Love ever present at holidaysPublished 11:39am Friday, January 11, 2013
A few days before Thanksgiving the fear that plucks at the back of the mind of seniors, a fall, resulting in a broken hip, was realized by my mother.
Disoriented and nervous, she found herself on the assembly line of eldercare: surgery, IVs, drinking through bendy straws and taking the first tentative steps with her new life partner, an aluminum walker, assisted by physical therapists. She had her turkey dinner sitting up and, trying to keep her spirits from flagging, my sister and I have been coaxing back her memory with the pleasant task of writing Christmas cards from her hospital bed and choosing decorative stickers to adorn the backs of each envelope.
It’s a disconcerting time, to be sure, as middle-aged children, such as myself, begin to realize that the Christmases we’ve grown used to throughout our lives are about to change, abruptly: limited physical ability will make certain beloved and anticipated traditions no longer possible and it is more than a little bewildering to consider the prospect of trying to create a lovely holiday when she was residing in another foreign room with new, unfamiliar staff, while spending several weeks in rehab.
As she also transitioned from her small independent apartment into assisted living, I felt something like relief to have something else occupy my thoughts and began packing up her things, beginning with all the belongings inside her china cabinet: silver butter dishes and gravy boats, Hungarian cordials, the colors of the rainbow, whimsical kangaroo and emu silver knife rests- a gift from her uncle who had worked in Australia, and the silver-plated tea caddy, a wedding gift, from more than 60 years ago.
Hearing a rattle from within, I touched open the lid of the caddy with my finger and found the intruder to be a tiny broken monkey, bought at a Florida tourist shop during one of countless family vacations in Sarasota, made of sea shells with a pursed mouth that could actually ‘smoke’ the ‘cigarette’ held to its lips. But nestled beneath this funny creature was the true treasure: a half-dozen, doll-sized, envelopes, as if made by the hands of fairies, each filled with folded, 2-inch letters in the tiniest hand-writing possible, from the pen of her sea captain father, Herbert Elford, written in the privacy of his cabin on the ill-fated Ceramic, which would be torpedoed 17 years later by a German U-boat on Dec. 7, and leave but one survivor, while claiming the life of my grandfather and 655 passengers, somewhere west of the Azores.