The White Christmas
I walked into our home office yesterday to find my husband gazing at a photo of his mother, lost in thought. As I approach this first Christmas without my mother, I need to remember that my husband is hurting, too. We lost ‘GG’ (Georgene Gainey) four years ago. She was an amazing woman, tall and stately, a teacher and actress, still acting- even though legally blind from macular degeneration- right up until her death at ninety-two. She left the world just as she would have wanted- she was dressed up and waiting in the lobby of her retirement home for her ride to the theater when she died instantly of what we think was an aneurism. She was swimming at the YMCA just two days before.
That was our GG- while she was a wonderful and loving woman, she was always right to the point with no wasted time. Often our phone conversations would end before we even knew they were over. She would get her message across and then she was done, giving us a curt “goodbye!”, followed by the buzz of the dial tone, leaving us shaking our heads and laughing. So very different from my mother, who would do everything she could to maximize her time with you on the telephone.
Dan’s parents were celebrities in Birmingham; his father sang lead on Broadway and in the New York Opera, and then had a forty year career as a voice professor at Birmingham Southern College. He sent many, many students on to careers at the Met and to opera houses across Europe. Both he and GG acted in theater troops and had their own radio show, ‘At Home with the Gaineys’. They were even featured on The Joan Rivers Show on their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Their family was very like the Cleavers from the old ‘Leave it to Beaver’ show…again, so different from my family history. A loving family, close-knit but independent, always supportive of each other. AG (Andrew Gainey) passed away four years before I met Dan, dying in his sleep after teaching a lesson to one of his beloved students. I am still sad that I never got to meet him, but Dan says that we would have been best buddies. I have no doubt.
We had one last Christmas with both of our mothers at Chez Gainey, and it was magical. I will never forget looking out into the sun room to see Mom and GG looking out at the view, snow raining down- the only white Christmas we have had since I came to Birmingham. GG would be gone just over a month later. It was such a beautiful day, very worth all of the coordination it took to pick up each of our mothers from their respective homes and get them into our stair-filled home…all while trying to cook a huge meal (that was the year that the turkey caught fire in the oven…). I will cherish the remembered sounds of their stories and laughter on that day.
This is all a good reminder to me to cherish each day, each holiday, as we never know when the landscape of our lives will change. I don’t mean to live in fear of change and what will be, but to truly live in daily gratitude for our loved ones and the time that we have with them. We can’t get it back once they are gone, but we can fill our treasure chest of memories with each cherished moment. Our quiet Christmas this week will not be lonely. I will hear the echoes of stories and laughter from the past, and remember the love that was always fierce and constant. And, I will look out on the sun porch and see two beautiful gray heads sitting in front of the fire, looking out together at a magical white Christmas.