Each Christmas there is one gift I anticipate and find myself impatiently waiting to unearth from behind or beneath an assortment of colorful packages with curly ribbon and sparkly tags. Typically it is wrapped with paper just taped neatly around it and no box or bag to hide the shape I recognize. Occasionally there is one of those plain little sticky bows strategically arranged at one corner, but no festive wrapping can encourage me to pause and admire this present in my rush to finally discover what is in store for me this year.
Pulling away the paper from this treasure, I stare down at my new calendar. Every year I receive a new wall calendar to hang, and on some rare Christmases I excitedly find two of these precious gifts hiding under the tree. I cannot recall when I first started receiving my very own calendar, but every Christmas for as long as I can remember my mom opened a special calendar to hang in our home. Sometime shortly after Christmas day she would take down the last year's calendar from the wall and set it next to the new calendar that she had opened up on the table. When I was very young I remember sitting on the floor playing, and as I got older I might be reading or doing some other task or activity but always aware of the comforting ritual of this changing of our calendar.
She never varied her ritual for transferring all the important dates to this fresh new calendar. Out would come one of those old wooden school rulers. The kind with the metal strip down the length of one side of the ruler. I have no idea what function the makers of those rulers intended for that metal strip, but its use in our home was very important in getting our calendar ready for the new year. My mother also used a ballpoint pen. Never a felt tip, and certainly never a marker or a pencil. Then she would begin with both calendars open to January and write the first important date to remember of the new year on the new calendar - my birthday. There was some sort of magic about as she carefully printed my name diagonally across the appropriate box. She would line the ruler up from the lower left corner to the upper right corner of each box and then lovingly print each and every name or names for birthdays and anniversaries. With each page she turned she would reposition the little piece of cardboard that came packaged in the calendar so that it was underneath the page on which she was writing. This was essential so the pressure of her pen would not cause the print from the underside of the page to transfer onto the next month. This was a detailed operation that seemed to take hours until finally the last page was turned, and she placed my grandfather's name on December 05 to mark his birthday. Sometimes I would wait until she was completely finished and ask if I could look at the calendar. I had already admired the different pictures each month. What I was looking at were the carefully penned names that ended up having flat bottoms on each letter because of writing across the ruler. Each date with a name on it held its own beauty, and the comfort of my mother's writing was a treasure I could not have named then although I felt it with every page I turned.
In the calendar of my life each month contained some special date marked by my mother. There was always something I was looking forward to celebrating. And at some point I began receiving my own especially chosen calendar. At first my calendar would hang in the only space that belonged solely to me - my bedroom at home. Later my calendar would travel back with me to college, tucked safely in a bag for the trip, and then find a home in whatever place made sense in my residence at that time. The calendars kept coming and traveled with me to the little town in western Kansas where I had my first job after graduate school. The house that held my calendars for two years there has since blown away in a tornado that leveled that town several years ago. With each move I made I found 'just the right spot' in my house for my calendar, and somewhere along the years it left the rooms with my studies and found a permanent home in my kitchen. The kitchen, they say, is the heart of a home. And each day as I passed through my kitchen to grab something for lunch on the way out the door to work or leaned against the counter eating something quick after a late night my calendar was there with all the special dates of my life marked.
At first I used the ruler technique on my calendars too, and the flat-bottomed letters always gave me that familiar sense of comfort when I looked at the names. But somewhere along the line I stopped using the ruler. Probably because I couldn't find the damn ruler one year, but the ballpoint pen remained non-negotiable. The name or names continued to slant from the lower left corner up to the upper right corner - it just can't be any other way, and at some point I added my own flourish of drawing stars in the birthday date boxes and hearts in the anniversary date boxes. There are no 'appointments' or 'meetings' or 'schedules' or other mundane scribblings on my calendar. Those are relegated to scraps of paper or smart phones or some other calendar somewhere by not my calendar. My calendar is a home to all those I love, and I do not love my dentist, or gynecologist, or cable repairman. Most years I have tried to get the new year's calendar ready for it's job as soon after the beginning of the year as I can, but there have been some years I find myself feeling unquestionably sad as realize that January is either almost over or has definitely passed. What I have lost somehow feels much greater than a few days of staring at some random image on a calendar.
As happens in life, sometimes some names have been added and some names have been removed from my calendar at the beginning of each year. Someone who seemed to be important proved to be not very important at all. With all of the adding and deleting I found myself facing new years missing people who had died and were going to potentially leave their boxes empty on my calendar pages. Without a second thought I determinedly inked their names at the bottom of their usual boxes with small hearts. This is not something my mother has ever done on her calendars, but my heart was not empty so I could see no reason that their special boxes should become blank.
Through the nights I rummaged through the refrigerator while three babies inside of me said EAT SOMETHING CRAZY to the nights I sat at the table sighing because three babies inside of me were refusing to allow one morsel to pass my lips I would look up at my calendar on the wall to see what was happening that month. Through the nights I traipsed through the kitchen down to the basement to bring up another load of diapers from the dryer to the nights I blearily washed my 36th baby bottle of the day before the next meal in two hours I glanced at my calendar on the wall to make sure I wasn't missing something important that my exhausted brain might have forgotten. So many important dates to come that I cannot yet know, and the pages keep turning month by month on this amazing gift I receive each year.
Does it matter whether the calendar theme is my favorite movie, cartoon dogs, festive baby pigs, exotic fruit, or impressionistic paintings? Nope. I have found a tolerance bordering on fondness for cats just because of an exceptionally great calendar. I have found an appreciation for the artistry in the design of shoes and handbags! I have learned there is beauty and fun and comfort in things I would have never imagined and all because I opened a calendar I would have never bought for myself but one with which I now could never imagine missing our special year together.
After I pore over each page on Christmas day and then carefully and lovingly write each name in its special place I hang my calendar on its nail in the kitchen and wait in anticipation to see what new wonderful thing the turn of the page will bring next month. Mostly I will have forgotten and then smile to remember. Sometimes I will impatiently await an extra special page that stood out for me. Excitement and joy from 24 pages of silly, beautiful, funny, breathtaking, thought-provoking, head-shaking, heart-warming, and soul-stirring images mix with the familiar names and memorized dates to create the pages of my life.