Fourteen years ago, on a blustery day early in December, I sat at a kitchen table, my belly swollen with the pregnancy of my first child, listening to my mother-in-law regale me with stories of Christmases past.
Although I had been married to her son for four years and was due to give birth to her first grandchild, I hardly knew my mother-in-law. My husband and I had met in Spain while serving in the United States Air Force. We dated long-distance, eloped, and then finally settled down in a place that was on the opposite side of the country from where his family lived. There hadn't been the opportunity to get to know his mother before this extended visit. So, as I sat there rubbing my aching, itchy abdomen, I found myself eager to hear her stories.
One story in particular sparked my imagination. She described her childhood in New York City and told me the thrill she got each year as she would stand outside the department store windows and gaze at the wondrous Christmas decorations and displays. She spoke of bright colors, towering trees, lively elves, and cheerful-faced Santas. Her eyes sparkled and her lips curved up in a delightful smile as she reminisced. For the first time since the visit began, I felt myself genuinely relax. It was as if she had opened a small window to her soul and allowed me a peek inside. I felt privileged.
I was born and raised in a small, mid-western town with one department store (no windows) and could not imagine the scenes she described. I vowed to one day visit New York City at Christmas and retrace her steps to Macy's and Saks.
Fourteen years later, as I stood on the walk outside the Gallerie Lafayette in Paris, I remembered that bitterly cold day sitting at my mother-in-law's kitchen table in Weymouth, Massachusetts, sipping a cup of hot tea, and listening to her share a small chapter from the story of her life. I gazed at the luxuriously attired mannequins with their sparkling jewels and furry capes, the brightly wrapped packages, and the animated gingerbread marionettes. I thought of my mother-in-law and how she had shared her Christmas memories.
I said a prayer for her.
Then, I walked down the street, with the sharp Paris wind nipping at my cheeks and the sharper realization that I might one day be someone's mother-in-law. Some nervous, eager-to-please young woman might take a seat at my kitchen table, clutch a mug of tea in her hands, and ask me a question in hopes of learning, connecting, being accepted. I hope I will be as open and warm as my mother-in-law was on that day.