This is me displaying at an early age my fascination with Christmas decorations. It was taken a little more than a month before my first birthday. The person behind the camera is my mom, who snapped this shortly after her 29th birthday and right after I got into the just-taken-down Christmas decorations my older brothers and sisters had made. Mom always loved the days from Thanksgiving through New Years. It was an annual 6 weeks of family parties and celebrations with three major holidays and four family birthdays between Nov. 22 and January 1. Even so, Mom especially loved Christmas. She loved everything about it. Perhaps not coincidentally, her birthday was two days later, on Dec. 27. Growing up, the post Thanksgiving Christmas decorating tradition was unboxing and inspecting all the carefully-stored Christmas decor and us kids ooh-ing and ahh-ing over Mom’s most-precious and fragile holiday heirlooms that were passed passed down from grandma and our great aunts to her. And then to our delight, Mom would be ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the little rough hand-made ornaments and other annual additions that we kids had made to the decorating treasure boxes in previous years, telling us that those were far more precious to her than the rare heirlooms we were not allowed to touch. I inherited my mom’s near-OCD reverence for collecting and acquiring decorations to the bewildered amusement of my husband. He is used to me being all Spock-like in my lack of emotional attachment to things. I am not sentimental about anything,,, anything … except Christmas decorations (well, there *are* my books, but that is a different story). Every year, in the Speakman home, Dec. 25 and the days preceding ti were for the kids; Christmas night and Dec. 26 was a day of being together as a family; and Dec. 27 was mom’s birthday. A single parent for most of her life, the 27th was the only day of the year that was hers and the only day when we 6 kids would get together en masse to celebrate her. (She never really got into Mother’s Day until her children were long grown up.) So, as I sit here looking at the picture, the reality that Mom died in July is hitting me pretty hard. I’ve been going through a series of awkward firsts for the past few months. Another group of firsts is looming in December. This will be my 18th Christmas in California; by now, I am used to not taking part in the Speakman traditions and no longer being with biological relatives for the holidays; I do feel very at-home with and welcomed by Richard Bean Speakman’s family and friends; but this will be my first Christmas knowing mom is not there if I need her. If I call her cell phone number, she will not answer. There will be no Merry Christmas message from her nor will I get odd holiday texts or happy Facebook comments or messages from her to share with Rich this year. And I am 100% sure that on Dec. 27th – one month from today – the little guilt-trip voice in the back of my head will be nagging me to make a happy 76th birthday phone call to my mom – who is no longer there. There will be no longer be the thrill of hearing the delight in Mom’s voice when I call her and she finally realizes it’s her kid in California calling and not one of my similar-phone-voiced older brothers, who lived just a few minutes away in Indiana. That part of my life is over. Forever. So today, instead of being maudlin at what I’ve lost, I choose to think of my mom in her 20s, giggling at her ornery baby, and taking silly pictures to share later … perhaps with her own mother. This is what I am thankful for.