With sincere gratitude to Charles Dickens, The Army of Dorkness, my dear brother Fran, and especially the World's Greatest Husband. -Lori
I: Spirit of the Partner: Brian
Stave II: Spirit
of the Past: Fritz [or Poppy]Stave
III: Spirit of the Present: Fran
Stave IV: Spirit of the
V: The Beginning of ItStave
I: Spirit of the Partner: Brian
Brian was not dead; There is no doubt whatever about
that. Brian was very much alive, and he was the World's
Greatest Husband to Lori.
When the two met in college, Lori told Brian that she had epilepsy
what to do if she had a seizure
. Three years later when Lori
did have a seizure, Brian not only remembered what first aid
administer, but he also remembered to note what happened to Lori during
the seizure so she could tell her doctor for proper diagnosis
. Although the medicine prescribed controlled the
seizures, the pills made Lori confused, and Brian patiently helped her
adjust to her new medication. He also drove her wherever she
needed to go, including to the department of motor vehicles to
surrender her drivers license, as the law required her to do after a
Lori resumed her
undergraduate studies seven years after quitting college because she
was working on campus anyway and wanted to finish her BA. Lori went to school part-time while working full-time because their
finances required it, and even paying part-time tuition was difficult
for their limited budget. Not only did Brian put up with the
added financial burden, he set up a computer for Lori in a corner of
their basement so she could do her homework in peace. Sometimes he was lonely when she'd sequester herself for hours at a
time, but when she finally graduated after three years of very hard
work, Lori bought Brian a special certificate of gratitude
to thank him
Lori's parents died twelve days apart after long illnesses, Brian was
there with hugs and sympathy. He stood next to her and her
older siblings during the four-hour visitation and wake, then attended
the double funeral the next day. He held her as she cried,
and listened as she told the same stories over and over again about her
parents, especially her beloved Poppy for Lori was a Daddy's Girl.
Brian loved holidays, especially Christmas, because it gave him a
chance to shower Lori with gifts. They both were
technophiles, which made shopping easy. Brian gave Lori an
for Valentines Day one year, and a PlayStation 2
Dance Dance Revolution
for a combined anniversary/birthday present
another year. Christmas one year comprised a digital camera
complete with memory card, rechargeable batteries, and carrying
case. When the iPod shuffle wore out because Lori listened to
it every day at work, Brian replaced it with a Zune
that not only
played all of Lori's music files, but several video files as
well. Every holiday she begged Brian to consider their
limited budget, but he always bought her something special - or several
somethings special, no matter the cost.
Lori loved Brian, too, but she didn't love most holidays. Valentines Day, Easter and Halloween were all right because of the
candy, and Lori could be as generous as Brian; however, their
budget wouldn't allow a generous Xmas, so Lori never looked forward to
December because of money, their messy house, and having to get
together with her siblings and all their children and grandchildren
when all Brian and Lori had were furkids: three cats and a
new puppy. December traditionally was the most challenging
month of the year for her because of the overwhelming stress and
overstimulation of Xmas.
Xmas is an onslaught for the senses: Xmas lights outside on
trees and houses, Xmas music on the radio, and Xmas specials on TV,
even the scents of the season with woodburning stoves and goodies
baking. Xmas marketing had become increasingly more pervasive
year after year. Not only were ads on television, radio, in
the papers, and catalogs and other fliers in mailboxes, but ads also
popped up in e-mail inboxes and on most websites. The year
prior to this story, Lori took a page out of Keith Olbermann
and made a special comment
to the jewelry industry on her
: "My husband is not a bad man if he doesn't buy me
diamond jewelry for Xmas; He is a good person who knows what
his wife wants for Xmas! I am not your typical
female: I've been to the opera, and I've been to Lambeau
. I far prefer Lambeau. I dress in fleece, and
I own only four pairs of shoes (sneakers, dress shoes, winter boots and
summer sandals). I already own more diamonds than I want
and/or need. I don't want diamond jewelry for Xmas! I'd far prefer Packers
tickets to diamonds." Brian read her
blog and was relieved because he already purchased tickets for the
game - the final game of the season. This year,
Lori read an online article describing five excellent gift ideas for
women. Being a little short on one of her X-chromosomes, she
wanted none of these items, and yes, jewelry was on the list.
Then there was the spirituality of the season: Neither Brian
nor Lori were Christian
, but they lived across the street from a
church. The "Keep Christ in Christmas" yard signs
sprouted perennially, which is ironic considering that during various
parts of history, the Christian Church wanted nothing to do with Xmas,
thinking it too Pagan
or not solemn enough. The Puritans
felt that Xmas celebrations had gotten out of hand so
much that during the reign of Oliver Cromwell
, the British Parliament
abolished all Xmas festivities. Mistletoe
forbidden by Christians because it was associated with Druids
Pagan customs. The annual "War on Christmas
" made anyone want
to say "Bah, Humbug!" and brought vividly to life the first Xmas
episode of South Park
which introduced "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas
." Again the marketing of the season was endemic as
different faiths, and especially different sects of Christianity, vied
for time and attention.
yelled at her as she looked at the list of Xmas gifts yet
to be bought. This year was especially tight because Brian
and Lori were employed in state government, and all state employees
were mandated to take unpaid furlough days. Brian and Lori
loved having the day after Thanksgiving off, but both their paychecks
were hit hard just in time to purchase Xmas gifts.
The tree needed to be put up and decorated. Cinnamon rolls,
cookies, and a gingerbread house needed to be baked. She had
a haircut scheduled, dinner with her best friend, and Xmas shopping
with the WGH. So much to do. In years past, they
would finance Xmas on Master Card
, but their debt became so bad that
they had to go into credit counseling
. Now Lori felt they
didn't have enough money for all the gifts they wanted to
give. It's no wonder that as soon as the holiday music played
and the holiday ads aired, Lori would have a Pavlovian
tears instead of salivating. She'd like December if she went
to bed on November 30th and woke up on New Year's Eve. Xmas
was her second least favorite holiday after Mother's Day.
On December fifth when she was fifteen, she tried to commit suicide
because she battled depression for the first time and just wanted the
pain and stress to end. Mercifully, friends found her and
stopped her. The next day, one of them showed her a beautiful
sunset and said, "See what you would have missed?" Since
then, Lori celebrated what she called "Life Day", and no, she did not
get the name for this tradition from the Star Wars Holiday Special
which she had never seen. Rather, she celebrated the fact
that she still was alive by taking the day off of work and watching the
sunset at approximately 4:23 PM.
December fifth of this particular year found Lori curled up in her
king-sized bed surrounded by her cats and puppy
. She was
attempting to adjust her attitude about the holidays by watching the
Xmas specials she normally avoided, so she programmed her Tivo
holiday wish list.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
and Rudolph's Shiny New Year
both were a
good watch, but she didn't like the CGI Rudolph and the Island of
. Mickey's Christmas Carol
the entire Dickens classic
into a half-hour and still kept the strong
message. The SpongeBob SquarePants
Christmas special was
nicely done and also contained a good message.
