Sunday Christmas

It’s surprising the places your mind can go when you’re confined in a car for twelve hours. On this trip from Sneads Ferry to Nashville, Tennessee, my mind is like a butterfly in a garden, fluttering from one thought to another, sometimes lingering on a memory inspired from a scene outside my window or a song on the radio.  After I sit on one memory and sip all of its nectar I get caught up on the breeze of another memory and meander to it’s special spot in the garden. There I rest as I get lost in the fragrance of the past, presence and future.

My eye is drawn to a small lake by the interstate right outside Knoxville, Tennessee.  By most standards it’s not even a lake.  It’s a glorified pond, pretty enough, but so close to the road that the cars whizzing by on I 40 are bound to shake and rattle the campers like a constant series of mini earthquakes. Plus it’s cold outside.  I wonder who in the world would want to spend Christmas in a tin can on trembling ground right up by one of the busiest roads in America.  For a few seconds I linger on that thought and my mind jumps to the back yard of my parents house in Tarboro, North Carolina.  I am about ten years old and my brother, Scot and I are camping out in a pup tent behind the house.  It is a damp night and within a few hours the blankets smell of wet dogs and old woolen beach mildew.    It begins to drizzle rain and I wish we were in waterproof sleeping bags. 

Sleeping bags and camping…During Spring Break of my Freshman year at ECU, my friends and I go camping on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with the dual purpose of looking for summer jobs and having fun.  We have no camping gear so we make a tent out of bed sheets.  After we finish putting it together the wind fills it up and it looks like a giant marshmallow sitting in the middle of tin can campers. What is it with tin cans?  

Tin cans…My memory takes me to the warehouse of Isaiah 58, a food ministry for the hungry, in Oxford, Alabama, where I used to work.  I see a big, battered pallet box filled to the brim with assorted cans of food for the needy.  It’s winter time and the warehouse has no heat, but the volunteers don’t care.  They have formed an assembly line and as they joke and banter back and forth, laughter fills the air as cans of food fill the banana boxes.

  A line of tired, worried looking people has formed outside the lobby door, waiting for us to open up.  There is a girl who barely looks old enough to babysit, much less be old enough to mother the child sitting on her jutting hip bone.  “Do you have any diapers in a size three?” she asks.  That’s a popular size and I don’t know if we have any left, but I tell her we’ll look and see if we do.  An elderly woman, held up by her walker, stands in line, her shabby, thin coat barely shielding her from the biting wind.  “May I ask you something?” she motions her head at me because she wants me to lean into her whisper. I put my head near her lips.  “Do you have any Depends in my size?” She is embarrassed to ask and I feel her shame.  “Mam, I saw some earlier this week in the back of the warehouse.  I’m sure we have some for you.  She’s so relieved to hear  that bit of good news that her shoulders sit up a bit straighter.  I thank God that for one week we can give her a little bit of dignity and how pitiful it is that dignity has anything at all to do with Depends…

Bill puts the breaks on and the car slows down a bit.  We are passing by a little town with one exit off the interstate.  I look down off of the overpass and see a small gas station with two pumps.  Right beside it is a Piggly Wiggly.  Why would anyone name their grocery store that?  It sounds so unappetizing to think of squealing, wiggly pigs and yet the parking lot is filled with trucks and cars. My eyes shift to the Baptist Church across the street.  It is a small, red brick building with a steeple and big white double doors adorned with cheery Christmas wreathes.  My mind wanders…

    It’s Christmas Day and it’s a Sunday.  I’m twelve years old and I don’t like Christmas falling on a Sunday. Don’t preachers know that kids don’t like to leave their Christmas trees, toys and nice warm houses to go to church on a Christmas Day?  My mom tells me and my siblings to stop whining; that we aren’t remembering the real “reason for the season.” My mom knows how to put a guilt trip on me.  She tells us we can all bring something we got from Santa to church, as long as it’s small and we behave with it.  I decide to show off my new watch.

