CHRISTMASTIDE

Cleone’s favorite song was Joy To The World directed by the Philharmonic Orchestra and sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. She’d begin playing it as a daybreak reveille on December 12th and continued through the morning of her birthday, December 27th. We were reminded of the fifteen-day musical salute while driving Elizabeth’s mother back to Arkansas in November 1990.

“How come I don’t remember this tradition, Mom?”

“You’re never home for the holidays more than a day or two, Elizabeth Ann. Besides, your daddy and I only began it after you left home.” 

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During those long gone thirty years since Elizabeth’s father died, Cleone remarried several times. As a southern lady rooted in Montgomery, Alabama, she was raised to believe a woman’s life wasn’t complete without a man in hand. Her current husband of ten years, Bill, had been confined to a nursing home, diagnosed with violent hysterical dementia. He hadn’t recognized her (or anyone) for six months and never would again, but that didn’t stop Cleone from visiting him daily, ignoring his foul-mouthed curses and dodging food spat in her direction.

We promised to stay with her through Thanksgiving, but our plans changed after she asked me to sort through stacks of Bill’s personal papers to determine if any needed keeping. 

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The first item of interest I came across was his association with a local white supremacist group. He kept Nazi propaganda, recruitment paraphernalia, racist hate tapes and a loaded .38 in his desk drawer next to a box of hollow point bullets. I immediately incinerated everything burnable and buried the gun in his asparagus garden. 

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Other discoveries were as serious.

“Mom,” I tiptoed, “it says here Bill used your Certificates of Deposit and savings as collateral for the mortgage to purchase this house.” 

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“He promised they’d be safe until the house is paid off.”

“You’re 83, and he’s older. The mortgage is for 30 years.”

“I guess.”

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“Who pays the mortgage?”

“It’s automatically deducted from my social security check each month.” 

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“You have your own direct deposit checking account?”

“Yes. Mine pays the car loan, utilities, and property taxes, too.”

“Why isn’t it all deducted from his account?” 

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“He pays the insurance, charge cards, grocery account, and incidentals.”

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I hesitated just long enough for her to ask, “Why?” 

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“Well, what’s important is I can tell you how to fix what I’ve found, so there’s nothing for you to get upset about. Since you have his health proxy and financial power of attorney — over his very sizable bank accounts, I must say — it’s merely a matter of shuffling funds.” 

“Meaning?”

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“You have the authority to write checks.”

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By then, both Cleone and Elizabeth were eager for details and had pulled chairs up to the table where I was working. “Mom, your name isn’t on the mortgage, deed to the house, or car title. If Bill should suddenly die, the house and car go directly to his son. His Will leaves his savings and all his belongings to his son. The executor to his estate is his son. His life insurance policy names only his son.”

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“What about me?” Cleone asked, matter-of-factly.

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“He made no provisions for you, Mom.”

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“Do you think his son knows any of this?”

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“According to these letters, he does.”

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I let that sink in between mother and daughter while I ran some figures and finalized a plan.

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After breakfast, the three of us dressed for success in matching hot pink sweatsuits and strings of vintage pearls before descending on the bank where Cleone paid off the mortgage and car loan from Bill’s savings account. Once her CDs were released and there was no longer a lien on her savings, she transferred all automatic deductions for household expenses from her checking account to his. Finally, she removed his name as survivor from her accounts and left the bank, unencumbered.

“How do you feel, Mom?” Elizabeth asked. 

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“Free,” she answered. 

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We stayed on until the 9th of December, gadding about town, buying and wrapping Christmas presents, lighting her ceramic tree, delivering cookies, addressing cards, and confirming plans for Cleone to move to Florida to take up residence in our home after the first of the year. 

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“Are you sure you don’t want to drive back with us now,” Elizabeth hoped. 

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“No, dear. I want to spend the holidays here with my Bridge club and church group. It gives me time to say a more leisurely goodbye.” 

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“Are you okay?”

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“Better than okay, Elizabeth. I’m having fun!”

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It took us three days to drive home. We arrived on Cleone’s birthday, greeted by a cheerful message on our answering machine from her. I immediately dialed her back, putting the phone on speaker. 

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Cleone’s next door neighbor answered.

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“Your mom called for an ambulance. The driver swore he got here within a minute. He knew her from church and around town. Everyone loved your mom.”

Knew.

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Loved.

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We sped back to Arkansas. 

. . . . .

After arranging her funeral and hosting a large reception, we had Cleone’s casket returned to Montgomery where we provided her with a second funeral attended by 135 of her friends and remaining relatives. Internment was next to Elizabeth’s father in a small, historic burial ground where all their ancestors also rested. A second reception followed.

The next morning, Elizabeth and I returned to the cemetery a final time. 

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It was a serene, unseasonably warm December day with no breeze blowing nor snow on the ground. We marveled at the height and width of tiers of fresh flowers left on Cleone’s grave, in stark contrast to the other mostly ancient tombstones void of any signs of recent visitors, decorated with weather‐worn plastic plants, faded flags, or no mark of remembrance at all. 

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Instinctively, we began removing fresh flowers from her mother’s final resting place to spend the next few hours adorning the surrounding graves, one-by-one, until as many sites as possible in the cemetery had a small bouquet.

Then we rolled down all the windows of the car, popped in a cassette, pumped up the volume to maximum, and slowly drove up and down each pathway playing and replaying

Joy to the World.

###

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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and novelist.

She values your opinion and appreciates

your sharing of this with others.

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Please select LEAVE A REPLY by clicking below the  headline.

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CHRISTMASTIDE © by Marguerite Quantaine

An excerpt of Chapter 41, Page 179 from her book

SERIOUSLY, MOM, you didn’ know?

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2 thoughts on “CHRISTMASTIDE

  1. susan

    Every time I read her work I am caught up into the time and world she so enchantingly creates! Storytelling is a rare art Marguerite Cantine weaves some of the best stories ever! She is such a talented force. Brilliant!!

    Like

    Reply
  2. Maeve T

    When a time of poignancy can evolve into a memory with happiness wrapped around it, that shows what a rich life – full of love you’ve had. Happy Holidays, dear Marguerite! ❤

    Like

    Reply

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