The Offhand Christmas

By Terri Elders

I’d already addressed and mailed cards, bought the tree and hidden the presents. I still had a week left to select a turkey, pick up cranberries for relish and bake the pecan tassies that Ken loved. Squishing together butter, cream cheese and flour and pressing it into mini-muffin tins was easier than rolling out a perfect pie crust.

My stepson, Rick, and wife, Angela, would arrive Christmas Eve. We’d spend the holiday walking the dogs, playing hearts and listening to carols.

“For once it’s under control,” I’d congratulated myself, as Ken and I headed for bed. That night, winds whistled around the windows. I’d covered my head with my pillow, but still heard banging. I hadn’t checked earlier if we’d locked all the doors nor had I counted cats. We had three. In winter, we sometimes experienced menacing overnight temperature drops.

I jumped up and started down the stairs. The third step down, my foot landed on one of the cats. Before I could grab the railing, I tumbled, head first, throwing out my left arm to break my fall. I landed, stunned, at the foot of the stairs. When I finally struggled to my feet, my left arm dangled limply and my shoulder felt lumpy.

I dragged upstairs and woke Ken.

“I doubt anything’s broken,” he said. “It’s probably a sprain. Why were you wandering around in the dark?”

“I heard the screen door banging. I couldn’t remember if all the cats were inside. Then I stepped on Harpo. He’d blended in with the carpet.”

“If you still think something’s wrong when the sun comes up, I’ll drive you to the hospital. Try to get some sleep.”

I flopped down and drifted off, ignoring my throbbing arm and the howling winds.

By dawn my arm had swollen to twice its normal size. X-rays revealed that the ball of my shoulder had been knocked clear of its socket and shattered. I’d need surgery, and could expect my arm to be immobilized in a sling for weeks. If no complications developed, the hospital might release me by Christmas Eve.I worried about the strain on my husband who’d eight months earlier undergone a quadruple bypass. Could he take care of the cats, dogs…and me? I nattered on about Christmas, gifts to wrap, groceries to buy, tarts to bake, floors to mop and tables to dust. With an immobilized arm, how would I even bathe, dress and feed myself? I’d heard the old jokes about people who broke a hand or wrist just before Christmas to avoid kitchen duty. Not funny.

“Calm down,” Ken said. “I’ll take care of everything. I’m perfectly capable.”

On Christmas Eve, the hospital discharged me with a list of dos and don’ts, heavy on the latter. Once at home, I again bombarded Ken with my worries.

“How will I wrap the presents? What about tinsel? The tassies? Oh, no, we didn’t buy a turkey. If there’s no fresh ones left, it’s too late now to thaw one.”

“All taken care of,” Ken said. “We’ve got rib eyes in the freezer, and I’ll barbecue. I’ll stick some potatoes in the oven, along with a frozen apple pie. We’ve got plenty of salad makings. Now stop worrying.”

“The tinsel? The presents?”

“The tree doesn’t need any tinsel. Stuff the gifts in bags and stick a label on the outside. Nobody needs ribbons and foil.”

I grabbed a fistful of grocery sacks and a pad of labels and headed to the closet where I’d stashed the gifts. I’d ordered most of the presents online, since we lived far from any department stores. Luckily, I’d opened the boxes as they’d arrived. I never could have managed now with just one hand. I plopped each gift into a bag. I hoped recipients would forgive their scruffy appearance. I scrawled names on stickers, slapping them on the sacks, grateful I still had my right hand.

They sure didn’t look like Christmas presents, I thought, lugging everything to the tree.

Christmas morning Ken helped me open the fancy packages that Rick and Angela had brought. I bragged that at least we’d be environmentally green, recycling my grocery bags, rather than stuffing them in a rubbish bin.

When we took the dogs for their morning frisk, Ken managed the Akita’s leash. Later we played hearts, even though it took time for me to sort out and arrange my cards. When it was my turn to deal, Rick dealt for me.

In the late afternoon, as the sun began its descent, Ken and Rick fired up the barbecue and set the table. Angela tossed a salad, and chopped scallions to top the baked potatoes. Then we took our usual seats as Ken carried in his ribbies from the grill. I picked up my fork and stared at my steak, as everybody dug in.  “How am I going to eat this? Do I pick it up and gnaw? Do I lean down like the dogs and nibble around the edges?”

They laughed, and then after Rick said grace, Ken cut my steak into bite-sized chunks. He added a dollop of sour cream to my potato, and filled my salad plate. He all but spoon-fed me my pie.

The trio cleared the table and washed dishes as I sat in the living room in front of the tree, reviewing the day and sipping a nightcap of mulled wine.

I’d been delighted by it all: the stroll, free from my usual two-handed struggle to restrain a 115-pound Akita; the slower-paced card game which provided more time to chat; the novelty of a Christmas barbecue; and watching my capable Ken take charge.

When I retired, still weak from trauma and surgery, I glowed with contentment. Ken was right. Christmas needs neither flashily wrapped gifts nor the shimmer of a tinseled tree…not even the tang of cranberry relish nor the scent of a roasting turkey. Christmas just needed us, willing to share its timeless message of peace.

About this writer

  • Terri Elders

    Terri Elders

    Terri Elders is a lifelong writer and editor, is a frequent contributor to anthologies and periodicals. At 80, she’s happy to be back again in sunny California, where she no longer has to worry about shoveling snow. She misses the snow on Christmas day, but delights in having New Year’s brunch at the beach.

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3 Responses to “The Offhand Christmas”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Your story is a heart warming truth about Christmas… it’s not about the pretense, but the intense love.

  2. Erika Hoffman says:

    Your great attitude shines throughout the story.

  3. Rose Ann says:

    Bonds without the glittery wrappings–so glad you could enjoy the holiday with the help and love of your family.

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