The History Channel
aired a show that discussed the events surrounding
the birth of Christ: The census discussed in the Bible
supposedly took place about six years before Christ was born, so was
a political opportunist who insisted that Jesus be born in
to fulfill ancient scripture? Was Christ really
born in late December, or was that date chosen to piggy-back on the
ancient Pagan holidays of Saturnalia
? Lori thought
the topic fascinating and the questions worth exploring - after the
The Food Network
in overdrive for the season. Lori saw Good Eats
's "The Cookie
Clause" last year, and maybe even Rachael Ray
's Holiday Entertaining in
before as well. She decided not to watch Paula's Cookie
because she already knew which cookies she wanted to
make. However, Food Network's constant airing of "Share Your
Season" ads didn't improve her mental health on the holiday season,
especially in this terrible economy. Lori knew that food
pantries and homeless shelters were overburdened, and every time she
saw a Salvation Army bucket
she felt pressured to give even though she
didn't have much herself. How
the Grinch Stole Christmas
version, not Jim Carrey
still was beautiful and as poignant as ever. Although she
owned A Charlie Brown Christmas
and didn't have to worry about
the networks cutting it to shreds to air more advertising, she was
disappointed that the Christmas Specials for the Powerpuff Girls
Casper the Friendly Ghost
were programmed, but not what were actually
shown. The two different versions of the Messiah
were on a
Christian station that contained far too many proselytizing ads, so she
deleted them without watching them through. The Nutcracker
, even performed by the Bolshoi Ballet
, still was
boring. Lori saw it locally on a school field trip nearly
thirty years prior, and all she remembered about it was falling
Lori heard footsteps coming up the stairwell from the main
floor. Why wasn't her puppy Prince Nibbler barking? He and his feline siblings didn't seem to notice the sounds in the
empty house. Was it her imagination? Maybe it was
Marion, the ghost of the former lady of the house who had died in the
next bedroom on Xmas Eve two years before Brian and Lori purchased the
home. Marion was a nice ghost, who wondered why Brian and
Lori didn't have any human children. Because her critters had
no reaction, Lori wasn't too worried when the footsteps sounded closer
to her bedroom door.
It wasn't her imagination; It was Brian, but he looked
transparent. Even though Lori could see the small bedroom on
the other side of the hall through him, she was too excited to see him
to take much notice. "Sweetheart! You're home
already? Excellent! Come into bed; let's
can't. I'm still at work and in a very boring
meeting. My part was done in less than three minutes, and now
I'm stuck listening to others drone on." The Spirit of Brian
explained. "You fell asleep while watching The Nutcracker
and now you're dreaming about me."
"Well, at least I'm not dreaming about my dead parents again."
"Not yet." Seeing the scared look on her face The Spirit sat
down on the bed and said, "Don't worry, I promise it will be
okay. Remember when I asked you to stop wearing black all the
"Yes. You said
I was dressing to hide myself. No duh, considering that I'm
are a beautiful woman, and I want people to see you as I see
you: a very beautiful woman. I also want you to be
as happy during the holidays as I am."
"But you don't do as much for the holidays as I do"
"Do those things really need to be done?"
Lori was silent. She hadn't thought of that.
"Come with me," The Spirit held out his hand, "I want to show you
They flew out the
window and headed southeast. "You know the routine method of
operation: no one can see or hear us. We merely are
observers; an audience to the play of your life." The Spirit pointed, "Look at your friend Fred."
Although they were above a suburban house, they could see and hear the
occupant inside. Like Lori, Fred was a Pagan, and he was
planning his annual Yule ritual. He hummed as counted to make
sure he had enough candles and bells for everyone on his guest
list. Lori felt guilty that Fred invited her every year but
she never went.
Brian and Lori flew even further south and headed toward
Chicago. Lori's friend Frances was typing on the computer as
her daughter dicatated her e-mail to Santa. Lori recalled
that Frances posted in her blog that she completed her Xmas shopping
flew even further to Frank's house. He was on his fourth day
of baking cookies, and would be baking a batch a day for another
week. He measured ingredients, then his kids stirred them
into a large mixing bowl.
"Maybe if I didn't procrastinate so much," Lori said, "I'd be done with
our Xmas shopping and baking, too."
"I'm not showing you these things to make you feel even more stress."
The Spirit said as they traveled back home. "I'm worried
"You're such a good
husband, my love, so patient and giving."
"And you're a good wife, but even my patience is running low dealing
with your holiday depression and stress. It's supposed to be
a happy time of year, and I and the furkids want you to be happy,
too; so I've brought in the big guns: You're going
to be visited by three more people from your life."
"Wait, this sounds way too familiar."
"Of course it does; you and I are two of the few people
who've actually read the original Dickens rather than just watching the
many interpretations on TV."
"But I don't want to miss the sunset..."
"You won't. I'll be home by then, and we'll go watch it
together. In the meantime, for your own sake, remember what
has passed between us!"Stave II: Spirit
of the Past: Fritz [or Poppy]
Lori laid back down on her bed. The youngest of their three
cats, Princess Queen Gleep, was curled up next to her, so Lori snuggled
in and rubbed her cat's belly as she wondered who would be visiting her
next. She didn't wait long.
"Hello, Lollypop!" It was her father back from the grave he
shared with Mary, his wife and Lori's mother. The Spirit of
Fritz, like his formerly living counterpart, had the looks and
intelligence of Homer Simpson, but the heart and faith of Clarence
Oddbody, the guardian angel
from It's a Wonderful Life
, Lori's favorite
Xmas movie. He still was wearing the sweatshirt in which he
was buried: "Poppy is my name, spoiling is my game."
"Poppy!" She sprang up and hugged him. "I've missed
you so much."
"I've missed you,
too, Lollypop, but we haven't much time if you want to see that
sunset. Grab my arm."
"Where are we going?"
see." They flew west to the two-story, four bedroom Cape Cod
that Lori lived in for the first twenty years of her
life. The exterior was green, which let Lori know this was
before she went to college when her parents had the house recovered in
St. Nicholas Day
when you were about ten." The Spirit
said. "Look at the shoes."
On the stairwell to the upstairs bedrooms were four pairs of
shoes: one for Lori who was the youngest, two for her
brothers Tom and Fran, and one for her sister JoEllen who was the
oldest. Lori could see an oversized apple and a
softball-sized orange in each pair and knew the toes contained nuts,
chocolate kisses, small candy canes, and Lori's favorite Xmas
candy: peppermint nougats
. "Aunt Jean told me that
Grandma did that for Mum and her siblings while growing up."
"And your mother continued the tradition." The Spirit said,
as his younger self appeared at the top of the stairs dragging a large,
worn box. "We're setting up the Xmas tree this day."
They followed the younger father to the living room on the main floor
where Mary opened the box. "Fritz, you brought the wrong
box. I told you I need the tree first."
"I brought the first one I could reach."
"Why didn't you put the boxes in the attic the way I told you
to? Do you even listen to me?"
Fritz went back up the stairs to the boys' bedroom. The crawl
space under the eaves of that room served as the house's only attic
space, where the Xmas decorations and other seasonal items were
dragged down box after box, and Mary opened each one. "This
ornament is broken! And this one! I pack them as
carefully as I can, and every year you break something when you take
them upstairs. I can't have anything nice."
