Alan Mann was a family man. He came from a big family, all his brothers and sisters had big families and he was fortunate enough to marry a lovely woman, Mamie, who was an only child who always dreamed of starting a big family of her own. And when it came to the holidays, nobody celebrated Christmas like the Tribe of Mann.
Which was why it was such a disappointment that Alan’s job needed his help in closing a massive deal on Christmas Day on the opposite coast. Ordinarily, he would have refused but the fact of the matter was, his family needed the cash injection his commission from the deal would have provided. Mamie wasn’t thrilled about spending Christmas without her husband, but she backed his play.
Everything was going to plan in Los Angeles and Alan prepared for the deal to wrap early as he planned to make it home at least by Christmas evening. He had already shipped a load of gifts to his family and the backup plan, in case things went south, was to celebrate Christmas with them over webcam, but on Christmas Eve he received a call from his wife.
“Alan, you need to come home,” Mamie said.
“Your mother’s in the hospital and…it doesn’t look good.”
Alan booked a plane ticket online while Mamie explained his mother’s condition. The cheapest immediate flight he could find was severely overpriced, and on his way to the airport, he left messages on his business partners’ voicemails apprising them of the situation. His mother instilled in him the preference of asking forgiveness rather than permission when it came to family matters.
There was a layover at Detroit Metropolitan Airport that set Alan back five hours. He pleaded his case at the airport, tried to get them to bump a passenger off an earlier flight, which he would have gladly paid for, but it couldn’t be helped, weather conditions in New York caused the unavoidable delay.
When he finally landed at LaGuardia Airport, he jumped the cue at the taxi stand and called his wife to let her know he would be there soon. But when he arrived at the hospital, it was too late. His mother had passed.
“I shouldn’t have taken this stupid assignment in the first place,” Alan said as he paced the hospital corridor.
“You did it for the family, Alan, we needed the money. Who could have foreseen something like this happening?”
“I should have rented a car in Detroit and driven here instead of being stuck at that goddamned airport!”
“Detroit to New York? That’s what, a nine-hour drive at best? It wouldn’t have made a difference, honey.”
“But I should have been here!”
“You were, through us,” Mamie stood directly in his path and stopped him in his tracks. She gently held his face and made her husband look her in the eye. “Every time you called, me and your sisters and brothers kept your mother updated whenever she regained consciousness. We made sure she knew you were on your way, that you were doing your best like you always do. And I know you feel guilty about it, but you have to remember, she wasn’t alone. We were all here with her.”
Alan was taken to see his mother’s body where he unburdened his soul and begged for forgiveness, and after all the tears had been shed and it was time to leave, he coordinated with his siblings, divvying up responsibilities for the funeral arrangements.
On the way to the elevator, Alan heard a woman crying. There was an elderly woman lying on a gurney in the hallway, with no attendants or staff around so he wasn’t sure if she was waiting for a bed or being taken to a department for tests or treatment, but her cries tugged at his already tender heartstrings.
The woman’s eyes were watery, her stare distant, but she was aware of Alan’s presence and in a weak voice said, “I’m scared.”
Alan took her frail hand and said, “It’s okay to feel scared, but you’re not alone, I’m here with you. I love you and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of you. I can’t tell you how much better my life is for having you in it.”
The woman slipped into unconsciousness and Alan’s sisters located a male staffer and made him aware of the situation, berating the man in the process for leaving the old woman unattended. Such was the way of the Mann women.
“That was beautiful, Alan,” Mamie put her arm around her husband’s shoulder.
“I wish I could have said all those things to my mother.”
“Those were things your mother already knew, but you said them to a woman who might not have had an Alan in her life to hear it from. It was sweet and what your mother raised you to do.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Mom had that arranged,” said Doris, Alan’s oldest sister.
“You think Mom parked an old woman in the hallway for me to comfort?”
“Excuse me, have you ever met our mother? Tell me that isn’t something she would have done.”
It was farfetched and designed to lighten the mood a little, which it did, but Alan couldn’t totally discount the notion that his mother exerted the last of her energy setting those wheels in motion.
This was going to be a solemn Christmas with an empty place setting at the table but at least the family was all together.