The conversation burbled on, as unattended by Mother as the starving furnace, until her cousin Vera, whose husband was conspicuously, and uniquely, prospering, and who was known to put on occasional airs, said, "Listen, what's the point of going out and getting each other presents we don't want or need? Forget surprises. Why not just tell each other what we'd like?"
The idea passed instant muster, prompting Vera to continue. "Okay. For me, all I need is a sterling silver grape scissors."
Something snapped in Mother, and haunted by the specter of the dying furnace, the empty coal bin, and me stiffening upstairs, she began to laugh. And, as Mother recounted it, the harder she tried to block the dual, dueling concepts of Vera's grape scissors and the impending Ice Age on Hague Avenue, the more uncontrollably she laughed. The startled family sprang to her rescue as she rolled convulsively off the chair and thrashed on the floor, engulfed by a flood of laughter and tears.
It was years before Mother, a proud and independent spirit, confessed to Vera and the others who had been there on that dark, distant December night that it was Vera's sterling silver grape scissors that had threatened her sanity, and very nearly her life -- and provided her with the therapeutic, cleansing laughter that helped her weather that winter and several more that would be no better climatically or financially. And it was many years later, when Mother lived near me in New York under substantially improved circumstances, that she opened a gift from Detroit on Christmas morning and passed it to me with a wordless, eloquent smile. It was, of course, a sterling silver grape scissors from Vera.
Thanks for allowing me to share these memories. May you all receive the most precious of Christmas gifts, which is, of course, love, given and received.