The fake tree was missing some of its branches, and it was hard to tell
which branches went into which holes in the trunk because the color
codes faded with use and time. The strings of lights had
broken bulbs and wouldn't light up when first plugged in even if Fritz
remembered to check them before stringing them on the tree. The tree skirt had holes in it that Mary tried to arrange so one
couldn't see the holes. Lori and her siblings decorated the
tree with ornaments that they made, or that they received from the
family's subscription to World Book Encyclopedia
's "Christmas in
different country each year]" series, or other ornaments that Mary
bought at the post-Christmas sales years prior. Lori's
favorite ornament was a simple gold ball that had beads glued on for a
face and a red cloth cap with white pipe cleaner trim. Even
though it was meant to be Santa Claus, Lori called it Gilligan, after a
character from a favorite TV show
. They hung a red and green
plastic chain that had a "Merry Xmas", also in red and green, around
the large mirror in the living room. Fritz placed the angel
with its full but wrinkled skirt on the top of the tree. The
children added tinsel
one strand at a time for best effect. Once all was done, those who had held on to their tempers went outside
to see the tree in the large picture window that was beautifully
reflected in the mirror on the far wall.
As they went back into the house, Mary told her children, "Remember, no
going into the basement until after Xmas!" None of them dared
disobey, fearing the wrath of their mother.
Xmas Eve found the occupants of the green house in quite the
frenzy. Mary shouted up the stairs, "Tom! Fran! Have you washed up?" Fran had, but Tom
didn't. "Well hurry up! We need to get going to
The child Lori laid on
her bed in her room on the main floor. She was reading a book
and trying to avoid her mother, but it didn't work because Mary saw her
daughter when she came out of her own bedroom across the
hall. "Lori, Get up! You'll wrinkle your clothes,
and you know we're in a hurry! Your brothers are servers
the mass, and JoEllen is doing one of the readings. Let's go
Finally they were in
the car, and Fritz dropped his family off at the church door so they
wouldn't be more tardy as he searched the crowded lot for a parking
Back home after mass,
the family gathered in the living room to exchange gifts. Fran wrapped everyone's presents in brown lunch bags to be funny and
save time. Mary unwrapped a jar of cashews from Fritz, and
asked him, "Why would you give me a thing like that?"
"Because you like cashews..." he said. Mary scowled.
The last gift to open was for the whole family: a new stereo
and a stand to put it on. Fritz brought out his toolbox to
assemble it, while Mary read off the directions. "No, Fritz,
that piece doesn't go there!"
The adult Lori couldn't stand it anymore. "Poppy, how come
you let Mum talk to you that way?"
"Because I loved her very much. She saved me from my parents'
house: a life of alcoholism and neglect."
Lori knew that her paternal grandparents were alcoholics, but she never
considered what that meant to her father, who broke the cycle of
alcoholism. She looked back at the young family as Mary
shooed the children to bed.
Later that night, the insomniac child Lori pretended to sleep while her
parents got out of bed and shut her bedroom door. She could
hear Mary nag Fritz as he hauled packages up from the basement, and
Mary arranged them under the tree in the living room.
"You knew the truth about Santa Claus
by this time, didn't
you?" The Spirit asked his daughter.
"I learned the truth when I was six, and Pam, a girl in my class,
spilled the beans not only about Santa Claus, but the Easter Bunny
as well." Lori said, "Your not-so-discreet
activities confirmed the truth behind the myth. I got Pam
back though when she tried telling me the truth about Uncle
. She kept insisting he was a fictional character, too, and I kept
insisting that he lived in Omaha
. Pam didn't know
my mother had a brother named Samuel."
When the parents were back in bed, and the child Lori could hear their
snores, she took her pillow and blanket to the living room. In the dark, she found the plug for the tree's lights. She
loved the soft glow they made that were so like the candles that
decorated the first Xmas trees. A few of the strings had
blinking lights, and others reflected in the tinsel that fluttered
silently in the faint rush of air from the heating vent on the
floor. Lori curled up on the couch and finally fell asleep.
Xmas breakfast was a batch of Mary's famous homemade cinnamon rolls
eaten as the family took turns opening gifts from Santa. The
adult Lori said to the Spirit, "When I was a teenager, JoEllen told me
that the gifts Mum opened on Xmas Day were the gifts we received from
her younger self open her favorite childhood Xmas gift: the
Fisher Price Little People Castle
that included a hidden passage, a
royal family, a dragon, a knight, thrones and a carriage. The
children also opened practical items such as clothing and underwear,
and deodorant and other personal care items in the stockings. "Santa" also placed near the tree bowls of nuts, fruit, and
candy. Lori recognized her favorite peppermint nougats, the
kind with the red and white border around a white middle with a green
Xmas tree in the center.
lunch was at Aunt Marie's house, who was Fritz's sister; Fritz had three siblings who all had children, and Marie's best friend
and her family also joined the festivities. After lunch was
eaten and the the gifts were opened, the children played with their
presents of small hand-held tricks. Lori's favorite was the
magic cup that had a hidden ball within
Dinner was at Aunt Jean's on Mary's side of the family. Mary
was from a good Catholic family of twelve, and a cacophony of three
generations was stuffed into Jean's house. The child Lori,
her siblings, and cousins all loved Jean and John's big old house
because it had two stairwells, and they had fun playing tag or
hide-and-seek going up and down those stairs. They were not
thirty children conducting themselves like one, but every child was
conducting itself like thirty. Uncle John told them to stop
and sit still as Aunt Jean was cleaning up the wrapping paper, empty
envelopes, and empty gum wrappers on the floor. Lori took a
book that she had hidden in her coat pocket and went off alone to read.
Mary's maiden name was Lord,
and because her birthday was the day after Christmas, she loved to say,
"First came the good Lord Jesus; then came the good Lord
Mary." The family cooked a brunch for their mother, and Mary
had given her youngest daughter her credit card to buy a nice
gift. The young Lori thought the blouse she purchased was
wear white." Mary said after opening it. "I'll have
to take this back."
told his adult daughter, "She returned it, but she never bought any new
clothes for herself until she absolutely had to. That's why
she always wanted two separate gifts: one for Christmas and
another for her birthday. One gift was not acceptable no
matter how nice or expensive; she wanted something special
for her birthday."
giving her something special year after year. Remember about
ten years ago? I gave her a Happy Memory Jar: for
four months I tried to think of as many good things as possible from my
childhood and wrote them down on slips of paper that I put in a glass
jar that I decorated with ribbon and faux fruit. Not only did
Mum accept this gift with the warmth of a northern river fish
later I discovered that she was using the jar to store sugar free candy
"She didn't like to
receive her birthday gifts on Christmas Day. You could have
come for her birthday."
couldn't spend two days in a row with a woman I could never please."
"She loved you very much; you should have heard all the good
things she said about you."
know, Poppy, Aunt Jean told me about the compliments; but it
would have been nice if Mum said good things to me rather than being
such a bully."
