Stuff and Nonsense: December 2018


Thinking of Mom: Advent Calendars

Some of my sweetest childhood memories are of the advent calendars my mother would give me every December 1st. I remember I would come home from school in a frenzy to pop open that day's little perforated cardboard door to see what lay behind it (a plum pudding! a squirrel!) and beg my mom to let me open the next day's, too. Of course, I wasn't allowed to open a day in advance (Mom knew where madness lay) and would distract me with a baking or decorating project.

Nowadays, you can get all sorts of fancy advent calendars -- calendars with chocolates or Lego, etc -- but way back in the early 80s an advent calendar was nothing more than layered cardboard printed with a Christmas scene. But, oh, my mother always picked out the best (imho) calendar the card shop had to offer. The calendars I remember best were glittering scenes of anthropomorphized animals readying themselves for Christmas. Rabbits in scarves decorating an evergreen tree in the middle of the snowy woods. Squirrels in Victorian dress getting their Christmas shopping done. Woodland animals having a snowball fight.

A few years ago, I began buying advent calendars for myself. Usually from the gift shop of an art museum like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but sometimes from Lindt as chocolate advent calendars are very much a part of The Husband's Christmas traditions. Chocolate or no, advent calendars aren't as exciting as they were when I was a child and I don't open each door as promptly as I once had, but they still bring back warm memories of my mother and the calendars she so carefully picked out for me. And that's what really matters.


The Not Christmas

I knew the first Christmas without Mom would be a hard one, so I decided the best thing to do would be to make it as low-key as possible. The plan was we would go down Christmas Eve and stay overnight, spending all of Christmas Day with Dad. We'd eat lasagna and garlic bread I'd purchase, drink a lot of whiskey, and play tabletop games until we were too brain-fried, carb-overloaded, or drunk to feel the ghosts of Mom's Christmases Past.

And that was Christmas Eve. Christmas Day, Dad and I visited the cemetery in the morning and it was so peaceful and calm and full of birdsong that I believe my mother would be happy to know that's where she ended up. It's an old family plot in a very old cemetery in the middle of nowhere and lacks the regimented uniformity I associate with cemeteries -- the marching rows of headstones, the tightly clipped grass, the utter lack of naturalness. If such a thing is possible, it feels like a kind sort of place.

Later, we had met up with one of Dad's old associates for Christmas dinner at the casino buffet. Between the unchristmasness of the casino and the necessity of social pleasantries, we did not have opportunity to dwell on our loss or what Christmas ought to have been like this year.

My mother loved Christmas. Loved all the holidays, really. If it was a day you could decorate for, she did. But Christmas was the best, most decorated, most Holiday of holidays. Electric candles and crochet snowflakes at the windows. Wreaths on the doors. Garland around a mailbox stuffed with cards. A tree dripping with ornaments and tinsel. Nonstop Christmas music in the background. Tupperware full of cookies on the workbench for Christmas parties and swaps. Little Hallmark Christmas tchotchkes on every conceivable surface. And my mother at the heart of all of it.

So much happiness, so much light, so much love.


#WordlessWednesday: A Bride

My mother with her mother and stepfather in their backyard on her wedding day, 9 September 1972.


Trying to Find Words. Failing.

We interred my mother's ashes this morning. It was a simple, low-key ceremony at the old family plot with just a handful of close family members. I think Mom would have approved -- no pomp or priest, but deeply heartfelt. I thought I would handle the interment all right, but then the pineapple cookie jar/urn was placed in the grave and it all became unbearable.

No, I thought, that's too deep. Don't leave my mom's ashes in a hole that deep. It will be cold and dark and lonely. She wouldn't like that. But then we were invited to toss some flowers in and it felt marginally less awful.

If I had been braver, I would have taken all the flowers from her graveside and put them in the grave with her urn, surrounding it with color and softness. But I worried I would upset my dad, so did not.

My father without my mother -- it's an impossible thought. My father loved my mother for nearly fifty years, in sickness and health, joy and sorrow, poverty and wealth. She was his best girl. His first and only love. How can I help him go on? Everyone keeps telling me I need to look after my dad now and take care of him and I want to. I am. But it is impossible to look at him and not see my mom.

And it hurts so much.

Always sassing each other.



Mom & I go for a ride in my little red wagon.

Maryjane Elsie Gardner, of Waterford CT, passed away Friday, November 23, 2018 at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London after a courageous struggle with congestive heart failure.

She was born April 26, 1951 in New London to Joseph Edward Francis and Elsie Alexandra (Shabunia) Francis.

Maryjane graduated East Lyme High in 1970 and went to work at Two Guys department store as a cashier and later in the jewelry department.

In 1972 she married her high school sweetheart George L. Gardner and they set off on a 46 year journey of life and love. She is also survived by her daughter, Lynn, of whom she was super proud of in every way and loved dearly.

She was a skilled craftsperson dabbling in ceramics, tole painting, and became a very good quilter. A modest and unassuming woman, she once casually entered quilted items at a fair and won multiple ribbons. Appalled at the idea she may have hurt the feelings of local contributors, she never again entered a judged contest.

A skilled cook, she enjoyed hosting noisy holiday family gatherings and produced trays of delectable cookies, endless jars of jams, and lovely pies.

In addition to her husband and daughter she is survived by James Antill, Lynn's husband, sister Marilyn Burleson of New London, sister Diana MacDonald and her husband William, two nephews George and Lee Burleson of New London, and niece Jennifer MacDonald of New London.

In lieu of flowers contributions to the American Heart Association or the National Diabetes Association.

My dad wrote this for his best girl. I cleaned the punctuation and capitalization up a little, but left that rest as it is. How could I do better?


A Pineapple For My Mother

The staff at the funeral home provided us with brochure full of urn options, but none of them felt like Mom and we both knew she'd strongly disapprove of the cost of an urn. In the end, I bought a white ceramic pineapple cookie jar with an airtight lid off Amazon. Mom loved pineapples as a symbol of hospitality and we thought she would have gotten a kick out of it if she'd been there to see it. Felt ever so slightly weird dropping it off at the funeral home, but decided they'd probably seen weirder and we were paying so much money already that who cared?

Also, my mom being dead is really making me no fucks given about everything else.



I was at work when the text came from my father saying he'd brought my mother to the hospital that morning. She'd been short of breath. Dizzy. Holding too much fluid. It looked bad.

By the time I called to ask if I should leave work and come, it was already too late. My mother had died. Her heart stopped.

Our hearts broke. I do not know how we have gotten through the week since her death except by grim determination. There are Things That Must Be Done. Steps That Must Be Taken.

But, oh, the aching sense of loss. The constant ordinary, everyday reminders that my mother is gone somewhere I cannot reach. Those poems and songs that talk about arms aching to hold someone? I always thought they were silly, but now my arms quite literally ache to hug her one more time.