It was Christmastime and I was home from college. Mom suggested we run some errands and maybe do a little bit of Christmas shopping, and I was bored, so off we went.
Around lunchtime, we decided to stop in at McDonald's since it was close by.
This is the shameful part where I tell you that I hadn't spent that many hours alone with my mother in years. I was a senior in college, and other than a few days here and there when the dorms were closed, I didn't visit home much. I loved my parents, but I honestly didn't want to live with them anymore.
My mother's only fault in this wasn't much of a fault when you think about it. She loved me too much. She was always trying too hard, overdoing, overprotecting, over-worrying to the point where it was cloying and restrictive and made me want nothing more than to be free of her. I loved her, but I loved her in small doses.
I ordered a happy meal, and even gave the girl at the counter a bit of a hard time until she dug in a bin and found me a Gus Gus toy, which I then gifted to my mother, who oooh and aaahed and swore to me he'd always have a home on her tree.
Then we laughed and talked and dunked french fries and when we got home, she hung him on a branch and pronounced this to be a perfect Christmas.
And thirteen years later, a few days after Christmas, I pulled Gus Gus off the tree.
"Can I keep him?" I asked Dad.
"Sure. Take whatever you want," Dad said. "I won't be putting up a tree anymore, I think."
I suppose that's hard to do when your wife of forty-five years dies at Christmas. So I took Gus Gus with me, and last night, I hung him on my tree, and just like most years, I started crying, and then smiling as I remembered stealing each other's fries and laughing so hard I coughed up my soda.
Gus may not be much, but he's a part of her and a part of me and a part of that day and all the memories that go with it. It's the little things, they always say.
And they're right.