"That's just the
way her mother raised her. It's that German stubborn streak
all the women in her family have, yourself included. Look."
They now were in a two bedroom bungalow
that was just a few miles from
the green Cape Cod. As tiny as the house was, it was packed
with dozens of people playing cards. Four around the dining
room table and another four around a card table. Two more
card tables were set up in the living room. Not only were
people playing cards at the table in the tiny kitchen, four more people
were huddled around a TV tray. Lori immediately recognized
the annual Lord Family Euchre
Tournament for her grandfather's birthday
on New Year's Eve. The phone rang, and her Uncle Peter
answered, "Hello, House of the Lord, St. Peter
at the Gate
said, "I didn't learn how to play euchre until my teens, but like so
many of my cousins, I was afraid to play in this tournament."
"Gee, I wonder why?" The Spirit said as he looked at the group around
the dining room table.
grandparents - Mary's parents - sat across from each other. Papa Lord
was in his usual spot next to the window, and win or lose he
didn't move. Everyone else moved in deference to the aged
patriarch of the family. Lori looked upon her now deceased
grandfather and saw the scars on his arms from his melanoma
. Grandma Lord dealt: three cards to everyone, then two cards
to everyone. She set the remaining four cards on the table
face down and turned over the top one: the Jack of
said Cousin Marvin to Grandma's left.
"Pass." Said Papa Lord.
"Pass." Said Uncle Peter at Grandma's right.
"Well, I'm not passing on a bower." said Grandma as she exchanged the
Jack with one of the cards in her hand.
"Pass." Papa Lord said again.
"I'd better be able to count on you for at least one trick."
"Too bad we're not playing 'Three Nines Takes the Blind.'" Papa Lord
said, referring to the cards still face down on the table.
Marvin led the hand with his highest card: Ace of
Diamonds. Papa played the Nine of Diamonds; Uncle
Peter the Jack, and Grandma the Queen. Marvin swept the cards
toward him and played another. After Marvin swept up the
third hand of cards, Peter pounded his fists on the table and shouted,
"Euchre!" An aunt at another table laughed the Lord Family
shouted at her husband, "You were no help!"
"I told you!"
"Papa at least
had the courage to talk back to Grandma." Lori said to The
Spirit. "Yet you never talked back to Mum unless you knew you
"Which was very
rare." The Spirit said.
we were kids, JoEllen, Fran, Tom and I knew that if Mum was mad, big
deal. Mum usually was mad about something. If you
were mad, then we became part of the wall and took what was coming
because if you were mad, then we really
did something wrong."
The Spirit chuckled.
your cousins who are playing go fish
instead of euchre, but you're..."
"...reading a book?" Lori said. "That's a habit I
inherited from you."
with my patience."
"I'm not as
patient as you were. You put up with Mum for over forty-eight
years. I moved out of your house after twenty."
"Your spouse doesn't test your patience as much as my spouse
hadn't noticed that the scene had changed as they were
talking. They now were at the Parthenon, a Greek restaurant
downtown that was famous for its gyros
The Parthenon hadn't
gone through its major renovation yet, so the scene was from about
twenty years earlier and prior to Brian and Lori's wedding. When Lori
saw herself seated at a table with Brian, her older brother
Fran, and Fran's wife Tammy, she remembered this Xmastime exactly and
Fran was busy
enjoying his gyro because up north where he and Tammy lived they didn't
have a good Greek restaurant. Tammy was the one who started
the conversation. "So, when are you two getting
younger Lori was eating a gyro and practically hissed at her
sister-in-law in an attempt at whispering, "No, sis! Brian
and I talked about this at Cousin Lisa's wedding. He doesn't
want to get married ever, and neither do I."
The scene quickly changed to Brian's apartment later that
evening. "Would you like to open one of your Xmas presents
"Uh, yes?" The younger
Brian presented her
with a beautifully wrapped shoebox. Inside was a nice big
robe with her initials on it. "My mother made it for you at
my request." he said. Then Lori noticed something in the
pocket: a Winnie-the-Pooh
doll. A note was pinned
to its chest: To the light in
my darkness and the dawn of my every day. I love you,
Brian. P. S. By the way, will you marry me?
Lori thought he was teasing until Brian reached around behind the bear
and tugged on a brown ribbon tied around the bear's neck that matched
its fur so well Lori didn't notice it was there. Tied on the
ribbon was an engagement ring. Lori gasped. When
she regained the power of speech, she said, "Yes!" and hugged and
"I wasn't the
first person you told." The Spirit said.
"No, I told Tammy first. You were the second person I
told. Brian was the only one who replaced you as the number
one man in my life."
the way it should be. I missed my 'Daddy's Girl' after you
married Brian, but I am so proud of the woman you've become. Plus, Brian is a good guy who makes you happy. Look."
changed to West Towne Mall. "It's Xmas Eve, the first year
you and Brian were married. I believe you two are in the food
Lori saw her younger
self showing a flannel shirt to Brian, who had almost no gray to his hair at the time, "You want to know
something? I've always hated receiving practical gifts for
The newlywed Lori
remembered all the years of clothes, deodorant, and school supplies as
gifts. "I've always hated that, too."
"Let's promise each other never to give practical gifts for as long as
they sealed it with a kiss. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have
to go return this shirt."
Spirit said, "In over eighteen years of marriage, the only practical
gift he's given you is a KitchenAid
"That wasn't a practical gift; I only use it to bake Mum's
cinnamon roll recipe."
scene changed to later that evening, when Brian and Lori were at Fritz
and Mary's house for dinner. "Merry Xmas, Mum!" Lori hugged Mary.
"Hello. Do the dishes." Mary said. Even
though Lori hated washing dishes, she was full of the Xmas spirit, so
she dug her hands into the water in the kitchen sink. As she
scrubbed, Mary took a long look at her daughter's clothes: a
white turtleneck under a long black skirt and black tee-shirt with
white dots all over it that Lori wore over both turtleneck and
skirt. "That's a horrible way to wear that outfit; it makes you look fat. What are you up to - 300 pounds?"
Brian was the only one at dinner that night who noticed that Lori
hardly ate anything at all at the Xmas Eve feast she loved so much.
"I know she was a harsh woman," The Spirit said, "but your
mother tried to raise you the best she knew how, even if she didn't
succeeded." Lori said. "When she had her first
cancer diagnosis and was in the hospital after the surgery, I visited
her. Mum said she wanted someone to sit with her until she
fell asleep, so I stayed. As she was falling asleep, she
said, 'I wish I had been a better mother to you.' I honestly
told her that she was a good mother. All my siblings and I
are adults who contribute to society in a positive way. What
I didn't say was that she was a lousy mom. I could never talk
with her about my problems."
"And she never could talk with her mother about her problems."
"But Mum had the chance to break the cycle of bullying and
didn't;" Lori wiped tears from her eyes. "You had
the power to break the cycle of alcoholism and did, even if you smoked
instead." "Which led to an
for me and the woman I loved." The Spirit
said, "You have the power to break the cycle, too."
know, but do you realize it?"
