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On May 13, 2015 the heart went out of our family with the death of our Mom, Rita. Mom was 88 years old, but she was healthy, or so we believed, and active.

Just a month before her death she had traveled to North Carolina to attend the wedding of a grandson and three days before she died, she celebrated Mother’s Day with her six children.

The following day she attended a graduation ceremony for a granddaughter. Then she was gone.

While cleaning out Mom’s home of 67 years, my sister and I found Mom’s “Christmas Apron.” Oh! How old it was and a little stained and torn and worn but we could not part with it. This apron was a part of our childhood and held so many wonderful, warm holiday memories.

So, into the box of other salvaged memories, it went. Dolores laundered it and I took it to a friend to have it repaired. It was beautiful again. But more beautiful were the memories this apron invoked. Looking at it we were children again feeling all the excitement that comes with the season of Christmas.

Every December, we would watch Mom take the Christmas Apron out of the drawer and launder it. Holiday excitement and anticipation filled the air. We knew good things were to come.

Visions of sugar plums started dancing in our heads.

Soon we would be in the small kitchen of the little house in South Philly and Mom would don her Christmas Apron and the baking of the Christmas cookies would begin.

So many cookies and so many varieties; chocolate chip, butter, crescent, sugar, almond and wonderful shapes; Christmas trees, stars, reindeer, and snowmen. We children were glad to help in the baking because all broken cookies belonged to the helpers.

It took many, many days to complete the baking and when it was done the cookies would be placed on trays and wrapped as gifts for family and friends.

Often, Mom would grab a tray and dash out to a neighbor, still wearing the Christmas Apron; to be sure they had their cookies before Christmas Day.

The Christmas Apron was also there as Mom went about the house decorating. Its pockets full of thumbtacks and tape to secure the decorations where she wanted them.

On Christmas Eve, Mom in her Christmas Apron would prepare the family meal. Then after dinner we would all gather in the living room to set up the manger. The manger would be placed on its special table and the straw lay inside. Then each child would take a figure from the box and unwrap it and place it in the manger.

We were all hoping that we would get the Christ Child and have the honor of placing Him in the manger.

Somehow, the baby always ended up being in the pocket of Mom’s Christmas Apron. Then when all the other figures were in place Mom would hand the Christ Child to the youngest who would have the honor of placing the baby in the manger.

Christmas Day would dawn, and we children would be up with the sun. But down in the kitchen, Mom in her Christmas Apron would already have the hot cocoa ready and the breakfast started.

We’d tumble down the stairs anxious to see what Santa had brought us and there standing by the tree would be Mom in her Christmas Apron smiling at us and offering Christmas morning hugs.

The only time on Christmas Day that the apron was not snuggly tied around Mom was when she took it off to attend church.

All too soon the holidays would wind down and the Christmas Apron would be washed and folded and placed back in its drawer.

All of us would give a sigh of regret knowing it would be many long months before we would see it again.

So, on that Christmas 2015, we did not have Mom to celebrate with us, but we did have her Christmas Apron.

As we gathered to celebrate the apron was worn by different members of the family.

Even our brother, Stephen, took a turn wearing the apron as he helped in the kitchen.

No matter boy or girl, man or woman tying that apron around you was like having Mom’s arms around you once again.