Jennifer L. Freed
My Mother Dreams of Christmas Past

She plans in the dark, lying awake
while my father snores—plans to festoon the house
with pine boughs, let their scent
waft from mantlepieces and door frames.
She imagines herself toward daylight, when she’ll go out
in the yard to cut branches, carry them
to the living room, maybe even
weave her own wreath for the front door. She can
use the twist ties in the kitchen drawer, attach fresh cranberries
and pinecones. And next week, since the snow
hasn’t yet fallen, she’ll rake all the leaves into a heap,
make a great mound for the children to play in
while the adults linger at the table. She remembers
her mother, her grandmother, the days
of preparation—all those pans in the oven,
the best linen, aired and ironed, the holly, mistletoe, laughter.

With the sun’s slow rise, my mother, too, rises, begins
her morning routine—the walker to help her stand,
the slow journey to the bathroom, the sponge bath,
then the sturdy bench where she sits as she dresses.
By the time I call, she is weeping: my father
is making the coffee, bringing her food to the table, and she can’t
seem to do anything she intends. She wanted
to get it all done before he awoke. She wanted
to surprise him. Oh, she wanted, she wanted
the pine scent of when she was small. She wanted
to make the house shine. She had it all
planned. I just can’t
seem to get hold of time.

In my own kitchen, I hold the phone and hold
my tongue as I listen to my mother spin
more plans, more promises
that she’ll work harder, that she’ll do better
tomorrow. I don’t remind her
that her grandchildren are in college now,
that she hasn’t decorated the house for years,
that no one expects a woman with a walker
to cut pine branches from the yard,
that it was her Italian father, not her Jewish husband,
who cared about Christmas,
that it’s November,
that this may be her last winter
in her house.