A Candle in Every Cupboard

Carol Bovee


My mother-in-law (I call her Mom) loves cute things. She likes pretty things too, but she really likes cute things. She treasures them. Mom has moved into a senior living facility. My husband, our three kids and I arrived at her old home on Christmas Eve full of nostalgia ready to clean and sort and divide memories amongst family members. We immediately found teddy bears galore and cute little doll figurines and little knick-knacks that reminded everyone of Grandma. Because Grandma likes ‘cute’.

When hearing what our plans were for our glorious Christmas vacation, one of my friends told me to make it as fun as possible. When she cleaned out her parents’ home she got a kick out of all the pairs of reading glasses she found everywhere. So, I wondered what ‘thing’ we might pick to keep track of. What would we find everywhere we looked?

It didn’t take us long to figure it out. Every time we tackled a new cupboard, drawer or shelf, I giggled to myself. I was practically guaranteed to find a candle, somewhere among the things. Bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, clothes closet, craft drawer—you name it. Every cupboard held a candle. Often a cute candle, or a pretty smelling candle, but at times just a simple votive candle. Occasionally the candle had been burned once, just enough to melt a little circle of wax around the wick, but most often we found old, dusty, but brand new candles. Untouched. Saved, most likely, for a special occasion. Within just an hour we found about seven candles.

Throughout Christmas day, while feeling sorry for ourselves for working on Christmas (but in a good-natured way because we’d already celebrated our Christmas at home before leaving) we found candles. While piecing together a “Christmas dinner” from whatever Mom had left in her pantry and the fresh food items we’d plucked from a store on our way in, my children began lighting the candles.
My first thought was to gasp, “What? You cannot ruin Grandma’s cute candles!” I looked at my children’s smiling faces (I still call them my children even though they are all bigger than I) and closed my mouth. Mom cannot burn candles in the facility, nor does she have much room for ‘stuff’.

All those years she treasured and saved those cute and pretty smelling special candles, and now she couldn’t enjoy them. The house had that smell that goes with deserted homes but the candles gradually spread an aroma of warmth and peace around the house. By the time we sat for supper, the kids had grouped five candles in the middle of the dining room table and arranged a line-up of candles—dusty and marred from so many years in storage—along the counter top. The glow of all those burning candles brought back memories of Grandma and Grandpa and all the times we’d eaten with them (sometimes with candles burning to celebrate a special time). The soft glow made us feel as if maybe we hadn’t missed out completely on Christmas.

Throughout our seven cleaning days, through the ups and downs of it all, I wanted to laugh or sigh every time I found another candle. My kids wanted to burn them. I saved the pristine ones for an estate sale. The marred or partially burned ones, we lit and enjoyed every evening.

Every single cupboard housed at least one candle. What had Mom saved them for? I remember my mother reading a poem called “If I Had My Life to Live Over,” by Erma Bombeck. It spoke of doing life differently, of going ahead and burning those special candles. I didn’t get it back when mom shared it with me, but I sure do now!

Enjoy those moments. Count your blessings, but don’t just save them. Use them. Savor them. Don’t keep them in the cupboard. (tweet this) Sing on that long trip. Call that friend. Put down the iPhone and look into those eyes and have that conversation. Hold that hand. Soak in the light and aroma of those candles.

Here’s Erma’s poem, if you’d like to watch and listen :).