Fancy Toilet Paper and a Feisty Old Lady
Christmas has always been a magical time. The lights. The decorations. The kindnesses given to others without thought of return.
There is a special feeling at Christmas—some might call it magic. I call it magic because it brought me to life.
I’m not a snowman, but the spirit of the Nutcracker Prince. I’ve never really lived, but each year my spirit is pulled into a single version of myself. Sometimes at the ballet as a prop, and other times on a mantle of a dark fire in the midst of despair.
I have seen many seasons, but there is one that I will never forget. I once found myself in a beautiful Nutcracker standing tall and proud on a spotless, marble mantle.
Each item in the room, including the decorations on the Christmas tree, sung a song of perfect harmony. I waited to see who’s abode I had entered in to, and found a young couple who only had each other.
I have to admit, I was a little disappointed with the lack of children. They encompass the Christmas season, and the sound of their laughter is often my favorite part of coming to life each season.
However, I soon found this couple to be delightful. They made bread and cookies for their neighbors, they wrapped more presents than they could ever give away and they loved one another with a bond I hadn’t seen in many seasons.
On the eve of Christmas the husband’s parents came to visit. The wife, Julie, had set up a little painting station in the office nook. I couldn’t see what she was doing from my vantage point, but she’d been working on it all week.
“Still not finished?” her husband, Mark, asked.
“Not quite,” Julie said.
“You know my parents are going to say something.”
She shrugged. “Let them.”
He pat her on the back just as the knock came at the door.
Like so many families, this one descended in a shower of loud voices, brightly wrapped packages and thinly veiled accusations.
“Mark, my boy, how are you?” Mark’s dad said. They exchanged a back-slapping hug.
His mother—all darting eyes and judging frown—put on a fake smile. “Honey, Merry Christmas.”
Mark took their coats and the dance of the holiday family ensued.
Dinner went fine. Julie beamed about the dessert Mark’s mother had brought. I thought there might not be any drama, until the drinks came out. After one glass, Mark’s mother turned on Julie with a frown. “Did I see you painting toilet paper in there?”
Julie smiled. “Yes, it is for my grandmother.”
“The one in the old-folks home?”
“Yes. She’ll be one hundred and one tomorrow.”
“I forgot her birthday was in Christmas!”
Even I could tell that was a lie.
“Does she know who you are?”
“Then why bother? And with such a silly gift.”
“Silly?” Julie was halfway through her glass of wine.
“Yes, you do it every year, and all she does is use it.”
Mark cleared his throat.
Neither woman noticed.
Julie sat forward. “My grandmother lived through World War II. She told me a story when I was a young girl about the first time she saw toilet paper after the war. It was quilted and beautiful. She called it fancy, but she didn’t care. She used it.”
Mark’s mother snorted.
Julie continued. “So I paint a roll for her every year.” She smiled at Mark. “And we deliver it on Christmas.”
The mother-in-law sat back and sipped from her glass.
Mark changed the subject, and an hour later his parents left.
I admit I wanted to see this marvel of painted toilet paper, and to my delight, they brought it into the living room.
In all of the seasons that I have been alive, I’ve never seen such a labor of love. Such an extraordinary gift. It was as if someone walking through a village painted it as they went along. It started at one end in the square, then moved through the streets and people until the walker reached the sledding hill.
I memorized it as they carefully rolled it up, not wanting to lose a single detail. When they finished they gently laid it in a box which they then beautifully wrapped. All the while they talked about this old woman who sometimes didn’t remember her name.
“But she always remembers this,” Julie sad as she arranged the silver bow.
“She does.” Mark pulled Julie into an embrace. They kissed, then turned off the lights except for the tree and retired for the night.
Without children in the house, I didn’t expect an early awakening, so when the phone rang I knew something was amiss.
“I got it,” Mark said, stumbling out of his room.
“Who uses the land line?” Julie asked, following after him. She hugged herself in her robe and watched with wary eyes as Mark picked up the phone.
“Hello?” He listened for a moment, then his expression fell and his eyes turned to Julie. “She’s right here.”
Julie covered her mouth with her hands and shook her head.
Mark embraced her, said soothing words, kissed her on the head and handed her the phone.
“Hello? Julie asked in a thick voice. Tears rolled down her face, caught in the lights from the tree. “This is she.”
Julie gulped. “When?” Pause. “She did?”
Mark rubbed her shoulder and pulled her to his side.
Something between a laugh and a cry escaped Julie. “Of course she did.”
Mark cocked his head to the side.
Julie wiped her nose and nodded. “We’ll be there in the morning. Thank you for calling.” She handed Mark the phone.
“What was that about?”
Julie smiled up at him. “Apparently Grandma left us a note. It says to use the fancy toilet paper on our own butts.”
Mark and Julie laughed and cried at the same time and then strung up the toilet paper around the room like a garland. They watched the sunrise in one another’s arms and talked about this woman. A woman I wish I had known.