By Peggy Frezon
There are few things in life more heartwarming than to be welcomed by a cat.
I grabbed a potholder and pulled the tray of blackened star-shaped cookies from the oven. Well, that about matched my holiday mood. Dark and up in smoke! Money was tight, schedules were hectic, the house was a mess. And the shopping list! I wanted to do something special, but I had no idea what to get my mom for Christmas.
Recently Mom had remarried and moved to Canada. With work, family schedules and limited vacation time, I didn't get to visit her very often. So I did my best to keep in touch with her on the computer via chat.
"The holidays are too stressful," I typed that night.
"Oh, dear. Don't worry about all that," Mom typed back. "Think about the carols, and the pretty snow... just think about the positives."
Well if that wasn't a mom thing to say! Over the next few days, I ran around shopping, helping with the kids' school programs, volunteering at church and making sure everything got done. I didn't take time to stop and listen to the cheerful music piped into the stores or to appreciate the beautiful snowflakes that decked the evergreen outside my kitchen window.
Instead, I worried about my gift list. I'd already shopped for my husband and the kids, but I still needed to get something for Mom.
Mom lived in a townhouse with her new husband, Hans. The transition to a new home and a new marriage hadn't been easy for her. She had Darlene — a friend from church — and a few others, but she still missed her old friends and family. She especially missed having pets.
To be fair, Hans was a cat lover, and had a cat of his own — an old black-and-white longhaired feline named Susie. But Susie didn't like Mom. Not one bit. Apparently the cat didn't want to share her affection with anyone but Hans.
"Why don't you get a cat of your own?" I'd asked.
"Nah, that's okay," Mom had responded. "I have enough here to take care of." But I knew the real problem was that Mom wouldn't do something special for herself.
Hans didn't get out much and hadn't thought of getting another cat for Mom. But a cat of her own would make Mom so happy. I wondered — could I get Mom a cat for Christmas? It's not like I could order one from a catalog. The idea lurked in the back of my mind.
"What are your Christmas plans?" I typed one day.
"I'm going to a party with Darlene," Mom responded. She went on to tell me about the church Christmas party and something called Secret Sisters. They drew names, and would exchange secret gifts at the party.
I stopped typing. Secrets? Gifts? A smile spread across my lips. Could this be my way to get Mom a special surprise?
I hurriedly signed off the chat so that I could set to work on my new idea. I found Darlene's address and tapped out an e-mail. "Dear Darlene," I wrote, "I have kind of an unusual request..."
From that day on, Darlene and I began plotting in secret. I found myself smiling and humming Christmas carols. I paused while washing the dishes and noticed how delicately the new-fallen snow laced the windowpanes. I made it to both the kids' holiday concerts, and even managed to bring a plate of un-burnt cookies for the bake sale! And when I chatted with Mom, I fairly burst from keeping the secret.
"Things must be going better," Mom typed. "You don't sound as stressed."
"Yeah, I guess you're right!" I typed back. "Maybe I just took some good advice."
The day of the Secret Sister party arrived. That night I logged onto my computer, wondering how the party went and if the details of the surprise had all worked out. I didn't have to wonder for too long. The chat messenger pinged.
"Hi!!!" Mom wrote. The number of exclamation marks she used suggested that she was very happy. "I just got back from the party. Guess who is here helping me type?"
"I couldn't guess," I teased.
"It's a beautiful little gray kitten! She's sooooo cute! I named her Misty, short for Mistletoe."
"Glad you like your surprise!" I wrote.
"She stole my heart," Mom wrote back.
I beamed, imagining Mom at her computer far away, with her little gray kitten purring beside her. She told me about the party and how Darlene placed before her a box with holes in the sides. When she'd reached into the box and felt the soft ball of fur, she'd been so happy she couldn't stop the tears. She couldn't write for too long; she had to do some important work getting her little friend settled down and accustomed to her new home. "Now, how'd you arrange something like this?" she asked.
"It must have been some Christmas magic," I replied.
After we signed off, I addressed a few last-minute cards. Only a week until Christmas. Everything wasn't ready; everything wasn't perfect. But that was okay. When the holiday stress built up, I knew the cure. I had taken Mom's advice a step further. Don't just think about the positives, do something positive. Like a little secret act to make someone else happy. Even if it involves a lot of miles, a box with holes in it, a secret sister, and one perfect gray kitten.