Lori thought a moment. "Not yet, but I'm working on
girl." he said.
miss you both so much. I've even dreamt about you and Mum and
you thinking of us, but you need to let us go and get on with your
life. You let me go physically because you knew I was in pain
and suffering. Now you're the one suffering, so you must let
go emotionally of me, your mother, and especially the pain of the past."
"You've gotten wise in death, Poppy."
"I always was wise; I just hid it well."
"True. My favorite piece of your wisdom is-"
"...you're okay; just the rest of the world is screwed up."
The Spirit smiled.
despite her tears. "Yes." Then she noticed that
they were back at the home she shared with Brian and their furkids.
"I'm sorry, Lollypop, but it's time for me to go."
Lori cried even harder as she hugged her father one last
time. "Goodbye, Poppy."
"Just remember that your mother and I always want you to be happy."Stave
III: Spirit of the Present: Fran
Princess Queen Gleep didn't seem to mind the sudden wetness on her fur
that came from Lori's eyes. Lori clutched her cat and
wondered why Brian would be so cruel to show her her father, only to
take him away again. "From one Daddy's Girl to
another." Lori whispered into her cat's fur. As she
reached for some tissues, Lori realized she wasn't alone.
"Hey, Sis." said the Second Spirit. It was her brother
Fran. Although he was four years older than Lori, only a
tinge of gray at his temples gave away his age. He still had
a full head of hair, unlike their father. Like their father,
Fran was dressed casually in jeans and a comfortable old sweatshirt and
"Fran!" Lori wrapped her arms around her brother. "I just saw Poppy."
and Brian never is cruel. He's trying to help you - we're all
trying to help you - and sometimes confronting our feelings hurts."
"Is that you the big brother talking, or you the lay Methodist
"A little of both."
"I guess it helps that you're married to a counselor.
Sometimes when I'm visiting you, I feel like I'm being analyzed."
"Is that such a bad thing?"
"No, my insurance doesn't have to pay you for the therapy."
The Spirit laughed. "Come on. Let me show you what
this Xmas season is going to be like."
"To where are we flying?"
"Walking." Fran descended the stairs. "Our first
stop is your kitchen."
confused until she reached the bottom of the steps and smelled
something very familiar. "Yeast."
Sure enough. An image of Lori was in the kitchen, and she was
baking cinnamon rolls. The yeast was growing in a bowl of
water while Lori measured and sifted flour into her KitchenAid mixer
that contained scalded milk, melted margarine, salt, sugar, and beaten
eggs. A Mannheim Steamroller
CD was playing in the boom box
on the table, and occasionally Lori sang along with the Xmas carols she
knew so well from her childhood. During "Bring a Torch,
", Lori sang in French; "Oh, Come All Ye
" was sung in Latin; and "Silent Night
" was sung in
"I didn't know you knew
so many languages." The Spirit said.
"I can carry on conversations in English, French and American Sign
Language; but I know a smattering of German, Spanish,
Italian, Gaelic, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and, of course, Latin from
our Catholic upbringing, which also is where I learned "Un Flambeau,
Jeanette Isabelle", "Adeste Fidelis", and "Stille Nacht".
"You're smiling." The Spirit said as he pointed to his sister
who was cooking.
"Yes, I enjoy
baking Mum's cinnamon rolls. Did you see the
cookbook?" Lori was referring to The Lord Family
. When their mother's family produced this book, Mary
bought a load of groceries and finally wrote down the recipes for which
she was famous: not only her cinnamon rolls, but her taco and
dill dip recipes, her light and fluffy cheesecake recipe, and even her
"Quick and Easy Brownie" recipe, whose first ingredient was "three
boxes of Jiffy
brownie mix." As each of her children moved
out of their house, Mary gave them a copy of The Lord Family Cookbook
and although Lori had quite the cookbook collection, her family's was
her favorite. The page that contained the cinnamon rolls
recipe was splattered from years of reference.
Brian entered the kitchen and kissed Lori, who by this time had plenty
of flour splattered down her pajamas. "Merry Xmas
Eve! I didn't think you'd get up early enough to bake."
"Having a puppy that wakes you up to go to the bathroom makes an even
more effective alarm clock than a cat who wants to be fed breakfast."
Lori turned to hug and kiss her husband. "While the dough is
rising, I'll go out and shovel the front walk and steps."
"I'll get dressed and fire up the snowblower to deal with the driveway."
Not only did Lori bake the cinnamon rolls after dealing with the snow
that fell the night before, Brian and Lori then worked on a batch of
together. Lori kneaded red food coloring into
one batch of dough and green into another batch. Brian
selected a disc from the spritz press's box and formed a series of
wreaths and then trees onto a cookie sheet. "Do you know what
the secret ingredient in our cookies is?" he asked.
hair!" he said as he shooed Gleep away from the cookie sheet.
The Spirit laughed, "And you wonder why Tammy doesn't permit pets in
"For me and Brian,
cat hair is on the Food Pyramid
." Lori said as she watched herself take
another batch of cookies out of the oven.
"Come on, next stop." They headed south, just as she flew
with Brian, but instead of looking in on friends, The Spirit took Lori
to the home of her in-laws. "I hope you like pizza because
that's what your mother-in-law is serving."
"I love pizza. What a wonderful idea! She doesn't
have to cook for all of us, with the way her health has been
fading." Lori recognized the Papa Murphy's
wrappers and instructions as her father-in-law Ed put the pizzas in the
oven. A knock on the door gave brief warning as Brian and
Lori entered the house.
Xmas, Mom and Dad!" Lori hugged her in-laws, and her husband
did the same.
"You call your
in-laws Mom and Dad." The Spirit said.
"Fran, I call your
in-laws Mom and Dad. It's just my habit
from childhood. Everyone in my grade school class, and
especially in my Girl Scout
troop, called each others' parents Mom and
Dad. On my wedding day I asked my father-in-law, who'd had a
bit to drink and was having a very good time, what I should call
him. He was fine with me calling them Mom and Dad, and I love
Brian's brother Rick
hadn't arrived yet with his family, so Dad asked Brian for help with
his computer. While the two men were downstairs, Lori brought
out the latchhook
rug she was working on.
"This was supposed to be your Xmas present, Mom." Lori said
as she showed her mother-in-law the sunflower pattern, "But hopefully
I'll be done with it by Mother's Day."
"Oh, that's all right." Mom said, "I know you're
busy. How's your job?"
"Well, the unpaid furlough days have hit us hard; we didn't
have enough for all we wanted to buy for gifts."
"You don't have to get us anything. You gave us a pan of
cinnamon rolls already!"
I'd buy you the sun and the moon if I could. Instead, we had
to settle on gift cards for everyone."
"Gift cards are nice gifts. Then you can buy whatever you
Sure enough, when the
gift cards were distributed later in the evening, Mom and Dad loved
theirs to Old Country Buffet
, where they eat frequently. Lori
was grateful that her in-laws gave her another gift card to JCPenny
her next two haircuts at the salon there would be covered. Rick's kids loved their cards for McDonald's
almost as much as his wife
loved the pan of cinnamon rolls, which would make a good breakfast the
next day. Lori gave Rick a check for the Girl Scout cookies
she ordered from his daughter with the instructions, "Don't cash it
until after the New Year."
years past, Brian and Lori spent Xmas Eve night at his parents' house,
but this year Lori's siblings actually made plans to get together for
the first time since their parents died. With the new puppy,
Brian and Lori had to go home anyway. Again, Prince Nibbler
woke Brian and Lori up early, which was good because Brian wanted to
exchange gifts before heading up north.
