Epiphany (Little Christmas)

Remembering Mama on Christmas    (767x1024) (2)Today is Epiphany, which has always meant Mama’s birthday to me, no matter that she has been physically gone since 1991. I took this photograph just before Christmas when my siblings and I made sprays and carried them to the cemetary. A star is engraved on her stone to remember the very special day that she was born. On Epiphany, a very bright star led the wisemen to the stable in which the newborn Jesus lay. My mother was both wise and a star to me, guidance that I always turned to and still do. Today I remembered Mama by writing one of the vignettes for a book I am working on in memory of my life with her.

                                          Little Christmas

Many Christmases ago, when I was a little girl, my mama was big. In stature she was five feet eight inches – which was tall back then – but Mama was big  in many ways, and I looked up to her. She was mother and father and everything in between, and – at Christmas time, she was perfectly capable of being Santa Claus as well. Of course it was some time before I knew this. As a very little girl, I watched my mama put up a tree in our living room, string magical bubble lights onto the branches, and open a box full of ornaments than looked more familiar every year. Mary and Billy were big enough to help her hook these onto the tree. I was too small; the shiny glass balls might break and cut my hands. I must wait for the foil icicles to be draped on my tiny fingers, then instructed to “Throw them, Leify!” by my older siblings. I could see how they were supposed to look; long silver strands were already gracing the upper branches. So I happily threw, not prepared for the unlovely clump that could result.  I remember one such time when tears filled my eyes and I was ready to dash for one of my many hiding places. But Mama was quick; her arms swept me up and held me close to the fragrant needles. Her voice was soft as she placed a single sparkling strand between my thumb and forefinger: “Try again, my blessing, more gently. You can do it.”

I could do it. She was right. I can still see the perfect glittering fall of that single icicle, and the ones to follow…in whatever form as the years fled past. Her patience and persistent faith gave me more persistence than I might have had, shy and sensitive creature that I was. My tendency to despair and run away from seeming failures was counteracted countless times by my mother’s tender voice. I can still hear the reliable loving admonition to “Try again, my blessing”. Though my mama’s physical presence is no longer near, her voice and her faith are one with who I am. Her gentle guidance is as dependable as my own breathing.

But, back to Christmas, or back to the Christmas season. In our family, it wasn’t over until January 6th had come and gone. For Mama was born on Epiphany, Twelfth Night, Little Christmas. And every year we celebrated our mother’s birth. Aunts, uncles and cousins, too… All gathered to watch my mama open her gifts. Everyone sampled dense almond-flavored cake with a lucky nutmeg baked inside. All of us wanted to be blessed with luck for the coming year, but it was best for the birthday girl to get the nutmeg. Everyone loved Mama and wished her well. Later, Christmas greens were burned in the fireplace. Branches stripped from the various trees were tossed on the flames to crackle and spit, filling the air with an aromatic scent. A special peace came over the room where so many sat. There was something solemn and quieting about this ritual.

Even now, as the memory of those epiphany evenings returns to me, my mother’s presence is equally real to me. Her strength and gentleness are in the smile I see in my mind’s eye…feel in my heart, and I think of the tiny premature baby born at home one hundred and four years ago. No incubators then… The Mammy of the household washed her in whiskey, swaddled her tightly, and placed her in a shoebox surrounded by hot bricks. For the first few hours of her life, she lay in an oversized wicker chair brought close to the fireplace. The dancing flames must have leapt in her brand new eyes.

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2 Responses to “Epiphany (Little Christmas)”

  1. Kendall Says:

    You make tears gleam and dance like flames in my old eyes. I can almost smell the branches burning, and I can hear her voice, “Try again, my blessing. You can do it.” And look. You can.

  2. leiflife Says:

    I can…. You understand so well what it took simply to return to the vignettes after several months away. This piece surprised me. I must surrender in a big way to what it wanted to say. Thanks again, dear friend…

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