Last night, my oldest sister sent a text that included the photo at left, above, and the sentence, “Recognize anything besides Tal in this photo?!?!”
At first glance, the precious photo merely captured the Christmas card my nephew Tal and his little family sent this year — though not to my mailbox. (Hmmm…) But my eyes quickly focused on something quite familiar. My nephew Tal, who had helped care for my mother until she moved to a memory care facility, and his lovely girlfriend were wearing the sweatshirts I had decorated — back in 1989 — for my parents (along with the shower curtain I also had painted for them, which my parents had used as a photo backdrop, above at right, to preserve the memory of the gifts).
The shower curtain lasted but a few years before the paint peeled and it became unsightly. But my parents had faithfully worn those appliqued, painted sweatshirts every year at Christmas since, until my father died in 2005 and we failed to include it in the limited number of items my mother could take to her new residence last year. I don’t remember coming across those sweatshirts as we packed my mom’s belongings and prepared her house for new residents, though I distinctly remember finding a Cottey College sweatshirt I’d bought my mom worn so well it was transparent in places. We tossed that.
My mother, especially, was a faithful gift wearer. If we bought or made her something — even when her dementia started — she took care to wear it when we came to visit. Jewelry, hand-made items, clothing that had seen better days. We usually had a good sense of style, but styles do change. My mom never did. By remembering the gifts we had given and keeping them on display year after year, my mother communicated love — not for things — for us.
Tal had always held a special place in my mother’s heart. Due to a variety of circumstances, Tal and his mother lived with my parents in his early years and then he moved in again in his high school and post-high school years. When he came home from the Navy, he always had a room in my parents’ home, and his final return from the Navy was perfect timing. My mother needed him. She was no longer safe living alone with the Alzheimer’s disease that was progressively taking her from us. He stayed with her until even his presence wasn’t enough; then we moved Mom to a memory care facility.
Last February, the entire family gathered at my mom’s new home to throw her a birthday party to celebrate her 82 years. We had decided that each family should give my mom a photo that was labeled with each person’s name. Tal showed up with his:
Not him, obviously. Tal has always made me smile with his zany, yet tender, ways. When he was little and living with us, I was in college. My dad had created our family habit of tapping the horn in goodbye when he left the house. Tal, who called me Aunt S’ra, and I were standing at the door waving as he pulled away but failed to honk. The little boy by my side looked up at me sadly and said, “He didn’t beep.” To us, it was the equivalent of not saying goodbye.
Though we exchanged goodbyes with my father so many years ago, we never had the chance to say it to my mother. She is simply disappearing bit by bit, and no time was a good time for goodbye. Now goodbye is almost meaningless. We said goodbye to her home last year — having to hurriedly disperse what we could to her loved ones, sending the essentials to her new home and leaving the rest for charity. The sweatshirts were forgotten.
But Tal remained on site for a few months after Mom’s departure — and within the confines of her belongings in his closet, he must have found the beloved sweatshirts.
And put them to good use.
Merry Christmas, Tal! Thanks for the remembrances and the smiles.