"So I finally complete my Xmas shopping?" Lori asked her spirit brother.
"You will be very grateful not only for gift cards, but for the
and express shipping. Just make sure that Brian has
something to open Xmas morning. I'm not going to show you a
detail of this scene because I don't want to ruin the surprise of what
you receive for Xmas from Brian. Just know that your husband
will shower you with gifts as he normally does, and you will love each
and every one." The Spirit said. "Now, you and I
fly north while you and Brian drive."
Lori and The Spirit flew above the highway and past the billboards that
advertised the Wisconsin Dells
. In the caravan below, Brian
was letting his wife sleep as she always did on a long road
trip. She awoke in time to see the beautiful bluffs created
when Ice Age glaciers
retreated from this part of Wisconsin.
Brian parked the car outside Fran's large house out in the country, not
too far away from the sign that read "Heaven on Earth." Their
nieces and nephews outside shoveling the driveway big enough for a
half-basketball court and trampoline congregated around their crazy
aunt and uncle to greet them enthusiastically with hugs. Lori
loved her nieces and nephews so much, especially her Godson Trey,
Fran's son, who at thirteen now was taller than Lori.
Inside, Tammy still was in her pajamas. "You're
early!" she greeted her sister- and brother-in-law with
loving hugs and showed them her new satin pajamas from
"Santa." Lori grabbed an oversized mug of milk and sat at the
kitchen counter while Tammy worked on cleaning breakfast dishes and
setting out some munchies for people to snack on until dinner was
ready. Brian sat down, too, and helped himself to some cheese
"How are things
with you?" Tammy asked.
"Better." Lori said, "I've been working on adjusting my
attitude about the holidays, but it's hard. I have forty
years of holiday anxiety to overcome."
Fran came in from helping his children shovel, sat next to Brian, and
dipped some celery and carrot sticks into the bowl of French
onion. "I used to feel stressed about the holidays because of
our childhood. Our mother did work hard to make the holidays
special for us, but at a price: she was so stressed out about
all she needed to do that we felt stressed, too, and thus couldn't
really enjoy the holidays."
"Exactly what I've been discovering!" Lori said.
Brian looked at his wife, "We shouldn't do anything for the holidays
that makes us feel stressed. I see so many people I know
getting themselves all twisted in a bunch with stress over the holiday
season and not realizing that they are doing it to themselves."
Fran heartily agreed. "Hear! Hear!"
Lori looked uncomfortable, "Like me?"
"Especially you." Brian said.
Lori was rescued at that moment by the arrival of Tammy's parents Roy
and Joyce. "Hi Mom! Hi Dad!" She hugged
Fran's in-laws. "Merry Xmas!"
"Merry Xmas, Lori. Brian." Roy said. "We
brought Pastor Dave, from our Church. He and his family
wanted to travel to Minnesota for the holidays but couldn't due to the
Dave's wife was helping their three absolutely adorable daughters take
off their coats. The youngest kept smiling at Brian because
she thought he was Santa Claus, and the older two (who were adopted
) were so pretty, they looked like miniature versions of
feel awkward about crashing." Pastor Dave said.
"Don't be." Lori said. "One: Fran and I
come from such a large family that this gathering actually is small for
us, and two: we are such a welcoming family that even I call
my brother's in-laws Mom and Dad."
"The more the merrier." Fran waved at the people in the room,
"I like to be surrounded by a lot of loved ones at Xmas, so welcome
Pastor Dave and family!"
Tammy went to dress, Fran opened the oven to check on the
ham. As he was using a plastic contraption that chopped
potatoes into equal pieces, Lori said to him, "Brian's not much of a
"Does he like shrimp?
was debating whether or not to bring out the shrimp. This
Soon the shrimp
was thawed, the ham was done, and the potatoes mashed. The
snacks were removed from the kitchen counter and replaced with plates,
silverware, and steaming hot bowls of food. Everyone
assembled in the kitchen and held hands as Fran led them in
prayer. When everyone else said, "Amen", Lori said, "Blessed
fantastic. Joyce made lefsa
for them to eat on Xmas Eve, then
forgot to bring it that night, so she brought it for the Xmas day
meal. Lori hadn't had lefsa in over twenty years, and Joyce's
lefsa was very, very good. Pastor Dave suggested eating it
with margarine and brown sugar, which was good, but most preferred it
plain or just with margarine.
For their Xmas Eve mass the evening prior, Fran composed and sang a
special song about being one of the shepherds in the field tending his
flock who were told by the angel about the birth of Christ, as
described in Luke 2: 8-14
. While she listened to him reprise
the song for his guests, the real Lori's inner cynicism kicked in, and
she told her spirit brother, "You do realize that Jesus probably was
born in the spring or early fall, and that a lot of the events
surrounding the birth of Christ have been questioned or corrected by
said, "So what? The birth of Christ, to me, is a matter of my
faith. Does it really matter if the events are historically
"But look at your
house." Lori pointed to the Xmas tree, the wreaths and other
greenery hung on the walls. "Evergreens are from the Pagan
Yule ritual; they represent light overcoming darkness on the
longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice. They have
nothing to do with the birth of Jesus."
"Except that His birth represents Good conquering Evil, just as Pagans
have light conquering darkness."
"Unfortunately, too many Christians don't see Paganism that way."
"There are some upon this earth of yours," returned The Spirit, "who
lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride,
ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are
as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never
lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves,
not us." More gently, he added, "We have to keep
going. You know that Xmas isn't the end of the holidays in
our family. Now we head south to Ella's Deli
on the 26th."
"I am looking forward to that least of all because it would have been
our mother's birthday, and
we're getting together with both you and
your families. Stress overdrive."
"Lori, don't take this the wrong way, but frequently you worry about
crap that never happens. Watch."
Lori watched herself as she and Brian arrived at Ella's. Both
her brothers already were there, and Tom rose to give his sister a
hug. His wife Diane rose to give a hug, too.
"That's surprising." Lori observed to her spirit
brother. "Diane's not a hugger because of the issues from her
"She's thawing now that
she's a grandmother." The Spirit said.
Diane's daughter Stacia arrived with her son, who was celebrating his
first holiday season. Stacia offered to let Lori hold
him. "I know he's not related to Tom biologically," Stacia said, referring to her step-daughter status, "but doesn't he
look like Tom?"
cheeks? Little hair on his head? and a Chicago
outfit?" Lori laughed in the familiar Lord Family
Cackle, "Yeah, that's my brother all right."
Throughout the meal, Lori had an interesting time explaining kosher
dietary laws to her nieces and nephews, who had no clue as to why
have to eat a certain way, and thus, why a kosher deli
like Ella's has beef franks rather than pork hot dogs. She
was surprised that her brothers didn't remember the Seder
that they participated in at grade school as part of their
Catholic education. After all, Jesus Christ was Jewish, and
the Last Supper
may have been a Seder meal, which is why Passover and Easter
always are so close to each other on the calendar.
