In the year 1999, feeling overwhelmed with work and school, I put off most of my Christmas shopping, errands, and cooking until six days before Christmas.
To make things a little easier on each other, my husband and I used to trade Christmas lists — suggestions of modestly priced items that the other person might not know we wanted. My husband usually added a few humorous tidbits, special messages, or an outrageous request, like a 1957 Chevy with a super charger, painted turquoise and white.
That year we were exceptionally stressed for time and later than usual in carrying out this ritual. It was only two weeks before Christmas when we traded wish lists, and without even a moment to look at it, I folded the one he gave me and put it in my wallet.
On the 19th of December, the day I was to start my Christmas preparations, my mother was unexpectedly admitted to a hospital in Florida, where she and my father lived, and my father (due to physical disabilities) was not physically able to be home alone for an extended period of time. The Delta Airline representative I talked to on the phone was very helpful in making a last minute emergency airline reservation. Before I knew it, I was heading out of Portland, on a plane headed to Florida.
When I arrived in Florida I was relieved to see my mother looking well. At the hospital I talked with the team of physicians and learned that she had a treatable condition, and would be released the next day if all the remaining tests backed up their theory. Encouraged and feeling good about her health, I scurried around putting things in order, adding a few festive touches to the Florida house, and preparing a nice dinner for when my mother returned home. I thought it might be nice to spend the holiday with my folks.
When I slowed down enough to take a deep breath and think about the situation, I was suddenly torn. I knew my folks were elated to have me with them, but what about my husband and our two sons who were returning from college for Christmas break?
My mother came home from the hospital the next day feeling fit as a fiddle. My folks had plans to go to relatives and friends for Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner. I would go with them, of course.
If I did nothing, then like Congress trying to pass a budget resolution, time would make the decision for me. On Wednesday, I called Delta to see what my options were for return flights to Maine, but this time I didn’t get the nice lady phone rep. All flights were booked or prohibitively expensive unless the situation was an emergency. I hung up the phone feeling resigned to a Christmas in Florida.
When I explained to my husband that a return flight was going to be hard to book, he was understanding, of course, but disappointed. We talked about the things we needed to do to pull Christmas together in Maine without my presence.
When I hung up the phone, I suddenly remembered my husband’s wish list, thinking I might do a little shopping for my eventual return to Maine. I pulled it out of my wallet, and looked at the list for the first time. This is what he had written two weeks prior, “The only thing I want is for you to be home for Christmas.” There was nothing else – no suggestions, no outrageous items, and no funny comments. I turned the paper over – nothing. My heart sank.
I went shopping, feeling distracted and with little concentration on what I was doing. I was thankful my parents did not pressure me to stay in Florida and understood my dilemma. I called Delta Airlines back, hoping an angel would answer the phone and understand my situation. She did. I flew home to join my family on Thursday afternoon — two days before Christmas.
In Maine, my husband, our sons, and I chipped in to bake, clean, wrap, etc. I think because everyone helped, that Christmas became a turning point. We all recognized that sharing the responsibility of making the holiday festive was what brought us the most joy. Since then, I try never to leave all of the holiday prep until the last week, and my husband and I never felt the need to write another wish list.