Chocolates with brandy inside, cheese, special cakes from Saxony. Taking pictures of the cats before they took down the tree. The tree, the one mom got the year John was sick and couldn’t come down for Christmas, so she set it up on the second floor. The Christmas we first came and met Eberhard at the airport. Dawn’s parents came too, and we all stayed on the top floor. We met Eberhard’s friend Willi, who had us over for Raclette, finished it with fried bananas in bacon fat, lit it on fire with schnapps. A picture in my mom’s kitchen of Eberhard and Willi by the stove: Eberhard was about the same age I am now. The same pepper shaker I used on the chicken last night.
That was the Christmas John’s health started to decline; they had him on a number of medications, not to be mixed with alcohol. He would fall asleep at the banquette sitting up, snoring—at first we laughed, but then we didn’t—and that Christmas eve, we got in a fight over them buying another house: they’d sold the one in Pennsylvania, I wanted them to look near Seattle, but John was talking about a Greek island instead—probably wanting to keep my mom nearby to look after him. When she was young, my mom had to take care of her mother too: her mom had given birth to her when she was 49. They thought it was a growth, a tumor: but the doctor said “your tumor’s got a heartbeat.” And so my mom was born, in 1949.
John’s tone changed with me that night, like a page in our relationship had been torn. We got ready to go to the church service but he fell down the steps out front, could have squashed Dawn (who was six months pregnant with Lily). On Christmas morning I just wanted to be gone; I said to my mom I wish she was with someone else, someone who would care for her more—someone like Eberhard. I swore off drinking, but then I got a small bottle of vodka infused with fruit as a gift so I drank that, to feel better. And that was our last Christmas with John, ending a good 10-year run of it, of living and traveling together.
The tree is musty smelling from sitting in the side storage area by the bathroom, the bathroom you wouldn’t dream of dawdling in over a smart phone; it feels like an outhouse, but I like the stone practicality of it, the sphagnum moss scents from the medieval floor by the laundry machine, the place the mice/rats likely hide, you can hear them when you turn on the lights…but soon the cats will take care of that.
We finished dinner, Eberhard sucked the last meat off the bones, and the doorbell rang: it was the neighbor Thomas, the mechanic, and his dog Amy: she had to have one of her eyes taken out in the morning, he said. He was sad, lived alone with his mother, so we invited him inside. Thomas squatted down with a flashlight to show Eberhard the tumor in the dog’s eye, but I didn’t look. Mom fed Amy the last of the cold cuts we brought from Colmar, our last night there. I offered Thomas a whiskey and he said yes but just a bit, and afterwards mom reminded me he was a recovered addict, I probably shouldn’t have.
In the morning it was misty rain and I got up to say goodbye to Eberhard; maybe we’ll see each other tomorrow, he said. Mom made me a plate of scrambled eggs and some toast, I went out for a walk: tonight we’ll be going to Martin and Roland’s, tomorrow to see Eberhard’s mom, and Friday, lunch with Waltraud at 12:30.
Charlotte came downstairs with some gifts and set them under the tree and tilted it to the side. It’s such a sad looking tree with just about 10 lights and a handful of balls, but Charlotte really likes it. I think for my mom it means something more. Charlotte doesn’t see any of that, all she sees is possibility.