We walk into the sanctuary and I’m utterly amazed at the size of the crowd.  Other parents must have dragged their children there too, because there are kids sitting down by their parent’s feet on the floor playing with their toys too.  I sit down in the pew next to my mom, deciding I’m going to act older and more grownup.  I notice my grandmother and grandfather sitting across the room.  Church still hasn’t started and I lift up my arm and point to the new watch attached to it.  I mouth, “Look what I got.”. She smiles and motions to me to come over and sit next to her.  I ask my mom if that will be alright and she says, “Sure.  Go ahead.”. 

I walk over to her like the teenager I am not, carrying myself like an older, wiser young lady who has on a watch any cool teenager would wear.  I’m fooling no one but myself.  Everyone in the room knows everything important there is to know about me.  Grandmother pats the chair next to her and I plop down and shove the wrist with the pretty, golden, Citizens watch in her lap, waiting for her to comment.  She picks up my hand, caresses the watch like it is a family jewel found on a fairy princess’ delicate arm.                                                       “Oh, Donna!”. She exclaims.  “That is the prettiest watch I’ve ever seen!”. I look up at her.  Her grandmother’s love is brilliantly shining at me and I realize I am old enough to know the difference between unconditional, glowing love and “putting up with” kind of love.  I grin up at her and say, “It is beautiful, isn’t it Grandmother? (I call her ‘Grandmother’ because I am older now and ‘Mamaw’ sounds so babyish.  

It is time for the service to begin and Pastor Kridel greets us and thanks us all for coming out on Christmas Day to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus. “Please turn in your hymnals to song number 111 and let’s stand and worship our Lord in song.” We stand together, me and grandmother, as the organist cheerfully blasts out an introduction to “Joy To The World.” I look up at her and wait for her to begin to sing first.  She starts, her shaky, older grandma voice plain, but never once off key.  I listen, letting her voice reassure me and I begin to join her…”Let heaven and nature sing.  Let heaven and nature sing.  Let heaven and heaven and nature sing.”Suddenly, I am so glad my grandmother is sitting next to me on Christmas Day at our church. We are worshipping together and I am wearing a princess watch.  It’s been over forty years since that Christmas and I can still hear her, singing in her no nonsense voice.  I don’t know what happened to the watch but the memory of her voice sounds like Christmas to me.

The sound of the ringtone from my cell phone startles  me out of my random thoughts.  “Hello?” I answer.  “Mom, how far away are you and Dad from Nashville?” Not too far now,” I say excitedly.  Yay!  Let the fun begin! Christmas on a Sunday.


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carol
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 04:18:49

    Just read your Christmas post and loved it. I have always been charmed by words that are artfully strung together and you do have a way with them. Though I have always enjoyed our brief encounters I feel like I am getting to know you better through your blog. Thanks for sharing it 🙂


  2. Carol Jones Shields
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 04:21:44

    Just read your Christmas post and loved it. I have always been charmed by words that are artfully strung together and you do have a way with them. Though I have always enjoyed our brief encounters, I am thoroughly enjoyed getting to “know” you better through your blog. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. My best to you and Bill 🙂


    • themuseinme
      Jan 02, 2012 @ 03:05:32

      Thanks, Carol. Glad you enjoyed reading my blog post. I’ve wanted to write for a long time and now it seems that I’ve finally found the time. Now that we live in North Carolina, we’ll have to see more of each other! Looking forward to it!


  3. Kelly Painter
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 13:02:38

    Donna, this brought tears to my eyes as I read it.


  4. alabamapeggy
    Jan 17, 2012 @ 01:26:13

    Donna, I’ve just read your Christmas blog again. I was especially touched by your memories of Isaiah 58. I still work there one day a week and have so many many memories of those young, old, and all in between coming, heads down, eyes diverted, asking for food, for diapers, for pads, for the things that should not cost them their pride. I want them to know how they are loved, how they should not feel shame, how “but for the grace of God go I.” I come home brokenhearted every week. Now we have changed our distribution to one day a month, so I will miss that contact that I had and the opportunity to hear their stories and to pray with them.


    • themuseinme
      Jan 21, 2012 @ 15:55:10

      I will always treasure my Isaiah 58 memories too, Peggy. There’s not a day that goes by that I do not think of them. I carry them with me in my pocket and pull them out when I need a reality check on life or to just to make myself remember how giving to others always makes my heart warm and happy. Put your memories close by and keep making and adding new ones to your collection!


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