Enjoy this extract from my memoir, to be published in May, 2022. And if you’d like to get the news and excerpts like this ahead of other people, sign up for my email list on the right-hand side of the page.
My husband Jay had been ill for a long time, so when he managed to eat a Thanksgiving dinner, we were all grateful. Perhaps he’d make it until Christmas…
On the day after Thanksgiving, I sent the men of the family out to find a Christmas tree. In the event that Jay’s miraculous return to eating was a flash in the pan, I wanted to have at least a little Christmas immediately.
“It doesn’t have to be superb. Pretty good will do fine. Just buy the best one you can see,” I said, as Fred and Bertie left the house.
Some while later, letting a blast of icy air through the front door, they pulled a beautiful Norway spruce into the house.
Adam had put the tree stand in a corner from which he’d cleared the side tables and an armchair. Jay was sitting with his feet up on the red leather sofa, tucked in with a cozy fleece throw, and propped up by the pillow with a map of New Hampshire embroidered on it.
As the men adjusted and readjusted the tree to make sure it was straight, they’d check with him, looking for his approval. They knew that this Christmas, they had to get it right.
Someone had found the huge box of ornaments in a dark corner of the basement. Adam and Bertie hauled it up the stairs and into the living room, and I asked them to position it where Jay would be able to see it.
The grandchildren were hovering in the neighborhood of the tree and sofa, waiting impatiently to begin decorating. They’d never trimmed our outsize tree before, only the ones in their own, smaller, homes. The minute I lifted the bright green lid off the scarlet box, they crowded around it, craning their necks like baby birds and reaching in.
“Wait,” I said. “I’m going to give each of you one bauble at a time to hang on the tree, or it won’t be fair.” A murmur of disappointment was quickly suppressed as I began to hand them out.
“We got this one in Leningrad in June, remember?” I looked at Jay. It felt like years ago.
“St. Petersburg,” he corrected me.
“Here’s the one from our first Christmas together,” I handed a flying Plexiglas angel to Natalie. She headed over to the tree to hang it up.
“What’s this one?” Ellie held up a blue ball with a painting on it.
“That’s from the trip I took to Poland with Fred and Bertie for my mother’s eightieth birthday.”
The patriarch looked on, occasionally asking a child to bring an ornament over for him to inspect.
Near the tree, Heather was surreptitiously moving the baubles to higher branches or spacing them more evenly. Jay winked at her when he spotted her rearranging a sparkly New Millennium 2000 silver ball, knowing this daughter liked things to be just so.
Outside, the lake was slowly disappearing from view as the sun set and the sky darkened. Bertie and Ned, Heather’s husband, were stringing the fairy lights around and around the tree. Someone made hot chocolate for the grandchildren, to tide them over until dinner, and finally, with a last adjustment of the lights, nine-year-old Max was allowed to turn them on.
“What do you think?” asked Fred.
All heads turned toward Jay. He was gazing at the tree, the tiny lights twinkling in his eyes.
“You know,” he said, poker-faced. “I think you might hang that one a touch higher up.”
A moment’s shocked silence ensued.
“Only kidding,” he grinned. “It’s perfect.”
We breathed a collective sigh of relief, followed by a gust of laughter. It was so reassuring to be teased by Jay.