Something seemed out of place in the living room decorated red and green and gold, home to a festive Christmas tree, gifts populating its lower reaches.
It didn’t take long to see the pink striped bag off to the side, eye-catching even without the easily identifiable scrip. It stood out among the shiny lacquered paper packages with festive bows and ribbons dominating the landscape. But when eyes fell on the bag – it stood out in a such a decidedly un-Christmasy fashion.
The bag was under the tree in the living room of a predominately female household. Three grown daughters frequently darkened the front door to the hallway and stairway and kitchen of their youth. One, the youngest, may not have even officially left home. But her infrequent presence made her seem more a visitor than a resident.
This worked out well for the wayward uncle visiting that particular Christmas. He could stretch out in slumber in her unused room, giving the poor convertible couch in the television room a reasonable retirement.
In a house with four women it would seem that a pink striped shopping bag would invite some comment. It didn’t. Studiously ignored or embarrassingly avoided, it sat off to the side, alone.
In that house, in that year, that particular Christmas was one fashioned for grownups. The presence of the wayward uncle did little to improve the ratio of men to women. Women outnumbered men 4-3. So it can be said: That particular Christmas could be construed as feminine. So a shopping back from Victoria’s Secret was not so out of place.
As it was, the house wasn’t quiet, nor still, and the mother and her husband juggled schedules and errands and daughter’s schedules and holiday demands. It was how their life was defined. The wayward uncle’s payment for occupying his space in the house was a cut-glass bowl filled with wrapped chocolates. His reward was being with family for the holidays. Over the years, a lot of his free time was spent at that house, with that sister and her daughters. He felt welcome there.
It could be said that the mother and her daughters were close: the upheavals of life certainly had visited them in their lives together in that house. And it’s understandable a mother with three daughters wouldn’t have the exact same relationship with all three. Even as adults, children don’t lose their uniqueness, or their differences, as they are bound to be in different stations and places in their lives. At any moment, a mother keeps in mind these differences, and manages the best she can the needs of those hearts she holds dear.
This particular Christmas also was unusual not just for the absence of children, but, the ritual of opening gifts in the presence of loved ones was postponed until Christmas evening, when everyone could be together. It made the day calm and steady in a way more typical with adults than with children.
And so when evening approached, and all the characters assembled, in the usual rush of family and greetings and conversation and food and warm familiar emotions, the Victoria’s Secret bag remained anonymous, holding its position, waiting its turn for attention. As everyone assembled, settled, and viewed the scene, its presence was silently noted but not commented upon. As the unwrapping of gifts came to its conclusion, the pink striped bag become more noticeable, until, at last, it was the center of attention.
The oldest daughter reached for it and gave it to her mother, who accepted it with a bemused smile.
“I wonder what’s in here?” she asked quietly.
“It’s a surprise,” her daughter answered.
And after lifting a piece of wrapping paper from the top of the items, each one was introduced to the viewers, in silence.
A baby blanket.
A infant’s toy.
A baby book.
Tears fell from the mother’s eyes.
The mother-to-be couldn’t contain herself any longer. “We’re going to have a baby!”
Joy and laughter erupted, an entire household, and entire holiday, an entire family was set on its head. The mother-to-be confessed she’d known for months but couldn’t, wouldn’t say anything until Christmas, and said it was the hardest thing she’d ever done.
The mother, now a grandmother-to-be, knew that silence, that keeping of a secret, was a gift, for she knew her daughter would tell her anything. Her sacrifice of silence sealed the surprise. The ruse was perfect.
All eyes fell on those innocent items, and the promise they held.
And no one every looked at the pale peach Victoria’s Secret bag quite the same way afterward.