Mother and Daddy celebrated their wedding anniversary several days before Christmas making that time of year, special in many ways-anniversary, Christmas, then New Year’s. Regardless of our financial circumstances, Daddy always gave Mother an anniversary gift. And, whatever the gift, it was always wrapped, sporting a bow.
Once the adult celebration passed, my parents lavished their total attention on us. In our small house, we had no fireplace upon which to hang stockings, but we always greeted Christmas morning with a living room overflowing with presents, meticulously wrapped and sporting holiday bows. Our parents assured us that a lack of a fireplace and chimney would not deter Santa’s visit, as he would quite simply venture through the front door, left unlocked for that special night. We anxiously went to bed, leaving a plate of cookies and milk for Santa, and restlessly wrestled with ourselves until we fell asleep. Quietly constructing bicylces and other toys and wrapping gifts late into the night, the secrets of parenting on Christmas Eve remained sacred for at least another year.
Santa brought the eight-millimeter movie camera and projector around my eighth or ninth Christmas. On Christmas Day and for years afterwards, Sissy and I hammed it up in amateurish style, kissing each other under the mistletoe, dancing to Elvis Presley and showing off our new baby brother. The sounds of his crying and the crooning of Elvis were absent from the showing afterwards, but the laughter in our eyes were the silent sounds that illustrated the happiness that flashed across the screen.
In one of those first clips, I remember how Mother stood, with one hip out to the side as her hand rested strategically on her waist. The other arm hung at her side holding a beer, which she tried to conceal from view. She posed, she grinned, and she saluted her audience. We rarely saw Mother drink anything but coffee or iced tea, so we viewed these antics on film as unfamiliar and strange, but funny at the same time.
In that particular piece of celluloid Mother, seemed tall and quite thin with long brown hair that framed her face and highlighted the attractive grin that complimented her facial features. She had an oddly shaped nose, which detracted slightly from her looks, but her remarkable smile illustrated her character and personality. Her teeth were straight across the top except for that one crooked tooth-her left lateral incisor to be exact-which rotated slightly toward the four front teeth. My grandmother and maternal aunt also touted that one crooked tooth-a family trait that passed from one generation to the next.
As I recalled Mother’s silly stance on that Christmas Day, I thought about another time when I watched the old films of my childhood and remembered a not so perfect time in our lives when Mother was very ill and I was home for a visit. With the exception of the whirring of the projector, the images appeared on the screen in silence. Two little girls stepped out of the house holding the hands of a small blond-headed boy between them. One of the girls was red-headed and the other was dark-headed. The girls were wearing matching dresses and their hair was pulled back into curled ponytails, tied with a bow. I remembered those dresses. Mother made them for us. Sissy hated the color because of her hair-redheads were not supposed to wear pink-but Mother used the fabric because she liked me in pink.
Behind the three of us, Mother stood waving and smiling with that infectious grin of hers. The four of us, then waved simultaneously as though cued by the invisible cameraman. It was Daddy, of course. And Sissy, in her usual fashion, turned her head away, put her hand up to her face, and ran back into the house. Laughing to myself, I remembered how she always did that when she did not want her picture taken. I looked back at my own image, standing there smiling and waving to my father.
As I stared at the film, I saw in my own smile, a very familiar face. The two expressions were almost identical even though twenty-five years separated them in age. The teeth were straight except for that crooked left lateral incisor, which rotated slightly toward the center. The infectious grins stared back at me and I realized the greatest gift I received from my mother. It was not wrapped and it did not have a bow, but its value has been remarkable. I share this gift as often as I can-with my family, with my friends or with a stranger in need, giving back to others the gift Mother graciously gave to me.
Thank you for my smile, Mother. Thank you for my beautiful smile.