Family Photo
Melanie Whitesides

"Are you crying?" my mother asked from behind the Christmas tree, where she stood, supporting her frail body on a walker. In the background, the Christmas music was softly playing one of Mom's favorites, "I'll Be Home for Christmas." We were trimming the tree together, as we had done many times over the years.

But this Christmas was different!

Mom had been diagnosed with cancer 10 months earlier and was given a very poor prognosis. Watching her deteriorate so quickly had us all wondering: "Would this be her last Christmas?"

"No, Mom," I said, "I'm not crying, just a runny nose."

"Come," she said, "Let's sit on the sofa and talk."

As we sat together, the Christmas music continued playing, and I already knew what Mom wanted to talk about. It was almost impossible to hold back the tears as she held me in her arms and said, "I know this will be my last Christmas, so I want to assure you that I am not afraid of dying. Just think, next Christmas I will be in heaven with God, looking down at my beautiful family, so let's make a deal," she continued.

My mother was a special woman in so many ways. She came from a large, happy, demonstrative, poor Italian family, but grew up with lots of love. Her parents were kind, warm, generous and funny. They instilled in her a sense of self-worth and a strong love of God. My mother was a woman whom everyone loved and wanted as a best friend. She sprinkled joy, humor and sunshine everywhere!

Mom married her high school sweetheart and watched him leave for Germany during World War II on their wedding day. After my father returned from the war, they settled in Pennsylvania and had three children. Mom was nine months pregnant with number four when Dad was tragically killed in an automobile accident. As incredibly difficult as it had to be for her, she raised four children in a warm, happy, positive and loving environment.

Despite my father's untimely death, Mom did everything humanly possible to make every day feel like Christmas. She began many lovely traditions that remain with us today, and she taught us the true message of Christmas.

Growing up, we eagerly began decorating in early November and especially loved trimming the tree. It was the focal point of our home at Christmas time, and we looked forward to attending church at midnight, then gathering around to sing our favorite carols.

"So what's the deal, Mom?" I asked, trying to hide my tears. "Well, I want you to promise me that next Christmas you will not be sad and I want you to carry on our family traditions for your children and make it special and memorable for them. And don't forget the tree, especially the tree!"

"Sure," I replied, wondering how Christmas could ever be the same without Mom. "But what's in it for me?"

"Well, here's the deal," Mom said. "You provide a happy Christmas and a lovely tree, and I'll send the snow and make sure you have a white Christmas. After all, in heaven I'll have some pull," she smiled. "You've got yourself a deal, Mom," I said, and we shook hands on it.

Sadly, Mom passed away the following July. As the holidays approached, I wondered how I would ever be able to keep my promise, and what about that white Christmas that Mom had promised me? As I decorated the tree, listening to the same Christmas music, the tears freely flowed. I'm keeping my part of the deal; I'll make sure our family has a beautiful, happy Christmas.

But how is Mom going to come through on her end when the weather forecast said absolutely no chance of snow this Christmas?

After returning home from church on Christmas Eve, we sat around the tree singing carols before retiring. At 5 a.m., our granddaughter woke me up, saying, "Nana, Santa was here, and it's snowing outside."

I ran to the window and opened the blinds and there before me was a beautiful white blanket of snow! Hardly believing my eyes, I woke up the entire family to confirm that beautiful vision. The most amazing part of this true story is that it only snowed in part of our town! (Sparta, N.J.)

The following day the newspaper read: "Surprise — higher elevations of Sparta receive unexpected white Christmas." But in my heart I knew this was no surprise. I choose to believe that my dear mother was keeping her end of the deal!

This is one of six winning, original stories in the annual Deseret News annual Christmas writing contest, "Christmas I Remember Best." The author of this story, Melanie Whitesides, grew up in Mount Carmel, Pa. She is married to Allen, a broker with Fidelity Investments. They have been married for 31 years, have four children and six grandchildren. Melanie worked as a nurse for 33 years. She is a doll collector, enjoys arts and crafts, travel and her church activities. Her husband enjoys fishing and hunting and is a trained opera singer.