Note to my readers: I had no idea, when Hurricane Matthew pushed water into our home, that my bride was making plans for Christmas.
As we dashed with flashlights, about lifting boxes, trying to raise furniture, and desperately trying to get everything above the rising water, her voice rang out from the bedroom.
“I got the angels up on a shelf,” she yelled. “If we have to get out, don’t forget them.”
Since I began writing this column years ago, many of you have been kind enough to request it every year. It’s embrassing in a way, that folks begin asking me in Novermber about the “Angel” column. Some say it’s even become part of their family traditions. I appreciate that, but I didn’t write it for anyone’s praise. I wrote it for myself, and for my mother, the late Lois Weaver.
As I always warn folks –if you want some of my twisted humor, blunt opinions, or odd logic, you’ll have to go somewhere else today. I’m leaving the politicians, the style makers, and the societal lemmings alone, since even they deserve a Christmas vacation.
Instead, please let me tell you about an angel in a trashcan.
The angel was found by a strong, stubborn woman named Lois. She was raising four children on her own. Times were tight, but they didn’t really want for much.
Still, Lois was worried about having Christmas presents. She worked one full-time and two part-time jobs. Work was hard to find in a resort town in mid-winter, when the north wind froze parts of the Potomac River and a light snow made everyone hope for a white Christmas.
Most of the town was shuttered and dark; it made the town sadder in many ways. The once-grand hotels had become frowzy and rundown. One by one the old houses, the stores, the boardwalk and pavilion she’d known as a bobby-soxer were fading away.
A handful of businesses stayed open through the winter – there were two grocery stores (she worked in one), a hardware store, a department store (where she also worked part-time) and a clothing store for the wealthier folks. They were all decorated for Christmas, and Lois enjoyed seeing the lights, even though the ice and snow were cold through her stockings and the heavy socks pulled up almost to the hem of a home-made skirt.
Her other part-time job was around the corner from the fire station, at a little one-horse weekly newspaper. She was trying desperately to learn how to write “real” news; the owner only let her cover the “women’s news,” which she hated.
The editor was also divorced; he lived alone up the river in an old farmhouse with a beagle named Driver. He was a skinny, lonely man who wore sweatshirts under his suits to stay warm. He knew and loved her children, who reminded him so much of his own son and daughter he couldn’t see anymore. Lois knew he had gifts for her kids, and she was wondering how she could afford to give him something in return, something that wouldn’t seem forward.
Lois cut down an alley toward the back of the department store, taking a longer route but one that would avoid some of the wind off the bay. The alley went between a line of fading summer-houses and the business district.
Her mother had invited the editor over to share supper with the family one night. Lois wanted to pick up a few more small decorations for the big Christmas tree, and maybe the ingredients for an applesauce cake. She thought the cake would be a good gift for the editor, and maybe it would help him put on some weight.
She was still thinking about Christmas presents when she spotted the angel in the trashcan.
The old doll didn’t look like much of an angel; it was a china doll thrown out with some other junk from one of the old homes. The paint was cracked, much of the hair was gone, and its legs were missing. The doll lay embarrassed in the trashcan, a body of stained white cloth stuffed with cotton.
The woman stopped for a moment, knocked the snow off the doll and quickly shoved it into her pocketbook, worried someone might think she was rooting through trashcans.
At the department store, she bought a dollar’s worth of decorations with her week’s lunch money – some lace, gold embroidery floss, and tiny pearl buttons. The manager happily agreed to let her work some more hours through Christmas.
That night she used the lace and a scrap of old silk to make a dress for the angel. The floss made a tiny halo, and tinfoil and cardboard made a perfect set of wings. She wove a loop into the back of the dress to hang the angel on the tree.
She also made the cake for the editor, and the extra hours at the store bought some things for her mother and the children.
The angel was a gift to herself.
She married the editor a little over a year later, and they had a son. For decades, her family always knew the Christmas tree was finished when Lois hung the angel.
Even when Parkinson’s and dementia made it hard, Mother hung the angel to signify the tree was complete.
The angel was misplaced on the first holiday after my mother died, but Miss Rhonda found it at the last minute and made sure Mother’s angel was on our tree.
Each year, I think I will send the angel to one of my sisters, either Becky or Sharron, so they can tell their children and grandchildren about the angel. They remember the year Mother made the angel. Yet I fear the angel might get lost in the over-decorating which helps both of them get in the Christmas spirit.
Next year, I think. I just can’t quite turn the angel loose this year. It’s hard to turn your back on a tradition.
There’s another tradition at our house, one I’m sure many of you share. We always watch Jimmy Stewart’s movie, somewhere along the line during the season. A couple of times in that movie, someone will repeat the old saying about an angel getting its wings every time a bell rings.
That may or may not be the case – but I can guarantee that sometimes only a mother can see an angel in a trashcan.