“To Peggy from Santa Claus.”
I carefully removed the homemade tag from the package.
Out tumbled a yellow-haired, red-cheeked rag doll with gangly legs.
Not exactly what I was hoping for.
The expectant look on my mother’s face made me want to cringe.
“Do you like her? Do you like her?”
I loved my mother dearly. I lied.
“Yes, she is very nice.”
* * *
“Mother, someone told me you have to be a Christian to celebrate Christmas. Is that true?”
“Oh, no, honey, that’s not true. Don’t worry about it. It’s just a fairy tale.”
* * *
The fury on my father’s face. A purplish cast to his complexion.
A hard line for a mouth.
The heavy sound as he strode down the linoleum hall into our living room. Closer, closer.
The tree had just gone up the night before. A beauty to behold. Glistening silver tinsel, glowing red-gold bulbs, sparkling lights.
It was a testament to my mother’s artistry…yet frail, short-lived.
The sound, the crashing sound, as he lifted-up the tree and threw it against the wall. Shattering glass. Slamming door. He was gone.
It was Christmas.
* * *
Unmistakable. It was my father’s voice, across the miles.
“Peggy, I did what your mother wanted. I accepted Jesus. I got my fire insurance.
And Peggy, I want you all to come home for Christmas.
I want us all to be together. Get permission from Gaylord’s church. Come home.”
Silence, waiting. “And Peggy Anne, I love you.”
* * *
The enemy was too aggressive. The cancer was too strong.
In 10 days, my daddy met Jesus face-to-face.
I was home for Christmas. I was home for a funeral, for a burial. I could not find his coffin. I could not recognize him.
Then I knew. I was home for a resurrection, a celebration of new life.
“When we all get to heaven…”
* * *
My youngest was barely a year old. As we drove, I was sewing red taffeta Christmas doves, gifts of love for my family.
The rain on the windshield was light, matching the light grey of the sky overhead. Strains of Erica’s flute piece danced in my head from her recitation the night before.
The scissors slipped from my hand. Bracing myself, back, forth, over, under, upside down.
“Oh, no. No, no!”
The noise was deafening. Then nothing. Our van lay on its side. My glasses are gone but I see Gaylord’s arm dangling above me, motionless.
A stranger’s voice: “Undo your seat belt, ma’am. We can’t get you out.”
Blackness. My arm won’t work.
“What is that red color?”
“It’s your blood.”
My head. My face. I can’t breathe.
An ambulance worker: “Hurry, we’re losing her.”
Institutional white—white walls, people dressed in white.
“Where am I?”
“You’re in the hospital.”
“Where is Gaylord? Where are my kids?”
Separate places…Visalia, Reedley, Dinuba.
Christmas morning. The voice of an angel, “May I pray with you?”
Another angel, “May I feed you your Christmas dinner?”
A tentative voice, “Hold still. I am trying to set your arm.”
Why? Why is this happening to me? And on Christmas? This can’t be Christmas.
Then the voice of the Lord God himself: “Christmas is Immanuel. God with us. I am with you. I never left you. I will always be with you.”
And it will always be Christmas. God’s presence with me makes it Christmas.