A Lonely Christmas


At 98 years old, my great-aunt Lena was like a child when it came to holidays and decorations. She was looking forward to having me decorate her apartment for Christmas…I’d been doing it for her since she moved from San Francisco to a local retirement facility six years prior.

So on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I arranged to meet Lena for dinner in the group dining room. The delightful ladies who dined with Lena always perked up when a guest joined them, as it was fun for them to hear new adventures and stories.

One of the newest ladies to join Lena’s table, “Noreen,” was curious about all of the bags I’d jostled in and tucked against the wall. “Oh! Those are Lena’s Christmas decorations. After dinner I’m going to put up her tree and turn her room into a winter wonderland!” As Lena grinned, Noreen furrowed her brows and said, rather accusingly, “Lena, you’re so lucky. I don’t have anyone to do those kinds of things for me.”

“Really? No one visits you?” I asked.

“No. No one ever does ANYthing for ME.” Whiny. I kinda understand why.

“Do you want me to decorate your room? I have plenty of decorations! I’d be happy to!”

“Really? Oh that would be so lovely!” Very sweet now.

After dinner, I loaded some of the bags onto Lena’s walker (it was the “Cadillac” variety walker, with a seat and basket) and we ambled up to her room with the goods.

After I decorated Lena’s tree, we turned the tree lights on and the room lights off. We each nibbled (ok…she nibbled, I chowed) on a piece of chocolate and sat in the beautiful glow of the season, each quiet in our own thoughts.

“Are you really going to get a tree for Noreen?” said Lena.

“Of course. I promised.”

“You’re a good girl, Kiki. But I’ve got to warn you that she tends to complain about everything.”

“Well, maybe this’ll cheer her up!”

I decided to do it that night. I was excited about Noreen waking up in the morning and finding a decorated tree in her room. So I went to the tree lot, picked out a small tree, then went to the pharmacy where I picked out some decorations. I figured it was easier than digging through my garage.

Back in Lena’s room, I helped her get into her jammies, then got to work on the second tree as Lena cheered me on while watching a rerun of the Golden Girls.

When I was finished, I took the tree to the night nurse and asked her to sneak it into Noreen’s room after she was asleep. If asked, I told her to say it was from a Secret Santa.

A few days later Lena and I were pondering the reaction to the tree. Neither of us had heard anything about it….did she like it?

Then I went in for lunch and sat with the ladies. “Lena says you put a lovely tree in her room?” said Harriet. “Yes, we had so much fun doing it.” I said.

“Yeah? Well someone put a stupid tree in my room. I had maintenance take it away,” said Noreen. “What does a Jewish woman want with a damn Christmas tree?”

Lena and I glanced at each other, then quickly stabbed at our food.

Strolling up to her room after the meal, Lena and I couldn’t control our giggling. “So THAT’s why Santa checks his list twice,” said Lena.

I made sure there was a battery operated menorah on Noreen’s doorstep the next morning.


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