Every December I open the small cardboard box, remove the pin, and place it on my winter dress coat.
This is the fifteenth year.
The box is now timeworn but the little poinsettia still sparkles like it did the day I bought it. There it was, right by the checkout counter where I purchased black hose to wear to my grandmother’s funeral.
Not one poinsettia pin.
Three of them, just alike.
I bought them all.
I packed them for the journey to my grandparents’ hometown. The setting of so many idyllic childhood summers, so many holiday and birthday gatherings.
It happened to be her ninety-first birthday when the family gathered at the funeral home on that cold winter’s night.
She was born the day after Christmas. Used to chuckle about not having anything to look forward to the rest of the year, with her wedding anniversary, Christmas, and birthday all in December. But she loved the season more than anyone I’ve ever known. Sending and receiving cards. Baking. Cooking, cooking, cooking. Glass ornaments and colorful lights on the tree. Gifts in festive paper, old-fashioned hard candy in the candy dish. Collecting angel figurines and bells across the years. The aged, sepia-toned Nativity scene atop the piano. Going to church. Carols. Snowfall. Candles in the windowsills, shining in the night. Little children with wonderstruck expressions. She loved it all. She exuded holiday joy.
It was her season.
One of my favorite old photos was taken at Christmas when I was a baby: Granddaddy holds a new shotgun. Grandma holds a poinsettia. It’s their first Christmas as grandparents. Her face is radiant.
I would give her a poinsettia every Christmas in her later years. She would exclaim over each one: Oh, it’s just beautiful!
It had to be red, like her season. Like her name. Ruby. Deep red, precious. Bright as the cardinals that also enchanted her.
I knew she would leave at Christmastime. Seemed written in the stars.
And she did. The day before Christmas Eve.
The holiday was a blur. Arrangements were made. The visitation set for the twenty-sixth because there wasn’t time before Christmas Day.
I would speak at her service the following day. I would read Proverbs 31: Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies…
I would ask that her favorite Christmas song be played. Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…the first song she taught me how to play on her chord organ, when I was around four or five. Her hands guided my fingers along the keys.
I would find the tiny old church of my happy childhood summers laden with red poinsettias. Christmas remnants. I would recall someone giving her a silk poinsettia after she went into the nursing home, and how she lovingly watered it…dementia erasing pieces of the mind, of memory, leaving fragments intact.
I arrived early for the visitation. There was something I needed to do.
Three poinsettia pins, just alike.
I wore one on my coat. I gave one to her last living child, my aunt, who met me at the casket. And I leaned in to pin the third one on the lapel of her suit.
She would be buried with her last poinsettia.
Merry Christmas and happy birthday, Grandma. Sleep in heavenly peace.
December comes again, and again I wear my pin. She is near. In the songs, in the lights, in the color, in the spirit, in the story. As undiminished as brilliant cardinals against the wintertime world.
It is forever her season.