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The Fruit of a Fading Memory

How a nursing home misdemeanour sparked a new Christmas tradition.

Christmas music fills the air. Lights sparkle on the Christmas trees of in each of the “Drumm girls’” homes. An enormous glass bowl full of fake fruit and vegetables sits in each home – carrots, lemons, metallic cucumbers, carved stone pears, crystal covered apples and more – the collection growing larger with each passing year. Each piece holds a memory. Each piece is a part of a Christmas tradition that began on December 24, 2002. Each piece is a memory of our mother.

The story begins
Our mother’s memories unraveled in a tangled web of confusion, but we, the daughters, hold the memories, just as the crystal bowls in our homes hold the fruit. There came a time when our father could no longer wrap those memories into a coherent ball; it was time to transition our mom to a long-term care facility in Brooks, Alberta.

As we wheeled our mom to her new home, tears blurred our eyes, but our mom’s eyes were fixed on the beautiful Christmas trees that filled the entry. The trees were decorated with fruits and vegetables of every sort. (The Diabetes Society was responsible for Christmas decorations that year).

Her eyes lingered on the sparkling produce; our eyes saw only her memories falling around her feet. When we left her that day, we had no idea that our dear mom would turn our tears into laughter. She would lay the foundation for a new Christmas tradition.

Forbidden fruit
During our mom’s stay at the care facility she began to harvest the fruits and vegetables that hung on the Christmas trees in the entry. Each time she wheeled herself past the trees, more fruit would disappear from the branches into the folds of her clothes, in the crevices she created as she sat in her wheelchair. Her shiny treasures would be hidden in her room. 

When our dad came to have supper with mom, he would return the fruit to the trees. Each day mom gleaned the fruit and each evening dad would return them, hopefully unnoticed by the staff, to their rightful place on the trees in the lobby. 

When my sister Margaret realized what was happening, she decided she would sneak mom’s treasures of forbidden fruit to her home before our dad arrived for the evening. He was none the wiser, thinking that mom had given up her thieving ways. 

Bittersweet memories
That Christmas, Margaret divided up the stolen fruit among the sisters. 

Mom died on November 14, 2002. The fruit that graced our Christmas trees held a dear memory. We couldn’t help but laugh. We couldn’t help but cry. Now those stolen fruits on our tree held an even greater significance. As we looked at the fruit, we reminisced about mom’s thieving escapade in the hospital. Laughing and crying throughout the evening as we opened our gifts.

Gift giving was almost over. Under the tree were three final gifts, one for each of the sisters, a little card attached to each. Kathy wrote, “Now that our mom will no longer spend Christmas with us, a new tradition must begin. A tradition that keeps us together as we honour our mom’s memory.” 

As we opened our tiny packages, we discovered, hidden in the wrapping, a carrot to be added to our individual collections of mom’s stolen treasures.

It has been 17 years since our mom has gone to be with God. Each year we give each other a fruit or a vegetable as a gift. They no longer fit on our Christmas trees. Instead, in each of our homes is a clear bowl holding the fruits. 

Each year as we open our “last” gift of the evening. We cry. We laugh. We remember our mother.


  • Christa has retired after an amazing and blessed 44 years of teaching in Christian Schools. Now she is a persistent potter, busy playing in the mud with wonder and joy!

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