BY: Joyce A. Anthony
Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.
It was a typical Christmas day in western Pennsylvania -- snow-covered ground that hadn't seen a speck of green for over a month and air that stung your cheeks when you stepped outside. My two sisters, mother and I had driven the fifty miles to spend the day with my grandmother.
My grandmother was my world at that age. She had been born Sarah RhuEmma, but was known simply as Rheuie. In her lifetime, she had given home and refuge to four children and seen that they grew into adults -- yet she never did have a child from her own body. The oldest one called her Aunt Rheuie, as did the next two. She was no relation to the first, and the story of how he came to live with her and her husband was never clear. The next two were her biological niece and nephew. She and her husband had "rescued" them from a children's home where they had been placed. These children also called her Aunt Rheuie.
The youngest of her "children" was my mother. She had been presented this eight-month-old baby as a Christmas present one year. "She's yours; I don't want her," they said. Already in her fifties, Rheuie took to mothering the little one. This one did call her Mom, but there was always that nagging sense that the child's real dad was nearby, and the knowledge that there had been no official adoption.
That Christmas we entered her cozy home and shed our coats. As usual, there was the smell of good food cooking and wood burning in the stove. There were presents exchanged, but there is no way I can remember any of them. The final gift given that day was to take center stage.
Grandma held the tiny blue velvet box in her hands and I saw how they trembled as she raised the lid. Nestled inside was a silver band with the word Mom on it and four brightly-colored stones representing the birthdays of each of the children she had so lovingly cared for over the years. Tears flowed freely from her eyes.
I didn't understand the tears then, but age and experience have helped with that. Sarah RheuEmma cried that day -- not from sorrow, but from the pure joy of being acknowledged as a mother. That one moment made all those years of caring for others worth every minute.