Given that I can remember the details of December 26th, 1972 even though I was only 4 speaks loudly about how messed up that day was. As Aunt Norma put it recently, and with the best possible description that could be put to it, “That was the worst day”.
The tree looked a bit tired with only the already opened gifts strewn about beneath it’s branches, but the lights still made it feel like Christmas. “Go pick out the pajamas you want to wear tonight and then come sit on my lap” my Dad directed from the small wood framed chair, upholstered in a woolen mix of brown, black and orange checkers, and that sat against the south wall of the living room facing the front door. I was thrilled to zoom to the tree so I could choose from the two pair of footie pjs Santa had delivered that year. Each set was emblazoned with the respective logo and appropriate color scheme for the super hero they represented. I would be wearing the bright red and gold of Iron Man that night. No pink or other such girlie stuff for this kid. Mom was always a good sport about giving me what made me happy even if it tortured her to shop in the “boys” section.
Speaking of Mom, she was nowhere to be seen. Of course, I didn’t give that any thought then, but now it makes perfect sense.
With my package of pajamas crinkling and crunching as I held the plastic wrapped treasure tightly to my chest, I climbed into Dad’s lap, beaming with joy over my selection. “Look at me sweetie. I have something to tell you”. I craned my neck to look up into his eyes and could immediately see the sadness. “Your Grandma Pfau died this morning honey”. What he didn’t tell me was that a car had jumped the curb, mowed her down, and left her for dead on the sidewalk that had been her daily path to work at the church. “Why?” I half asked half cried. Before he could answer, we were interrupted by the knock. Dad stood with me in his arms, wiped his face, and carried me the few short steps to the front door. Standing on our porch was my dad’s brother Gordon and his wife Norma. “I have more bad news Bob” Gordy said with a face so pained I can call it up perfectly in my mind’s eye even 42 years later. “Mom died tonight”.
My Dad cried out and then set me down, still clutching my package of night clothes. I backed up and watched the 3 adults comfort each other. What they didn’t tell me was that she had been administered a dose of penicillin, lethal to her, ending abruptly and cruelly her winning campaign against pancreatic cancer.
Aunt Norma scooped me up and carried me to the family room in the back of the house. There was Mom, alone and grieving the loss of her Mother. Norma put me down and wrapped her arms around Mom, wedging me between their legs where I stood listening to their sobs and hugging my Iron Man pajamas.