The Spirit asked his sister, "Is it so terrible? You look
like you're having a good time."
"Yeah, I guess I am." Lori said, "I just wish..."
"Nothing." Lori said.
"I know what you're
thinking." The Spirit said, "Time to hand you over to the
next spirit."Stave IV: Spirit of the
Lori was in grade school, she played both Marley's Ghost
and the Last
of the Spirits
in a dramatized version of A Christmas Carol
. Her first costume was a white shirt with pair of white pants rolled up
to the knees to look a little Victorian. She wore white tube
socks and powdered her face, hair, and some chains. It was a
good effect, but not as good as her third ghost costume. The
teacher who directed the play gave Lori a black velvet skirt and wrap
to wear. The skirt went to the teacher's knees, but it was
long enough to go to the floor on Lori, and the wrap covered her from
head to waist. No one knew who played the third ghost until
the curtain call when Lori walked out on stage and dramatically threw
off the wrap. When it was time for the Spirit of the Future
to arrive in her dream, Lori thought she knew what was
coming. Boy was she surprised.
It was a little girl.
Spirit had long, straight brown hair and blue eyes, and she was dressed
in a little blue fleece sundress exactly like one Lori had in her
closet. Like Lori, she looked well fed. Unlike Lori
as a child, The Spirit seemed very confident; she had good
posture and looked Lori right in the eye.
"You're not what I expected." Lori said. "I expected the Grim
or the Angel of Death, but you look like a good angel - an
adorable little angel. In fact, you look like the little girl
I'd like to have someday."
glad to hear you say that," The Spirit said, "because I'm Anna, the
girl you are going to have someday."
"You're not Death?"
represent Life and Happiness. You know what any religion
teaches you, not just Paganism or Christianity: no one needs
to fear the future or death if one leads a good life, and you most
certainly lead a good life. Let me show you the future."
Instead of flying anywhere, the room itself transformed. The
king-sized bed with the furkids was replaced with a white crib
containing stuffed versions of Winnie the Pooh in a nightshirt, Piglet
. The room was decorated with a mural of the 100
, and on a shelf above the crib was the Winnie-the-Pooh bear
that Brian used to propose to Lori many years before.
"The scenes you see will fly very fast," Anna said, "because 'always in
motion is the future.'"
"Are you going to be a Star Wars
fan, too?" Lori said.
"I'll be your daughter, so of course I'll be a Star Wars
fan. We will have many a pleasant evening watching movies together and
Lori smiled as
her future self entered the room holding a baby. "Are you
hungry, Princess?" The baby cooed. The mother sat
in the white gliding chair that was used in place of a rocker in
deference to Anna's fursiblings. As Lori fed her baby,
Princess Queen Gleep curled up in her lap. Lori didn't shoo
away the cat, but adjusted so that she held her baby to her breast with
one arm; the other arm she used to pet Gleep.
Then the scene changed again. The crib converted into a twin
bed, and a child-sized table and chairs that Lori's in-laws gave them
were in the corner. Lori recognized the matching rocking
chair that contained an oversized Winnie-the-Pooh bear. Brian
sat squashed in one straight chair as he waited patiently for his
little girl to pour him a cup of pretend tea.
The room changed even more this time, indeed, there seemed no order in
these latter visions. Instead of a bedroom, they were in
Lori's home office and craft room down the hall. Lori was
sitting at her computer and typing away. Anna came in crying and clutching a doll. "Samantha
"Let me see, sweetheart." Lori examined the doll. "It's just a torn skirt. I can fix that no
problem." Lori showed her daughter how to thread the needle
on the sewing machine, then held her little hands as they guided the
fabric to be repaired.
thought you were supposed to show me scenes of Xmas?" Lori said.
"Okay." The Spirit said, and they were in the living
room. Anna was in a bassinet as Brian and Lori set up a faux
Xmas tree that had fiber-optic lighting
effects. Lori hung an
ornament that said, "Baby's First Xmas", but the date was
dug into the green and red plastic bin that stored their ornaments and
pulled out a gold ball with a red cap glued on it. "Here's
Gilligan" he said, as he handed it to Lori. Behind her on the
wall were two big stockings and five little ones: four of
them paws. Anna started fussing, so Brian picked her up from
the bassinet. He sniffed her and said, "Someone needs a
diaper change!" He started singing "The Poopy Diaper Song" as
he took his daughter upstairs.
The scene whirled even more than before. The Spirit took Lori
to her in-laws home again. Ed was playing peek-a-boo under a
baby blanket as toddler Anna laughed the Lord Family Cackle. Another whirl and they were at Ella's Deli. Anna was seated
in a high chair surrounded by her many cousins, who took turns playing
with her and feeding her ice cream, though more of it was on her face
than in her mouth.
Another change in scenery took The Spirit and her charge back to their
home kitchen where Lori was teaching Anna how to make Mary's cinnamon
rolls. As Lori rolled out dough to the size of a cookie
sheet, Anna used her little Tupperware
rolling pin to roll out a square
about a half-foot long. When Lori cut the filled and rolled
dough and put it in a cake-sized foil pan, Anna put her smaller rolls
into a tart-sized pan.
"That's very good, Anna" said the mother.
"May I please take to school?"
"Of course. Thank you for asking so nicely. Do you
want to eat them at lunch?"
"No, I want to give to my teacher."
Both Loris smiled, but the one who was cooking said, "Be sure to tell
them it's your grandmother's recipe. If they want a copy,
they can e-mail me."
who was watching said, "I'm sorry that you'll never know your maternal
grandparents. They would love you very much."
"I met them already." The Spirit said. "In the worlds
between. Poppa taught me to be patient, and Grandma taught me
how to be organized."
learned how to be organized from her, too."
"You know, you can use those skills to dump the stress of the
holidays." The Spirit said. "You completed your
bachelor's degree thirteen years after you graduated high school while
working full time. You were in a beauty pageant and the
largest contestant, but you came home with a trophy for
organization. You can do anything you set out to do, so for
you to dread the holidays because of the self-imposed stress is silly."
"But I don't want you to feel the same stress I felt growing up."
"You are not your
mother; you are my
"But my mother was so much like her mother..."
"Do my uncles parent the same way my grandfather did?"
"Look at the
bed." The Spirit said.
They were back in the bedroom of the present. Lori looked at
her sleeping self and all the critters surrounding her.
"You and Daddy bought a king-sized bed so you could have everyone in
this home in this bed at the same time, and I look forward to the day I
can join you on this bed." The Spirit said, " Daddy
will teach me to play and laugh, but what I'm looking forward to most
is being your daughter because you will shower me with love and
affection. I'll be a hugger just like you, and I'm going to
be so happy, Mama!" The Spirit wrapped her arms around her
Tears formed in Lori's eyes again. "What did you call me?"
"Mama. It's a title you've wanted to hear for a long, long
Lori smiled despite her
crying. Then the Spirit said, "I have to go now; Daddy will be home soon to take you to the sunset."
