by James Bates
hot apple cider with a cinnamon stick
Ambrose Jasperson looked at himself in the mirror, fluffed out his full beard and pronounced to his wife, Emma, "Alrighty, then. Looks like Santa Claus is all set."
He smiled at his reflection. From his natural beard, curly and white, to his cheeks rosy from a lifetime of dairy farming, to his belly jolly from a lifetime love of anything sweet (cookies in particular), he really did look like Santa Claus. The Santa suit provided by the senior living facility helped, too.
A knock at the door. "Mr. Jasperson. Mr. Jasperson, are you ready? We're waiting for you."
He adjusted the red blanket over his legs, rolled his wheel chair to the door and opened it, doffing is red Santa cap, "Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas," he greeted Maggie, one of Riverview's care providers.
Maggie smiled, thinking that it was nice Old Man Jasperson, as he was referred to by the staff, was in a festive mood. She'd only worked at Riverview Senior Living for a few months and didn't know him very well, only that he was quiet and kept to himself in his room at the far end of the hall. She'd also heard that he'd lived there for three years, that he'd had a tragic life, losing his four children over the years to a variety of accidents and misfortunes, and that he'd lost his wife, Emma, to cancer five years ago.
She'd also had been told that every year for the past three years he'd volunteered to be Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, and that said a lot, as far as Maggie was concerned. In her mind, Old man Jasperson must have something special going for him.
She smiled, "Ready to go? They've just finished singing Christmas carols."
As attendants went, Ambrose thought Maggie was fine. Nice. She left him pretty much to himself and that was a good thing. He knew most everyone at Riverview thought he was a bit odd and that was all right with him. If spending time by yourself working on a project and talking to your long departed wife was consider odd, well then so be it. They could get back to him when they were eighty-eight like him, and trying to live out the end of their life in a meaningful way like he was trying to do. Then maybe they'd have something to talk about.
"I'm all set. Let the festivities begin," he said cheerfully. "Ho, ho, ho..." And he rolled out into the hallway but not before waving a cheery good-bye to Emma.
A few hours later, back in his room, Ambrose had changed out of his Santa suit, wheeled his chair to his one window and was looking outside. He lived on the first floor and had an unobstructed view of the parking lot. A few days earlier, a snowstorm had blanketed the world in white and Riverview's maintenance staff had decorated the front of the building with evergreen garlands and wrapped strings of colored lights around all four of the tiny evergreen trees near the entrance. It wasn't much, but he liked how they looked, festive and cheerful. He'd always enjoyed Christmas time, no matter how challenging his and Emma's life had been. He still did. There was a warm and snug feeling associated with this time of year that he loved.
After they became too old to farm, Ambrose and Emma sold their land and dairy herd and moved into a small bungalow in nearby Redwood Falls. There they lived happily for nearly ten years until poor Emma died after a valiant year long struggle with cancer. Soon after, Ambrose's diabetes got the better of him, confining him to a wheelchair, and he moved into Riverview. That had been three years ago.
Now it was just him. Well, he and Emma. Ambrose had to admit, it was nice to have her with him. It made his days less lonely.
A knock on the door. Ambrose glanced at the clock. Eight-thirty. This was unexpected. He turned in his chair and asked, "Who is it?"
"It's me, Mr. Jasperson. Maggie."
"Maggie. Hi. What can I do for you?" He was still in a good mood from playing Santa. Plus, Emma was with him, sort of like Mrs. Claus. That helped.
"I wanted to thank you for playing Santa tonight," Maggie said through the door."You did a great job. I was wondering...We have some leftover Christmas cookies from earlier. Would you like some?"
Cookies? Absolutely. "That'd be wonderful, Maggie. Thank you. Just a second, I'll get the door." He turned to Emma and whispered, beaming, "Christmas cookies!" And watched as she smiled back at him, knowing how much he loved his sweets.
Ambrose wheeled to the door and opened it. As Maggie came in and set the plate of cookies down, she noticed something on the little bedside nightstand. Curious, she pointed, "What have you got there?"
"Oh, that," Ambrose said, suddenly embarrassed and turning red, "It's nothing."
Maggie peered closely. It was a photo album, and it looked like it was stuffed full of old family photographs. "I don't want to pry, but they look interesting."
"You can look at them if you want. Really, though, they're just old pictures." He paused for a moment, fighting off a sudden, encroaching melancholy. After a moment he said, his voice almost a whisper, "My...My wife took them. Emma."
"Oh, my. I love looking at old photographs," Maggie said, enthusiastically, meaning it. It was one of the reasons she liked working at Riverview. She enjoyed being around old folks and hearing the stories they had to tell.
Maggie's enthusiasm perked up Ambrose's' mood considerably. "Well, if that's the case you might like these." He grinned an impish grin, and wheeled next to his bed where he reached under and pulled out not one, or two, but three flat storage containers. "I've got photographs in all of them." He watched Maggie's eyes go wide. "Emma took pictures our whole married life. Do you want to have a look? I'm putting them in order in albums, sort of our family history."
So that's what he's doing in here, Maggie thought to herself. He's organizing his life through old photographs. That's amazing. "If you don't mind, Mr. Jasperson, I'd love to see them."
Ambrose smiled and pointed, "Pull up a chair, then. And, please, call me Ambrose."
Maggie smiled, happy to finally be the first staff person in Riverview Senior Living to start to get to know 'Old Man Jasperson' better."Okay, then. Ambrose it is."
"Great. But first, you might want to go get another plate of cookies. I've got a lot of pictures here."
Maggie, grinned, thinking that she couldn't think of a better way to spend Christmas Eve. "Good idea," she said, "I'll be right back."
After Maggie left, Ambrose selected a cookie off the plate and munched on it as he set about spreading out some of the photographs. He turned to Emma and said, "You don't mind sharing our photos, do you Em?" He pointed toward the door, "She seems nice." He listened for a moment in the silence of the room and then smiled, "So you don't mind? Good. I didn't think so."
He then happened to glance out the window and saw that snow was beginning to fall. He was quiet for a moment watching the flakes drift past the floodlights outside, carrying with them for him a lifetime of memories of past Christmases, memories that made him feel warm inside.
He turned his head as if listening and said, "What's that? Why, yes it is Em. It really is a pretty scene out there. Like being back on the farm." The room was quiet while he listened some more. Finally he spoke, "I agree. Merry Christmas to you, too, Sweetheart. It's been one of our best Christmases ever." He paused once more, nodding his head along with what his wife was saying. "That's right, Em, I agree. Every Christmas is special, just as long as we're together."
About the author
Somewhat of a romantic, Jim has a soft spot in his heart for the traditions that make this time of year special.