After putting Chase’s collaged box on the mantel for everyone to admire when they arrived later that evening, Mary dug back into the box of Christmas ornaments. When she drew out a long, thin ornament, her grin grew even wider.
Ryan, one of her two middle sons, had always been busy with constantly revolving seasons of soccer, basketball, baseball and football. Mary remembered realizing she wasn’t going to get an ornament out of him unless she specifically asked him to make one. By then he was nine years old and believed he was too old to make Christmas ornaments, especially since his little twin sisters loved any excuse to be covered in glitter from their forays into Christmas ornament making.
More than one Christmas party guest over the years had been confused as to why Mary had hung a stick on her tree…at least until she told them to take a closer look.
Yes, the ornament he’d agreed to make was a stick. But it wasn’t just any old stick. At her request, Ryan had walked out into their backyard, kicking a rock with each step, grumbling to himself since he would have much rather been in the park across the street kicking a soccer ball with his brothers. Mary surreptitiously watched him from the kitchen window, and when he stopped beneath the big oak tree and picked up the stick to bring inside along with a few pine needles, she wondered what he planned to do with it.
Ryan chose a pen from among the girls’ coloring stash in the family room and, with his usual easy grace that extended from sports to everything else he did, he began to draw on the branch. When he was done making his illustrations, he stuck several pine needles into holes on either side of the stick.
A few minutes later Ryan walked back into the kitchen, where Mary was peeling potatoes for dinner, and showed her what he’d made. The reindeer was rather primitive looking, but it was unique. And fun. Just like her easygoing son. Most people never saw beyond Ryan’s athletic talents, but Mary had always known he was bright and funny and quite artistic, as well. Now, as a grown man, he brought all of that to his career as a Major League Baseball pitcher.
After making sure she hung his reindeer so that it wouldn’t blend in with the rest of the branches on the tree, Mary reached back into the box and drew out the next ornament.
Her other middle son, Zach, had always been a practical joker. From birth he’d been such a shockingly beautiful boy that he could get away with anything simply by smiling. He had all the girls in his class under his spell, his teachers wound around his little finger and the other boys clamoring to be his friend. Now he ran a chain of auto repair shops throughout California and raced cars in his spare time.
One Christmas, Mary had just finished making a large tray of gingerbread cookies and had left them on the counter to go and help bandage one of the little ones who had fallen off their tricycle in the backyard. That was when one of the kids snuck into the kitchen and took a bite out of each cookie.
How could she do anything but laugh when she returned to the kitchen? None of the kids would fess up to the Christmas crime but, come Christmas Eve, when Zach announced he had one more ornament for the tree, lo and behold, it was one of the gingerbread men with a bite taken out of him. Zach had coated the cookie in a thick layer of rubber cement so it wouldn’t fall apart and had pushed a paperclip through the center of its forehead to use as a makeshift hanger.
Life with her kids had never been dull, that was for sure, she thought with a chuckle as she hung the fun ornament on the tree. And she wouldn’t have traded a minute of those crazy years when they were all together in the ranch house in Palo Alto for anything in the world.
The next set of ornaments was also in its very own box and Mary made sure to pull each one out with extreme care. Her youngest son Gabe had always been intrigued by fire, so it was fitting that he’d become a firefighter. He’d barely been four when Jack brought home a little Bunsen burner and suggested they try to blow some glass ornaments by hand. Mary had loved the way Jack had told the history of the first-ever Christmas ornaments to the kids, explaining that they had been made just like this.
Mary remembered the two of them, standing side by side, focused intently on the job at hand. She recalled how Jack took absolute care to make sure his son didn’t get hurt, just as he always had with all of his children and her, as well.
The resulting small glass ornaments were lopsided and imperfect…and utterly precious to her as she hung them on the tree now and every year.
When Mary returned to the box and pulled out a large ball wrapped in pink paper that rattled in her hands, she knew exactly whose this was. Lori—aka “Naughty”—was one of her twin girls. Mary and Jack had already had six boys, who were more than enough to keep them busy from sunup to sundown, but that didn’t stop both of them from longing for a girl.
She stopped unwrapping the ornament as she thought about that Saturday morning so long ago when Jack had realized Mary was pregnant again. The house was still quiet—an amazing and rare feat with so many rowdy kids. Jack woke her with his sinfully sweet lovemaking, and, oh, how she’d loved those sleepy moments in his arms, when pleasure would drift over and through her in gentle waves.
She had almost fallen asleep again in his arms, when she heard Gabe call out from his bedroom down the hall. Only two years old, he was the earliest riser in the house, especially when he was hungry. And as a little firefighter in training, he was always hungry.
She was just climbing out of bed when Jack stopped her with a gentle arm around her waist. His dark eyes were full of so much love it stopped her breath.