"Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings." IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Maggie the Reindeer Dog; observe her antlers?

Maggie the Reindeer Dog; observe her antlers?

St. Lucia, "Bearer of Light"--do you observe the candles or the cupcakes?

St. Lucia, “Bearer of Light”–do you observe the candles or the cupcakes?

Dear Mom,

Humor columnist Dave Berry wrote this about Christmas shopping:  “Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.”

Berry is right about one thing, each of us “observing” in our own way. Before the dementia, Mom, you were an astute and creative observer of life.  Then you would take out your tablet and pen, and your favorite observations became poems.

Today as others hustle and bustle around busy malls, searching for perfect gifts, I’m going to again share the poem you wrote in 1990 about the perfect romance you discovered in a shopping mall.

“SHOPPING MALL ROMANCE”   ~by Mary Shepherd

Surrounded by parcels I sat there,

On a bench in the shopping park mall.

I had finished my Christmas shopping

And in exhaustion feared I might fall.

I could see him coming toward me;

His eyes sought mine all the while.

I tenderly watched his quick footsteps.

He held out his arms with a smile.

I glanced at the pretty young lady

Who possessively grabbed for his hand.

Did she know what a treasure she held there?

The greatest in all our fair land.

He fell on my lap and clung to me.

I patted his plump-diapered rear:

A seventy-two-year-old grandma.

And a fifteen-month toddler so dear.

As you shop for those last minute, perfect presents this Christmas, may you have the gift of observation.

In the early stages of dementia, Mom reading to her great-grandchildren.

Years ago, in the early stages of dementia, Mom reading to her great-grandchildren.



Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, Mary Shepherd's poetry, memories for great-grandchildren

63 responses to “THE GIFT OF OBSERVATION

  1. Lovely! I HATE Christmas shopping, and can utterly identify with a tired out Grandmother being revived by a sweet toddler grandchild!

    • Oh, you and I are on the same page about Christmas shopping! It wears me out thinking about it, so I make many of my gifts, and the rest I buy as I see them in stores BEFORE even Thanksgiving!

  2. Al

    A very sweet and tender poem, as well as memory.

  3. I love this poem. I can see that cute toddler waddling towards his Granny while all around the world whirs by in a flurry of manic Christmas shopping. I’m glad to say I’ve done all mine without need to visit the town mall – I’ve shopped local this year and the only things I’ve bought online are books. Hope your preparations are well on the way, Marylin – I’ve been sorting out decorations today.

    • I’m down to the last traditional pillows, Jenny. Every year Grace and Gannon each pick two favorite tee-shirts or sweatshirts they’ve outgrown, and I cut off the sleeves and make pillows out of them. They’re not as time consuming as the quilts I made for them several years ago, and they love having their beds filled with these pillows.
      When those are done, voila!, I’m done except for cooking the Christmas meal, and our daughter will help. Whew!

  4. Mary Zalmanek

    What a sweet poem, Marylin. Your mom created such a tender scene with words.

  5. Lovely poem, I think you posted it once before – it’s very special.
    As for the mall verses Christmas – I am preaching tomorrow on why the Christian church teaching remains out of step with the secular frenzy, and why we find ourselves caught up in two very different worlds at this time of the year.
    Susan is just baking cookies with our six year old grandson and then we will decorate the tree. This is the fun part!

    • Absolutely, Rod, that is the fun part. And each Christmas Day dinner, our dessert is a birthday cake with candles. The grandkids sing “Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus” and blow out the candles. These little traditions are the ones we enjoy together.

  6. A lovely image – the old and the young. Before I had grandchildren, I wasn’t sure how I would manage to expand my love to include these newcomers. I wanted desperately to ask my mom how she managed to open the circle so effectively, but my mom was gone. So, I played it by ear and found it was effortless. Thanks for these beautiful words from your mom.

    • You’re very welcome, Francis.
      It’s an amazingly wonderful feeling when you hear the first cries of grandchildren, and you didn’t realize how overwhelming the feeling of love could be again.

  7. Such a sweet poem to shared this morning. Thanks for reminding us to be alert…aware…attentive.

    We are between storms here. Pretty dark and ugly…but sure there is something to notice even in the darkness.

  8. Carol

    Love this! It really brings the season back to family.

    • It really does, doesn’t it? My mom won’t remember any of this, but her poems live on, and the stories and pictures make the great-grandchildren “pretty sure” they remember that happening. Thanks, Carol.

  9. juliabarrett

    Ohhhhhhhh. God I love your stuff.

  10. Leave it to your mother to observe the important things in life. Beautiful poem, simply beautiful. Thank you for sharing, Marylin. I’m doing some holiday baking for my infusion nurses, who I’ll visit on Monday. The classic Christmas music is putting me into the spirit on this cold and rainy day in Charlotte. Enjoy your weekend, Marylin.

