By Anna Perkins
Westfield Township, Ohio
Family. A Christmas tree. Singing carols on a neighbor’s doorstep. Watching her children’s delight at receiving the special gifts she had made for them. Bob’s present for her. His love.
Shirley blinked away tears as these thoughts crossed her mind, the thoughts of what Christmas used to mean to her.
Today was Christmas, but where was the joy? Gone. It had gone with the children as they had grown up and married. It had gone as they had moved out of state, one by one. But it had gone for good with Bob’s stroke, 14 years ago.
Fourteen! It seemed like a lifetime. A lifetime of therapy, of special equipment, of speech lessons, of relapses, doctors, hospitals. And someone telling her, “Your husband will never talk again.”
He couldn’t tell her, “Merry Christmas, dear. I love you.” Who knew how much he understood, anyway?
As Shirley scrambled the eggs and buttered the toast for their breakfast, she realized again that, as much as she missed her children and grandchildren, she missed Bob more. He had not given her a gift since their last real Christmas together — three months before his stroke.
She still gave him some presents each year, but she couldn’t tell whether he noticed how carefully she had wrapped the packages. He simply responded to her “Merry Christmas!” with his only word, “Aye, aye.”
Where was the joy?
“Bob! Your eggs are getting cold!”
Why was he so late anyway? Was he understanding even less of what she said as he got older? She had been afraid of this. Why did it have to happen on Christmas?
“Maybe he’s having trouble with the sleeves again?” she thought, wiping her hands on a dishcloth.
“I’d better go see if he needs help.”
“Ho. Ho. Ho!”
Who was that? What was it? Shirley spun around, catching at the stove to maintain her balance. There stood Bob, his shirt right-side out, a clean pair of pants on, and beaming all over. Perched on his head was the Santa hat she had hung on the doorknob, as a festive touch, and he was holding out a small, red stocking, full of tiny gifts.
Smiling lopsidedly at her, he repeated, “Ho. Ho. Ho!”
Then, slowly and carefully forming his lips, “I … love … you.”
There was joy, after all.