A few years ago I was in New Orleans for a work event. Like many business travellers, when I had some free time, I went in search of gifts for my family.
I don’t do that anymore. When you’re on the road as much as I am, it would be like buying presents every time I went to work. The kids liked it of course but when they started getting too many things purchased in airports, it was time to stop.
At any rate, I found a gift shop that specialized in Christmas items. In April. I almost didn’t go in. I’ve never been a fan of Christmas shops. The thought of selling Christmas year round just bugs me. But I was running out of time and needed to find something. So in I went.
The shop was crammed so full it was difficult to move. Christmas was all around me. Lights and trees and Santas and stockings and… and… and… Puts me in mind of a really silly song from the movie, “Love Actually“. Bill Nighy plays an aging, dissolute rock star whose agent decides he needs to cash in on Christmas to resurrect his career. Nighy is over-the-top hilarious.
Bill Nighy is one of my favourite actors. But I digress.
There in the New Orleans Christmas store, amidst all the other bright shiny things, were some silver balls about the size of a large orange. They were hollow with little heart-shaped cutouts in the silver and hinged so they opened up. They were labelled, “friendship balls”. Described as an old English tradition, women would use these balls to put a small gift inside and give them to a friend. Eventually the friend would repeat the process and return the ball. I loved the idea because it seemed to me a way to stay connected. So I bought three of them, one for my mother, one for my sister and one for my daughter.
Over the years we have passed them back and forth. Periodically one of them will disappear but they always turn up again. Generally, as the originator of the friendship ball tradition, they all go out from me around the same time and then they make their way back on my birthday.
Before Christmas I went in search of the friendship balls. But there was a problem. I could find only two. I sent a note to the girls, explaining the problem and asking who had the missing friendship ball. My sister and my daughter responded instantly. “Not me!” they each cried.
Which could only mean that my mother had it. So I went about my Christmas shopping and planning and found some nice little tokens to put in the balls for Baby Sister and Bunnyella. (I know, I know… too cute by half. But there we are.)
All was well. Under control. And then Mini-mum messed it all up. An email from her appeared in my inbox a couple of days before Christmas. She didn’t have a friendship ball. She’d looked. Couldn’t find it. No sign of it anywhere.
Great, says I. Now what? In the end, I decided to go with the original plan. No friendship ball for Ma-ma this time. No doubt she’d find it after Christmas. I mean, she’s a bit scatterbrained, isn’t she? It was probably in the back of the linen closet where she stores gifts for future use.
So there we were on Christmas day with Baby Sis and Bunny opening their friendship balls and Ma-ma grumbling.
Finding things to put in the balls is always something of a challenge because of the size and the shape. This year they got knee socks. They fold up nicely and can be stuffed in easily. Don’t worry, Ma-ma got socks too, just not in the friendship ball. And we moved on. Or so I thought.
So there I was today, home with a bad cold, digging in the drawer that holds my nightgowns looking for a nice warm flannelette version. Nestled deep inside was a shiny silver ball. With a lovely-smelling bath bomb inside, making my nightgowns smell just as lovely. It had been polished so the light glinted off the silver. Damn.
I have confessed. I have written to Ma-ma and told her everything. Grovelled. Snivelled. Admitted to being a bad daughter. Held out my wrists for a virtual smack.
She remembered lovingly polishing the friendship ball. Searching for just the right size bath bomb with the perfect smell and carefully wrapping it in plastic wrap so it wouldn’t get damaged in the ball. Nonetheless she has decided to forgive me. Says she has no choice since she is my mother. But ohhh, I can picture the smugness.
Now I have two problems. Ma-ma has something on me. And the friendship balls are out of sync. Which in retrospect should have been my first clue. Damn.