I awoke early, as was my habit on Christmas Day. There was a lot to do to make sure that this Christmas, like those preceding it, would be special to all involved. There was coffee to make, breakfast to prepare, the opening of gifts and the pillaging of Christmas stockings awaiting us before preparations for the evening’s open house could begin.
I tiptoed downstairs and then stopped. The aroma of fresh coffee drifted up the stairs, tempting me to proceed. Of course, I thought to myself, Jo-Ann is here and has already begun the day. I gratefully completed my decent of the stairs, following my nose as it were, walked to the breakfast counter and poured myself a cup of fragrant coffee.
Jo-Ann had been blessing our house with her presence during Christmas for five years. An only child, she was bereft of relatives, and had nowhere to go on this special day. We were her family now, and welcomed her every holiday.
I met Jo-Ann ten years before when I bought the end unit of a four-condominium building. Mine was the last to sell and I felt lucky in finding the 90-year-old solid brick dwelling. Jo-Ann owned the other end unit and we were soon fast friends. She became my mentor, my friend, the big sister I never had. I quickly began to realize that my luck did not lay in just mortar and brick, but in the 5’8” lanky body of an eccentric, colorful, loving person by the name of Jo-Ann. She was always on my side, even when I was wrong. Believe me, when I was wrong, she let me know, but she was on my side, and that is what counted.
Our friendship became very important to me and I came to love her as if she were my own, true sister. I enjoyed living close to her for eight years until, in 1987, she preceded me down the isle as my Matron of Honor.
Enjoying my memories, I took a sip of my coffee, and cast a smile to Jo-Ann, I walked to where she stood, gazing out of our sliding doors on to the lake, as if mesmerized. “Look,” she whispered.
I turned. A soft snow was falling. Large, fluffy flakes floated to the ground as a pink dawn broke upon our picturesque lake. Currier and Ives came to mind, as I stood beside my friend, and lost myself in the wonder of a beautiful Christmas Day snowfall. Millions of diamonds sparkled up frozen water, fir trees, sloping roofs and undulating lawns. The snow was unmarked. No foot or paw, or webbed claw, had marred its shimmering surface. It was breath taking.
My soul sighed with contentment. I cupped the warm mug of coffee in my hands and leaned into my friend. She reciprocated with a supporting stance as we stood, side-by-side, and enjoyed God’s special show. Something inside of me cautioned, Mark this moment. Remember this. Never forget. I heard my inner voice, or was it my guardian angel, and impressed upon my mind every detail. Like a scrap booker carefully laying out a special page, I marked the moment. I savored it, and filed it away under “never forget this.”
I felt the fifteen years of love and camaraderie that we shared between us. Remembered her delight in teaching me how to cook, her joy when my sweet son was placed in my arms. I remembered her demand to be called “Auntie Jo” and not “Aunt Jo-Ann.” “I’m an auntie,” she said, “not an aaaaaaunt” drawing out the flat a of the word. She was, as my husband said, “a piece of work” and I loved her dearly.
We stood, leaning into each other, watching the magical show of a dawn-kissed snowfall, until finally, we reluctantly left the window. But, the beauty of the snowfall remained with us throughout the day. Jo-Ann made breakfast – Eggs Benedict – and helped me with the post-frantic-joyous opening of presents. Once the wrappings and ribbons, boxes and tags were collected, she helped me with the preparation of the hors d’oeuvres for the coming open house.
We laughed, we sang, we cooked and we cleaned, and when the day was over, I drove her home in a snow encased post-card-like scene of red and green stop lights, glistening snow banks and the muffled streets sounds heard only when a blanket of snow has covered a city.
I did not know that day, that soon I would be saying goodbye; Jo-Ann would not join us the following Christmas. She would pass away, holding my hand, the August before. As I watched her drift into eternal life, I remembered our last, magical Christmas and whispered into her ear, “Remember, Jo-Ann. When I join you, we’ll watch the snowfall.”
©2008 Debra Shiveley Welch
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