    • Thanks, Jill. Ah, the Christmas music while we’re baking–that is my favorite preparation–and if it’s snowing outside and we’re all safe and warm inside, it’s all the better.
      Have a wonderful weekend, Jill, and save some of the baked goodies for the nurses!

  11. Karen Wan

    My father died of Alzheimer’s over five years ago, and I find it is at Christmas that I remember his unique observations of the world and how much he loved babies and little children. Thank you for sharing your poem and reminding me of what is truly important in this season as well as the rest of the year. Life is so short, we have to truly appreciate every moment that we can. Karen

    • Thank you for your comments, Karen. I’m so glad if my experiences with my mother at Christmas–and now her dementia–triggered good memories for you. My dad died of Alzheimer’s 5 years ago, and it had been a long, difficult and painful process, so I know that remembering his kind, gentle and caring side–especially at Christmas–is very important to me.
      Please join us again and continue to share your thoughts.

  12. Marylin, so glad you reposted yout mom’s poem. It’s so beautiful. 🙂

    • It was a long time ago when I first posted it, Tracy, and not at Christmas. A friend asked, “Remember that poem your mother wrote about shopping in the mall…” and I wanted to post it again. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  13. Sometimes, I’m embarrassed when I discover what was right in front of me that I had missed. You’re right, Marilyn. We really need to stop and look around or we’ll miss something wonderful.

    • Sometimes, I’m embarrassed when I discover what was right in front of me that I had missed. You’re right, Marilyn. We really need to stop and look around or we’ll miss something wonderful. By the way, your Mom’s poem is insightful and beautiful.

      • Thanks, Judy. I was sorting through a box of old Christmas cards recently, and I was stunned that I’d forgotten a person or a scene or a detail–something very important to them at the time–and that was a wake-up call to look and listen carefully, and remember.

  14. I absolutely LOVE the poem Marylin! Another example of what a true gem your mother is. I love, love, love it! And, I can feel the love she has for that little boy just be seeing her words – her heart rang for that little guy! Blessings, Robyn

    • And the funny thing is, Robyn, that as recently as last year, when I was still able to take Mom out to eat, she was drawn to every baby and toddler in the restaurant. She would go over and hug a young child in a highchair, a child she didn’t know and whose parents didn’t know my mom, but in this little Kansas town it always worked out fine.
      The parents would smile and often the young child would hug Mom back. She’s always had that sweet grandmotherly quality about her.

  15. A beautiful tale and a wonderful poem Marylin. You know it’s Christmas when A Beautiful Life appears and hear that great line about a bell ringing.
    xxx Huge Hugs to you all xxx

    • It’s true, David. That’s my favorite line, about the bells ringing when an angel gets his (or her) wings. The first time I saw IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, I ran around ringing all the bells on the wreaths and Christmas trees. Hugs to you, too!

  16. Priceless and precious! Sweet memories and acute observations from a dear grandma. I detest malls and stay out of them, especially at Christmas.:)

    • Thanks, Lynne. She was a wonderful grandmother, and if it hadn’t been for the dementia, she’d be having a very special, wonderful relationship with her great-grandchildren. So I tried to give them details and visuals–of the last picture, for instance–when they spent time with her before the dementia did its damage.
      If I can stay away from malls, especially at Christmas, I count myself a huge success!

  17. This is a good reminder of the things that are important about Christmas.
    I loathe the shopping aspects. I love the quiet time with family.

  18. dianabletter

    Hi Marylin, Every year, I ask my Christmas-observant friends if I can help them during this season to make their lives a bit less stressful! I loved the poem and your observations. Thank you for sharing this! Diana

    • What a wonderful gift you offer your friends, Diana!
      I remember my mom offering to take a friend’s children for the day–feed them, read to them and put them down for naps, and then we all made cookies together–while their overwhelmed mother cleaned her house and put up Christmas decorations. She said it was the best gift she ever received. Happy mother, happy children, merry Christmas!

  19. Ha Ha! Dave Berry certainly has an excellent power of observation! How very true!

    What a wonderful poem your dear mom wrote Marylin! It had me guessing at first! Oh the joy of children and grandchildren. Most of my friends are grandmothers already, I can’t wait to be one!

    I love to people watch, I find it fascinating.

    Shopping exhausts me, I don’t like it one bit, and usually I am very organised and get things early, bit by bit. I do a fair bit of online shopping but I also like to shop locally and take my time to look for those extra-special, more personal gifts that I can actually see, hold and touch. I used to make a lot of gifts, and I really caught the fire with that lovely American tradition of making food gifts for friends. It’s not so common here to do that.