As the spirit of her future daughter faded from her embrace, Lori woke
up and realized that her arms were wrapped around Gleep, who was
purring with all the attention. Stave
V: The Beginning of It
Suddenly, Lori heard footsteps coming up the stairwell from the main
floor. This time Nibbler barked and scared all the cats
awake. Gleep's claws scratched Lori briefly as the feline
fled the din caused by her canine brother. While the cats
jumped off all sides of the bed, little Nibbler had to dash down the
steps set up at the foot. He was out the door quick as a
bullet, and just as quickly rushed back in ahead of his master, barking
as if to announce, "Daddy's home!"
"Sweetheart! Are you really here?" Lori ran to
Brian and hugged him; he seemed solid enough.
"Yes, you silly goose." Brian kissed his wife. "Why
do you ask?"
"I had such a
strange dream, even more vivid than usual. You were there at
really?" Brian raised his eyebrows twice.
"No, not like that. You talked to me and showed me some of my
friends. Then Poppy was there." Lori saw Brian
frown. "I know, 'yet another dream about my dead parents',
but this was different..."
Brian looked at the clock next to the bed. "If
you want to watch the sunset, you'd better get dressed. Then
you can tell me all about your dream during dinner."
"Okay, Love." Lori said, "An intelligent husband, a
remarkable husband; the World's Greatest Husband."
Lori dressed in the same blue sundress that the Last of the Spirits
wore, but this being winter, Lori added a white turtleneck and thick
black tights underneath. She hummed Xmas tunes as she brushed
her hair and put on her jewelry. She lovingly looked at her
engagement ring, now attached to a wedding band, that Brian gave her
twenty Xmases ago. Then she dug into a small jewelry box
hidden in her closet where she kept her precious jewels, rather than
the large jewelry box that was really a small chest of drawers, where
she stored her cloisonné pins depicting characters and symbols
from her favorite comic books, sci fi movies, and football teams.
In the smaller and more secure box was her mother's wedding
set. When Mary gained a significant amount of weight and
needed to have her wedding band enlarged, Fritz and Mary chose to take
some of the gold from the engagement ring to save money. Mary
wore her wedding band solely for many years until gold prices dropped,
and Fritz decided to have the engagement ring made whole
again. Unfortunately he had it restored to its original size
rather than taking into account Mary's new ring size. So Lori
was surprised when Mary opened the ring one Xmas Eve and was so
thrilled with the gift that she cried. Mary put the
engagement ring on her left pinky as Fritz apologized for his
mistake. Through tears of joy Mary said, "I don't
care; we can have it fixed again; it's just so
beautiful and thoughtful!"
Thus, when Mary asked her daughters and granddaughters about what
jewelry of hers they wanted after she was gone, Lori requested Mary's
wedding set. Lori told Fran, but never their mother, "It's
the only thing Poppy ever gave her that she liked.", which made Fran
laugh at the truth in that statement. Lori put her mother's
wedding set on her left index finger and thought, I am not my mother.
Brian drove them to the boat launch at Olbrich Park
, which is where
Lori discovered the perfect place for viewing early December
sunsets. The low skyline on the shore of Lake Monona allowed
the sun to descend unobstructed. Although a sign informed
park attendees of the city ordinance banning feeding the ducks, Lori
still brought some leftover bread crusts for the creatures whose
quacking added sweet music to Mother Nature
's twilight show. Other viewers sat in cars and one even rode in on a bicycle, but Brian
and Lori sat on the shoreline's rocks until Helios
and his fiery
chariot could no longer be seen in the sky. The Melting Pot
not only had an excellent "Big Night Out" dinner of
salad and three courses of fondue
for two, but they also served a
chocolate martini with a yin-yang
in white and dark chocolate sprinkles
on top. As Brian and Lori enjoyed dipping vegetables and
breads into cheese, then meats and other vegetables into a beef and
burgundy wine broth, then fruits and cake pieces into chocolate, Lori
told her husband about the dream she had. Brian was thrilled
to see his wife so animated and excited about the holidays. All his years of trying to make December enjoyable for Lori finally
seemed to be paying off.
Brian and Lori watched It's a Wonderful Life
back home in bed and
surrounded by their critters. She realized that it had been
twenty-five years since her suicide attempt; twenty-five
years of blessings that she would have missed if she had succeeded that
night. Even though she was full from such a big dinner, she
reached into her nightstand where she kept a stash of candy. This month's selection was her favorite peppermint nougats because
December is the only month they are sold. Sure, she had a
mile-long to do list between now and Xmas, but for now, she snuggled in
and thanked her husband for putting up with her. He said, "I
think you have a harder time putting up with me than I do putting up
Lori still was a
procrastinator, and it was the week of Xmas before she finally finished
her gift shopping. As the Spirit of the Present predicted,
the Internet and express shipping came in handy as Lori ordered a
book for Brian to open on Friday, December 25, as
well as the wrist-rocket
he'd wanted since he was a child. At
, she picked up a gift card to add more money to his PlayStation
Store account, and when she went to the grocery store to purchase the
last items needed to bake her mother's cinnamon rolls, she happily
placed a dollar in the Salvation Army bucket and wished the bellringer,
"the happiest of holidays."
events of Xmas happened exactly as The Spirit predicted. Brian, the critters, and "Santa" gave Lori the latest Harry Potter film
on DVD and Blu-Ray
, the Badger Snuggie
that she requested, and a
massage pillow. The latter was especially nice to use
after they shoveled the late December snow.
In the week after Xmas, Lori took her personal digital assistant
the zippered binder in which she kept plans and to do lists, and she
updated her goals and set a plan of action for things she wanted to
achieve each month in the New Year. As she looked at the toy
on her desk that always reminded her to play and have magic
in her life, she resolved not to fall behind and especially not to
procrastinate. She printed out lists of ideas to sort through
in January and plan events for the year to come: friends'
birthdays, the Passover Seder meal she wanted to host for her nieces
and nephews, the gaming conventions she promised to assist with or even
run, the annual Independence Day
Party she hosted with Brian, dates to
go on with the World's Greatest Husband like the Wisconsin Wolves
in the Independent Women's Football League
, and especially
Xmas. She knew that the best thing that to do is to be
selective when it comes to Xmas traditions and events and tune out the
extraneous crap; to figure out what makes the holidays
enjoyable and special for her and those she loves and make decisions
regarding gifts, gatherings, and other accordingly. Lori gave
herself one whole year to get her life back on track.
On December 31st, Brian and Lori attended their friend Walt's Annual
End of Time Party, the New Year's Eve bash Walt hosted since
. Lori always looked forward to this party not only
because it meant the end of the Xmas season, but it also was a
low-stress gathering of friends to play games, watch movies, drink, and
relax. Despite his allergies, Walt let his friends bring
Nibbler. As Lori watched her puppy nap under Walt's brightly
lit Xmas tree, an idea struck her. She grabbed her PDA and
its keyboard and typed as quickly as she could: Brian was not dead; There is no doubt whatever about
that. Brian was very much alive, and he was the World's
Greatest Husband to Lori...