The Holidays for me are…
Flowers, wet dirt, mourning and hope.
She looked at the bouquet. No, something was amiss. Perhaps if he moved the lily and daisy, and the azalea behind the rose…there! Much more pleasing to look at. Mrs. Mils would surely have loved this one. She probably did, wherever she was now. Roberta took a sniff and let the scents swirl around in her nostrils, evoking so many memories and emotions. It did remind her of Mrs. Mils even, how when Roberta was a child, Mrs. Mils had given her cookies from her bakery, despite Roberta’s lack of money. Her kindness, her warmth, she hoped the bouquet would radiate this as well, so that any passerby would understand what kind of person laid beneath the many layers of dirt.
Roberta placed the flowers atop the gravestone, shoveling away the snow from the worn rock. There wasn’t too much snow left, most of it washed away by the rain, but some heaps of snow remained. The wet ground oozed the smell of dirt, what Roberta had come to associate with death. It was all around her after all, her job, to tend the graves. Even during Christmas. Occasionally, she would meet some people or families who grieved the loss of their loved ones on this evening dedicated to family and those we love.
Just as Roberta lit a candle for Mrs. Mils, someone walked up to the grave. A young woman, at least to Roberta who was turning fifty this year, drabbed in a white coat, underneath it, a black dress befitting of a Christmas party. Her heels dug into the dirt, she constantly had to adjust her balance. As soon as Roberta saw her, her distressed face and attire, she knew that this young woman hadn’t planned on being here this afternoon.
“How kind of you. Didn’t know mother had any friends left in this world,” the woman said softly as she lit a cigarette.
“Oh, you must be…Margrethe, no wait, Madd-”
“It’s Maggie. No worries, kind of like the writing on this gravestone, names fade in the back of our minds with the passing years.”
They stood there in silence, with the occasional puff of smoke. Maggie looked as if she hadn’t expected anyone else to be here, but Roberta couldn’t decipher whether that was an annoyance to her or a blessing.
“How did you know my mother?” Maggie finally asked as her cigarette came to an end.
“I lived on Berwitz Street as a little girl. I have quite fond memories of your mother’s baking,” Roberta responded with a smile, the memory sparked joy in her heart.
Maggie chuckled lightly.
“Yeah, mom was great at baking. I remember it too…,”
Her voice broke, and in an attempt to cover the emotion gurgling in her throat, Maggie looked away, with an exhausted cigarette stump in her hands. Roberta had seen this a million times before, a wounded heart was not so easily healed, despite the false promises of time.
“I can still remember my first Christmas without my mom. It was agony, I kept looking over in her favorite lounge chair, expecting her to sit there, knitting away, and flash me a grin, or complain about my cooking,” Roberta reminisced.
Despite not seeing her face, Roberta could hear the tears weld in Maggie’s eyes as she spoke:
“It’s so stupid. Do you know why I’m here right now? I was with my husband’s family, and they’re currently baking gingerbread. And one of my husband’s nephews came over to me, and he had made this gingerbread heart with decorations. But it was the exact, and I mean exact way my mom used to make me one every Christmas! The exact same colors on the frosting, the decorative pearls, everything. The kid obviously didn’t know, but it just triggered something within me. I just had to see her. My mom should still be with me here today, she should have given me that gingerbread heart.”
Maggie sobbed, still clutching the butt of her cigarette and her side.
“Everyone…Everyone’s forgotten about her. I…I don’t want them to. She was a great woman, filled with so much love, taken away too early. It’s not, it’s not fair…”
Roberta walked up to Maggie and embraced her in a hug:
“You think our minds are just like that faded gravestone? That once the letters are erased by the forces of time, our memories of them are wiped? No, the stone still remains. In this world, there remains a trace of them, no matter how many eons have passed. That’s you, Maggie. You’re what your mother has left in this world, and as long as you walk this earth, your mother is never forgotten.”
Maggie detached from the embrace and gazed into the eyes of this stranger who tried to uplift her. Roberta met her eyes with a smile:
“Your husband is probably waiting for you. Go now, I’ll make sure to light the candles here,” she smiled.
Maggie wiped her tears, and something new emerged in her eyes.
“Thank you,” she said as she left the graveyard.
Roberta looked at Maggie, as she waddled through the wet dirt in her heels. Roberta hoped, she had saved another Christmas. Every year, there were people like Maggie here, looking for guidance, condolence, or purpose. And luckily, there were people like Roberta here, to offer them what they needed. There had always been people like Roberta here, only different names. Or perhaps, they had all the same name, but different persons? Roberta had forgotten, but luckily, she hadn’t forgotten why she was here. Even though the letters had been washed away by the tides of time, her gravestone remained.