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I don’t know of anyone who loves Christmas as much as my mother did. She could barely wait for Thanksgiving to be over to put up her tree. Those trees were covered with icicles, bubble lights, angel hair and boxes and boxes of ornaments saved and added to over the years: blue or pink plastic birds whose legs fit over the branches so they seemed to be standing on them, a treetop angel with spun white hair and a face cracked and marbled over with age, strands of large lights and later dozens of strands of miniature ones, homemade ornaments, glass balls, plastic stars, candy canes—each year the number of ornaments grew. The tree was always fresh and the largest she could find, screwed into the Christmas tree holder that held water to keep the needles from falling off for as long as possible.

Under the tree was always a skirt of White pull-apart Christmas “snow,” a plastic church that lit up inside and presents, presents, presents: handmade gifts from the church bazaar, clothes and toys purchased in Pierre, 60 miles away or ordered from the Montgomery Wards or Sears catalogs. The tree went up the day after Thanksgiving and came down only after the new year had arrived, but the pine needles in the carpet crevasses and its borders along the wall remained like hidden memories to be discovered for months afterwards.

The year my mother died, my sister Patti could not bear to think of putting up a tree or celebrating Christmas. I was far away in Mexico and it was the first year in her life that she hadn’t celebrated Christmas with my mother. I knew she was grieving, but I was deep in my own sadness of the past year. In January, I had a hysterectomy and on the day I returned from the hospital, I learned that my mother had gone into the hospital.

My doctor had forbidden air travel but we considered putting a mattress in the back of the van and having my husband drive me from California to Wyoming, but my sister assured me there was no need. It was nothing serious—just a bout of pneumonia. We’d been there for Christmas less than a month before and we could come again once my mother returned home from the hospital.

But that trip was never to be experienced, for within a week, my mother had passed away. In March, my husband Bob flew to Michigan to be with his mother who had gone into the hospital, and after ten days, she, too, passed away. Then in September, two days before we were to drive down to Mexico to move into our new house, Bob discovered he had cancer and lived just three weeks. All-in-all, a sad year that had been moderated by our happiness in looking forward to a new life in Mexico.

A few months after Bob’s death, I went forward into that new life, but my sister was left in the town where she and her husband lived and where my mother had lived for the last six years of her life. Everything around her reminded her of my mother; and with the advent of Christmas, those memories grew more poignant.

The small Wyoming town where my sister lives is two hours south of Billings, Montana, which is her usual shopping town and where she goes to get her hair cut and to the doctor. A few weeks before Christmas, when a friend asked her to accompany her on a shopping trip there, she agreed. Even though her heart was not in it, as they browsed in a local store, she bought a few items, paid for them with her credit card and carried the bag to the car.

It was not until she got home and unpacked the bag that she found the small  package in the bottom of her bag. She unwrapped it, trying to figure out just what it was––nothing, surely, that she had purchased. As she removed the final layer of paper, this is what was revealed:

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Where had it come from? How had it gotten into the bag? She had not purchased it. It was not listed on her receipt. Nor had her friend purchased it, so it wasn’t a case of the clerk putting it in the wrong bag.  Was it the last Christmas miracle provided by a mother who over the years had so faithfully purchased the new boxes of fragile icicles to hang above wrapped boxes that contained dolls, new Christmas dresses, ice skates, princess phones, bottles of bubble bath or miniature formals for our favorite dolls? Skunk games and paper dolls and books, first watches, necklaces, music boxes and drop seat pajamas? With no other explanation, my sister could not help but consider that perhaps it was a little message from my mother, urging her not to give up her faith in and enjoyment of Christmas.

It has been fourteen years since my mother died, and my sister has hung the ornament on her tree every Christmas since. It has been a few years since I spent Christmas with her, and I had forgotten this story, but yesterday, when I arrived in Phoenix to spend Christmas and took pictures of her tree, she repeated the story again.

Her tree is miniature in comparison with my mother’s tree, but it is infused with my mother’s love of Christmas and everything it entails —a childlike sense of wonder that to this very day, my mother encourages us to share. Tonight, as my sister and I fill stockings for each other, her husband Jim and the longtime friends who will arrive tomorrow, I’m sure she feels as I do––both of us “good girls” who are minding our mother by remembering to BELIEVE in the magic of Christmas.

HERE is a link to my favorite photo of my mother, plus other stories about her.

For more Christmas trees around the world, see:

and, consider posting a picture of your tree-topper HERE in Hugh’s blog to provide a meal for a hungry dog.

28 thoughts on “Believe

  1. Relax...

    A lovely story, and I believe, too! I wish for others’ sakes I would be more enthused about it all, but anyway, God love us, I think Moms are never far away.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Joe

    Thanks for the reminder Judy. I have been doing my best to “believe” this Holiday season. It all starts with changing the things you focus on. P.S. I love the reflection of you in the bulb.


    1. lifelessons Post author

      Ha. You noticed. I know. We all need these reminders! When I first posted that picture, I thought it was my sister reflected in the bulb, but as I was working with it, I realized it had to be me. It was as though the message was being sent directly to me, as well, after all these years. I don’t think of my mother as many times as I should, given how lucky I was to draw her as a mother this time. I was glad to have this reminder. Merry Xmas, Joe.


  3. Glenda Martin

    This story has granted another little miracle. I finally got a moment to spare (and I will spare you the details of from what) and was searching back through your blogs to try to catch up. I found “Believe” at the perfect moment. It took the tear or few inspired by your story, and a door inside me I didn’t even know was locked, opened up and let in Christmas. Albeit a little late, but hey, it’s Mexico. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. lifelessons Post author

    Glenda, you contributed so much to my joyful Xmas by taking Frida into your home and hearts. She is having a bit of trouble fitting herself back into the social network here at home. She seems a bit crabbier toward Morrie and then Diego pitches in to defend Morrie and the tussle begins. I think she enjoyed her time as an only child. Thanks so much for your generosity in giving her a special time away from the boys! xo

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mary Francis McNinch

    Reblogged this on Murdo Girl and commented:
    When I read this story written by Judy Dykstra Brown, (another girl from Murdo), I was saddened at first by the losses she and her sister Patti had experienced in a very short period of time. I want to share with all who read Murdo Girl how they were comforted by an unexpected Christmas gift.


  6. campingboatingshawnlee

    Wow, got shivers just reading. Almost started crying because I know that my mom and dad are up above and watching and blessing me everyday. One of the last days of my moms life, I asked her to sit on my shoulder when I needed her. Long story, but she was there for me one time when I needed her most. I will blog this story today. You have inspired me to write it.


  7. Pingback: Maternal Support | lifelessons – a blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown

  8. Pingback: Believe | lifelessons – a blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown

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