wisconsin Review, Down in the Dirt, and cc&d magazine.