Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas 2009

My mother passed peacefully away December 17. We wanted to put death notices in newspapers from the city where she was born and grew up and again in the city where she spent most of her adult life and again in the city she was living in when she died, but discovered newspapers charge by the line as if these notices are trying to sell something. The Philadelphia paper was the most expensive -- $900 for three short paragraphs! My sister, who is in charge of the burial funds, said to cancel the notices and I replied that we didn’t have to because the papers want proof of death and the hospice she died in wouldn’t tell anyone, even at my direction, that she had, in fact, died and so the papers refused to accept the notice. Well, except the Fort Myers paper; for some reason they decided I wasn’t a prankster and published a notice. The hospice cited patient privacy laws as the reason they wouldn’t give out the information. We didn’t go through a mortuary but had Mom taken directly to a crematorium, so we didn’t have their expertise in handling this. Life is too weird to be believed, sometimes.

Meanwhile, Christmas approaches and thank God I’m finding it a comfort rather than a painful contrast. Favorite ways of celebrating:

A showing of “Scrooge,” the movie I find that comes closest to Dickens’ version of “A Christmas Carol.” It’s the one starring Alistair Sim, made in England in 1951. I’m also looking forward to “A Christmas Story,” based on the short story by Jean Shepherd from his anthology, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, which I read long before the movie came out. It’s not Christmas until I see those two movies. (Fortunately, I have them on CDs, so if television fails me, or shows them at a time I can’t watch, I’ll still get to see them.)

For close to thirty years I collected the Fontanini Christmas Creche pieces, which is not just Mary, Joseph, the Infant, the Three Kings and a few shepherds, but Bethelem: the rug seller with the spinner and weaver; the priest, rabbi, and temple; the carpenter in his shop with an apprentice; the baker and his dough-kneading wife and basket-wielding son; the innkeeper with his apologetically-spread arms (confronting Mary on a tired donkey and a worried Joseph); the stable in the form of a ruined pagan temple; the potter painting a pot in front of his kiln; a big cluster of angels suspended on fine fishing line over six shepherds, three dogs and a large flock of sheep; and so on and so on and so on. I used to put them out on the long raised hearth of our living room and allowed them to spread onto the coffee table -- but then we moved into a much smaller place. I no longer have room to put them out, and didn’t want to leave them jammed into their glass-fronted bookcase so I began to think, sadly, of selling them. Then I got a better idea: I donated the whole set to my church. And they, very kindly, have named me the informal Curator of the Creche. I still get to play with them, they provided a big table in the narthex, and I went over yesterday to move the Three Kings on camelback from a table that holds announcements to the big table, where I turned most of the figures to gape at their striding into town. Christmas Eve after the Children’s Service at four, the Baby Jesus will be brought by one lucky child to the manger. January 6 the Kings will dismount and will appear on foot presenting their gifts in a brief appearance at the stable before the whole set gets put away until next year. So far the members of St. George’s seem pleased at having this display. I am not inclined to preen because I’m genuinely humbled at this public evidence of my lack of self control when it comes to collecting.

Among my earliest published books is one called Original Sin, set at Christmas time. I loved writing it -- it’s a locked-room mystery that takes place in a big Victorian mansion cut off from the world by a blizzard, with a body in the library -- and while it’s long gone out of print it remains one of my favorite Christmas reads. Another is The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy Sayers which, while not explicitly a Christmas book, has Christmas happen in it.

This year my sister-in-law’s Christmas gift to me was to take me to a play, “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol,” which was really good. It’s a tour de force for the one actor who tells the story in two and a half hours, playing all the characters without the aid of sets or costumes. I hope I can think of something half as good for her next year.

I also like to bake a wonderful Austrian Christmas bread called “Vanocka” in honor of the season. It’s a yeast bread with orange peel, blanched almonds and two kinds of raisins in it. I will send the recipe to anyone who asks for it. Write to


Mason Canyon said...

So sorry to hear of your Mother's passing. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during this time and during the holiday season.

I work for a small town newspaper and have worked for the other paper in town as well. Neither paper in our county charges for obits. They charge for the "Thank you" notice families put in afterwards thanking everyone for their help. However, the paper that owns the one I work for, does charge. I can't understand. I guess if the obit was extremely lengthy, yes maybe, but most aren't.

Here's wishing you and yours (along with all of the other Killer Hobbies ladies) a very safe and Happy Holidays.

Dee in Iowa said...

I'm so sorry about your mother. Seems she was in that spot where you don't want her to go, but know that her suffering needs to end to put her at peace. We had that happen in our family this year also, but you still want them here. But you know she's in heaven saying, Get on with your life.
Have a Great Christmas! Eat dessert just for her. Remember how much she loved to do things and enjoy them for her.

Sheila Connolly said...

I'm so sorry, Monica. My mother passed away on January 3, 1999, but she was in a morphine-induced coma since before Christmas. At least my sister and I set up a tiny decorated Christmas tree for her when she still had time to enjoy it.

My father died between Christmas and New Year's in 2000. His then-wife (not my mother) botched his local obituary, so I wrote a more accurate one for the Philadelphia Inquirer, but it was more like $200 in those days. But as in your case, the hospice refused to say anything about the aftermath of his death, and his widow wasn't sharing.

At least we can remember the happier holidays, and since my father was the photographer in the family, there's plenty of evidence.

signlady217 said...

So very sorry to hear of your mom's passing. I know you have many fond memories and good friends to help get you through this difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers are with your family.

The Christmas creche sounds beautiful! And you seem to really enjoy it. I love my (very small) village set; all the little accessories to set out, roads, lampposts, etc. It's like a grown-up version of Barbies! My husband thinks I'm nuts, of course.

Hope your holiday season is as lovely as you are!

Linda O. Johnston said...

My condolences on the loss of your mother, Monica. It's a shame the papers make it so difficult to celebrate a life in retrospect. How nice that your holiday season is a comfort to you. I hope you continue to have a good one!

Camille Minichino said...

My thoughts are with you at this milestone, Monica.
I'm glad you're finding comfort in new things (Fontanini curator!) and with family.

Betty Hechtman said...

I am sorry about your mother, Monica. Good that she went peacefully.

It's wonderful you gave your collection to your church. It sounds fabulous. I'm sure everyone is pleased to see how grand your collection is.

Your Christmas bread sounds a little like the Swedish rolls I made. My mother always made them. She'd use part of the dough for rolls and part for braided coffee cakes with almonds and raisins. The smell of yeast and cardamom brings back memories.

Monica Ferris said...

Betty, Christmas is about smells, isn't it? The smell of the fresh tree, of cookies baking, of the Christmas meal, of home-baked sweet rolls and bread, even of the perfume and after shave of guests!

Terri Thayer said...

So sorry to hear about your mother, Monica. Enjoy the memories.

Linda said...

Prayers for your family and a candle lit in your Mother's memory; she raised a daughter in you who has a talent that has Blessed the world, and that legacy of the written word far transcends anything an obituary would remember.

Thank you for your wonderful books. The Christmas tale you mentioned that is out of print sounds fascinating. Any chance of a publisher reprinting it?

Here's also a wish that all the Killer Hobbies ladies enjoy many productive writing days in 2010!

Camille Minichino said...

this is a test post on Monday 12/28, since a reader had trouble posting.