Have you ever made candy cane reindeer? The first time I ever got to do this fun project was when my daughter, Jessica, was young.
Having her Girl Scout troop dumped in my lap the night before our first meeting was an experience in itself. I’d volunteered to be a co-leader. The lady who was the leader suddenly decided she couldn’t commit, so it fell to me. I knew nothing about Girl Scouts. Thankfully, another very “Girl Scout savvy” mom stepped into help.
Scrambling for Christmas projects for the girls, this was one of the first ones we came up with. Back “in the day,” we had to purchase all the needed items separately. Now, they come in a kit—candy canes, red “Rudolph” puff-ball noses, google eyes, and green pipe cleaners.
Although this is a simple project, it is tons of fun, and the finished reindeer can be hung over the tree branches for decoration, given as party favors, or distributed as “tray favors” at local nursing homes.
Many years have passed since I put together my first candy cane reindeer. Many changes have taken place in my life over the last fifteen years.
This December, I found myself once again scrambling for an idea—this time for low-budget presents for my sister’s aides and nurses at the nursing home where she has been since October. Annette is my “way older” sister—twelve years older than I. She suffered a major stroke—her third—last January while she was in New York visiting her younger daughter for Christmas. The very next month, in February, her older daughter died of breast cancer at age 39. Annette was not able to see her or say good-bye as she would have liked to, since the stroke drastically affected her speech.
These past months have been a series of ups and downs, and her being in New York with no way to get back to Oklahoma. Flying was impossible with her medical conditions, so we raised money to bring her home via non-emergency medical transport. Now with Christmas coming, we needed gifts—cheap gifts!
Oddly enough, those candy cane reindeer flew into my brain and wouldn’t leave me alone. Annette only has the use of one hand, but she remains fiercely independent, as much as possible. I remembered those Girl Scout days, and how the younger siblings of some of the girls wanted to “help” make the reindeer; the patience of the older girls as they guided little hands in gluing on the eyes and noses, twisting the pipe cleaner around the curved part of the candy cane to form the antlers.
But that was truly no “gift”—better than nothing, but not quite the ticket. Still, I bought one of the kits, and some “curly ribbon” and tiny ornaments to tie under the reindeers’ neck to embellish them a bit. Then, I saw the answer to my dilemma in the Bath and Body Works ad! Small, purse-size hand sanitizers in the most wonderful scents imaginable for $1 each! I ordered 20 of them in a variety of scents. Taping the candy cane reindeer to the small bottle of hand sanitizer would allow the reindeer to “stand.” The tape could be easily removed, and the reindeer could serve as a tree ornament once it got to its new “gift home.”
Annette was thrilled! We spent two hours this past Sunday making the reindeer together. Once again, I found myself dabbing on the glue, holding the reindeer for other hands to put on the nose. Then she held it while I put on the eyes, as they were hard for her to manage. I tied the ornament and bow under the “neck” and twisted the pipe cleaner antlers on top. We bent the antlers into all kinds of crazy shapes and laughed like we were kids. Then I taped on the “legs”—the hand sanitizer—and the reindeer went to their “stall” to await being given away.
I couldn’t help but remember when I was little, how Annette was the one who had helped me do those kinds of crafts. Now, everything is turned around, and I can enjoy this time together in a way that is far different than when I was a child. I find myself in service to her, in a kind of odd role reversal.
You wouldn’t think that candy cane reindeer could look much different from one another, but somehow, they do. When I look at them all lined up in their cardboard box stable, I think of the fun we had making them, and the laughter we shared over simple things—a nose that wouldn’t stay on, crooked eyes, bent antlers. I knew she had enjoyed it as much or more than I had by the look on her face, the way she kept straightening them up, re-bending the antlers on this one or that. I watched her for a few seconds, and she turned to me with a smile—one of true happiness. I hadn’t seen that for a long time.
“I love you.” She took my hand and held it for a moment. “I love you,” she repeated; which means what she is saying, but was also her way of saying “thank you.”
“I love you, too.” Silently, I thank her in my heart for still fighting, for still trying. For being my hero.