However, as the years have gone on—something changed for me. Opening the boxes this year, I felt an odd stirring. The tiny crosses, meant to be placed on the upper branches, evoked memories of the Christmas before when Wilson and I played Bing Crosby and drank egg nog as we decorated. Out came the ornament that celebrated the memory of Wilson and Sheila’s beloved cat, Bathsheba, who, I was told, could shimmy up a tree like a squirrel and who caught her fair share of prey. Here was the animated squirrel ornament with the flashing lights that Sheila couldn’t live without. Underneath that was the tiny replica of the Seattle ferry boat they discovered on a rainy day near Pikes market. Also unwrapped: a Santa-clad alligator that my husband and I found in New Orleans, some whimsical fairy dolls we bought at a winery in Paso Robles and a brand new Santa Claus festooned with ribbons and bells purchased this year in Shenandoah Valley. Somehow, I began to learn that Christmas and our memories held enough room for all of us.
And, although I still feel Sheila’s presence at Christmas, she no longer chides me. In fact, I count on her to remind me to enjoy the season—to take my time and not rush the holiday. To rejoice in loved ones and not to forget what we left behind. Call me weird, but sometimes, the Ghost of Christmas Past is a friendly one—and I give her a lot of credit for this wonderful inheritance of celebration.
Ann Schmidt-Fogarty lives in Vacaville with her husband, Wilson, numerous pets and countless ways to celebrate Christmas.