Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 10, 2002

The best Christmas ever

We spent part of our holidays in Wisconsin with Donna, my 91-year-old mother-in-law. As we were leaving, she proclaimed it "the best Christmas ever," as she has every year since I've known her.

We didn't do anything particularly spectacular, the gifts we exchanged weren't extravagant, and there wasn't even enough snow to make snowmen like we've done in past years. But, as always, we enjoyed spending time with family members and taking delight in simple things.

Art and I like to give presents based on people's current interests or likes. Katie has been on a jag of eating canned sweet peas so we bought two cans of peas, wrapped them and put "for our little sweet pea" on the tag. She thought it was quite funny. Mariya likes a certain shampoo, but forgot to take it along so we bought a bottle, wrapped it and gave that to her. Art's brother Tommy had talked about the comic strip, "Barney Google," last fall so Art gave him a framed 1923 strip from an antique shop. One autumn a few years ago, Donna had left her favorite comb - which was missing a few teeth - at our place in Keats and wanted us to send it to her. Instead, we wrapped it for Christmas that year. When she opened it, she got teary-eyed: it was the last comb her husband - Art's Dad - had given to her before he died.

Donna was a young bride during the Depression, so she is careful to save everything, including every scrap of Christmas paper, every bow and every tag. I don't know how many times I've patched paper or re-used tags marked "From Mom to Tommy" or "From the Vaughans to Grandma Vaughan." It's a standing joke that someday I'm going to inherit Donna's box of Christmas paper, along with the assortment of empty boxes strewn across her attic floor. I joke back that as long as the box has Christmas paper in it, she'll keep perking along.

And perk she does. She still lives alone, drives, buys her own groceries, does laundry, and cleans her house. While we were there, she even showed me how she puts her table in the center of the kitchen if she wants to stand on it to clean the ceiling fan blades. She also pays her own bills, worries about her taxes, flattens cereal boxes and tin cans for recycling, keeps up with her beloved Green Bay Packers, reads the paper and does a crossword puzzle each day, and loves to reminisce about her family.

Donna is the oldest of five siblings and is the only one left since her youngest brother died of cancer in October. Their parents were a hard-working couple of German descent. Their mother, also called Birdie because of her diminutive size, was sweet and gentle. Their father was stubborn, but gentle and a bit of an absent-minded driver. It seems that whenever he went someplace to deliver berries or other produce, the only door he would reliably remember to close was the driver's side door. The other doors rarely matched because he had to constantly replace them.

Donna inherited her father's stubbornness and both parents' strong work ethic and ability to overcome whatever obstacles were placed in their paths. She always seems to be thankful for what she has now, saying that "these are the good ol' days."

Although Donna has never made a big deal out of her age, since turning 90, she prefaces many comments with "At my age. . ." "At my age, I figure I can eat whatever I want," she says, or "At my age, I can do anything I darned well please."

Heck, if I can do half of what she's doing at 90-plus, I'll feel lucky! Perhaps the secret to her longevity is her belief that these really are the good old days and that this truly was "the best Christmas ever."

Art�s brother Tommy with his framed 1923 edition of the comic strip
Barney Google given to Art by a friend who has an antique shop.

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