Christmas Eve, 1995
“Look, Mom, I’m really sorry, but we can’t make it.” Barry’s voice carried regret, but I had long since known it wasn’t the regret of being unable to visit but rather regret he had to call. “Margie’s still wrapping presents and getting the house ready for our party tomorrow. And April is at the Wyeth’s this evening to see their new baby boy.”
“You certainly do keep your family busy, Barry,” I answered him softly, gently reprimanding him.
“Tis the season, Mom,” he countered, knowing I wasn’t a nag but still looked after him even though he turned fifty some months ago. “I’ll give you a call over the New Year’s, okay?”
“I’m already looking forward to it, son,” I choked out cheerfully, trying to keep my voice steady. “Merry Christmas, Barry. All my love to Margaret and April, too. Make sure you get to church this year.”
“We might, but it’s awful busy. You take care, Mom. I love you. ‘Bye.”
There was a click and the handset went dead. I closed my eyes and waited for the sadness to recede, then put the phone down. It was all right. He lived in Phoenix, an hour away from my little rented home in Morristown. I would miss seeing my granddaughter April, though. It was a little sadder this year, perhaps, because tonight I was going to pass along the story my grandmother’s grandmother had been told when she was a little girl.
Another Christmas alone then, Betsy, I told myself. No matter. I had my faith and the joy of the season to keep me company, and that would always be enough. I walked into the kitchen and put the kettle on. A hot cup of mint tea was always soothing. I turned the gas burner on then walked to the kitchen door and looked out.
As always, the desert night sky was radiant with stars. There was no moon yet, but the sand glowed white in the starlight, coating the ground with a sparkling blanket of imaginary snow. Stepping outside onto the small porch, I breathed deep the chilled air, empty of any scents, but laced with icy fingers that thrilled the lungs and senses. I’d lived in this little home now for fifteen years, since my husband died, and had very few visitors other than my dear friend Carl and my son Barry. Now Barry’s visits were becoming more and more rare.
The kettle whistled cheerily in the kitchen, so I went back inside and prepared a pot of tea. I’d just replaced the ceramic lid when there came a knock on the door. Now who could that be?
“Feliz Navidad, Señora Trilwell!”
Pedro and Maria, my neighbor’s young children, were standing on my porch, their faces as bright and lively as their voices. They must have just returned from church, for Pedro had on an impressive dark blue suit with Spanish cut jacket. Maria was wearing a darling white dress with a satiny red lace pattern. She held a small present, complete with bow.
“Children!” I exclaimed joyfully, ushering them inside. “Shouldn’t you be at home with your family?” Their parents owned a ranch about a quarter mile down our dirt road.
“You are our family, too,” Pedro said solemnly, bowing at the waist carefully while Maria climbed a chair and opened up my cupboards. She brought down two more tea cups and saucers, making herself right at home, which she was. “Papa said that though we celebrate El Niño’s birth tonight, it is good to remember our elders as well.”
“And I am certainly as ‘elder’ as I can get,” I laughed. I motioned a hand to a chair. “Please, Pedro, come in and warm yourself.” He beamed and sat down. Being a very distinguished eight years old, he was a proper young man, careful to do things just so.
“Gracious, Señora.” He picked up the gift Maria had set down on the table. “This is for you. It is a gift of thanks for… for…” he screwed up his face, trying to recall the perfect words he had no doubt practiced before coming here.
“For being our friend, Señora!” Maria piped in, not having quite the patience of her older brother.
“Thank you, children.” I said, feeling my eyes moisten. “And I have a gift for you, as well.” A surge of joy swept through me and I gasped. “Two gifts, in fact. Wait here.”
I hustled into my living room and selected two gifts from my table top tree. I’d wrapped them weeks earlier for the children and almost gave them early, but was now glad I’d waited.
“Here you are. That’s one gift apiece. I shall now give you the second gift. Maria, the tea has steeped the right amount of time. Would you please pour?”
Maria got to her knees on the chair and carefully poured three cups. I brought down a small plate and placed several cookies on it so we might have a correct tea.
“Now,” I began, sitting down and taking a small sip. “I am seventy-three years old. The story I will tell is one that my grandmother told me in 1931, when she was eighty-four and I was but nine. She heard it from her grandmother in 1854, when her grandmother was eighty-one and she herself seven years old.”
“Like me,” Maria said, her mouth open in awe.
“Like you, Maria.” I smiled and continued. “And her grandmother had first been told when she was eight years old, as you are now, Pedro. So the story has been told in my family since the year 1781, and probably longer, for the story itself is nearly two thousand years old.”
I took a deep breath and looked into their attentive eyes. They knew the story of the Christ Child, of course. Had no doubt heard it in church this very evening. But to hear it one more time, told the way it had been told in my family for over two hundred years was extra special. It brought us even closer, both to our Savior and to each other, for it was being shared.
“A long time ago, a young couple traveled to a small town named Bethlehem. Their names were Mary and Joseph. Now Mary was about to have a baby. A very, very special baby, for this baby was the Son of God…”
Copyright ©1998 by Peter Prellwitz All Rights Reserved.