    Love the photos and also the ‘angel’ quote from It’s a Wonderful Life’. That takes me back to American Christmases…

    Hope all your preparations are going well Marylin, I’m getting there…have a lovely Sunday 🙂

    • You, my mother and I would have had a great time ‘people watching’ together, Sherri! We challenged each other to write something afterwards: a description of how a nervous mother moved her hands or watched her children; how an impatient man placed his order with a waitress; the sound a baby made sneezing.
      We’re almost ready for the holidays. I still have to finish making the grandchildren’s last year favorite tee-shirts into pillows for their beds, and then I’ll wrap everything and sigh in relief!

      • Which is just what we are supposed to be doing as writers, since it is from life and all that goes on around us that makes for such wonderful inspiration from merely observing! How wonderful that you and your mom would challenge each other like that 🙂

        What a lovely idea, making pillows out of old tee-shirts for your grandchildren Marylin, a really beautiful keepsake and something to be treasured for years to come, something so unique made by their dear grandma 🙂

  20. Gwen Stephens

    I absolutely love rhyming poetry. It’s always amazing to me how each line works, and I think it’s far more creative than the prose-type poetry. It’s wonderful that you can share your mom’s work here, Marilyn. I’m sure she’d be thrilled to know her work is reaching so many readers.

  21. Love your idea of making pillows for your grandchildren.

  22. That little boy knew a kind heart when he saw one. How wonderful it is when young children just show their delight in others, even complete strangers. It’s too bad we loose so much of that free expression as we grow into adults.

  23. jakesprinter

    Beautiful poem Marylin ,Thanks for sharing 🙂

  24. Her personality shines through that poem. Fun, kind, determined, thoughtful, loving, protective. Mary.

  25. Molly

    I love that poem that Grandma wrote…I remember after she wrote it, her telling us about the moment that inspired it! Grandma is just so gentle, and sweet – and yet almost mystical or magical in how she perceived the “ordinary” things in life.

    This weekend Grace, Gannon and I picked out some new jammies and fuzzy socks for Grandma, for Christmas. Grace, like her Great Grandma, has the gift of observation, because she was very quick to notice that the jammies we got Grandma are very, very similar to jammies that she has. So she has already decided that when you take the package to Grandma, you have to call Grace and let her know when Grandma is going to wear her jammies, so that Grace can wear hers too, and they can be twins!

    I love the fact that Grace is getting to be a part of a 4 generation strong woman bond. 🙂

    Lovely blog, Momma! Great JOB!!!!

    • A four-generation-strong woman bond–whew! that really is something–and for Grace it’s actually five. She’s named for my father’s mother, and though Grace died when he was only a little boy, all the stories and love surrounding Grace attest to the fine woman and mother (and artist) she was. So our Grace Elizabeth, named for her great-grandmother and her great-great-grandmother, comes from a long line of fine women!
      And only our Gracie would think of being twins (over the phone) with her great-grandmother when they both wear their matching jammies…

  26. What a lovely poem and I can relate to that too. I have been taking Mollie, our oldest grandchild Christmas shopping since she was two on my own, and then as Shannon, Holly and Charlie have come along they too have been taken out to do their little bit of buying for their Mums and Dads.
    Usually it is two trips but this year Granddad has all four at once on the 23rd! I said to Holly, seven, on facetime last night, are you looking forward to our shopping trip’. ‘Yes, granddad’ You do know I get tired easily these days don’t you, so I may have to be in a wheelchair?’ Without hesitation or batting an eye, her immediate response was, ‘Mollie (11) can do that, are we eating out too?’

    Apparently there was a debate (argument) going on between the three 7 year olds on where we are all going to eat via instant messaging, until Mollie put her foot down and told the three of them that they will be eating wherever granddad decides to take them. Now I’m buggered as they all have different favourite restaurants ….. I may pack sandwiches as I noticed the mall has installed comfy seating throughout or forego the ‘proper’ restaurants and let them loose in food court!

    Whichever way it goes I know I am going to knackered, but happy xxxxxxx

    • Oh, Tom, you HAVE to show what you’ve written to Mollie, Shannon, Holly and Charlie! This is a delightful, wonderful example of their relationship to you, and your love and devotion for each other…and the Christmas that Mollie took over as the “adult.” This is a beautiful story, Tom, and yes, you’re going to be “knackered” but also very happy, and rich in love by these delightful grandchildren. Hugs and love to you all.

  27. How fantastic – love it. Your Mom was such the observer of life, this poem is precious.

  28. That’s a treasure, for sure. Does the 15-month toddler have a copy of this poem? (Would be in his twenties now, right?)

    So–did you avoid the mall all day when you posted this? Or did you have to make a trip? So far, I’ve been able to stay out of the mall for the whole season. Malls exhaust me, and it has nothing to do with age.

    • TaDa! I have not been to the mall since last summer, Tracy! And I’ve been to only one small local shop down in Old Colorado City, near the old library, and that was for baked desserts and treats to add to meals I made for a neighbor. It feels SO good to stay away from crowded malls!

  29. So lovely, Marilyn. And what a gift your mother has given–a gift of herself through words.

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