Most of us have a cherished ornament that we kind of forget about during the months leading up to Christmas. It stores like a capsule of memories; a treasure trove of Christmases past. At the end of the season, when we sweep up the tinsel and ribbons, it goes back into its box to remind us another year.
So it was with Mom’s Christmas angels: a set of six gold-and-white cherubs, each holding a different instrument or symbol. One holds a candle. One holds a trumpet and one a little harp. Mom used to hang them near the top of the tree, to keep them from being knocked about in the frenzy of greed foisted by a host of wild-eyed children.
I suspect from a monetary standpoint, the angels aren’t particularly valuable, as they are made of plastic. To the base of each one is glued a “cloud” of acrylic fluff. The wings are white and-fan-shaped, like the tip of an artist’s paintbrush.
I find angels to be pretty fascinating subjects; long revered as the evolution of the earthly departed. Others argue that they are stewards to God, warriors and servants, and not the same as the souls of the dead.
Each year, as Mom unpacked the six angels from their original box, she would announce that she had purchased them the year I was born, and that they would be mine someday.
I didn’t think too much about it. I actually preferred ornaments that were handmade. Mom made beautiful crocheted bells and snowflakes. My little sister Amanda had created a funny soda pop ornament for me, complete with straw. She and I sat one year and glued a paper chain, linked in red and green, and I kept it even though it became squashed and mangled in storage.
The best part of the holiday season was the genuine joy in the preparation; the good will in gathering family and friends, the twinkling ambiance of lights, warm cinnamon and sweet baking cookies and pies. Although she always seemed happiest during the Christmas season, Mom could only tolerate a lot of company for short periods. Like a typical sugar buzz, she would be good for about three days, and then – watch out! Her turn of drama wasn’t always about me. But sometimes it was. Dad was my buddy, but I had a rocky relationship with Mom. I wasn’t a normal daughter. I didn’t like to cook or clean. I wanted to tramp around in the woods, go help drag the tree out, run to the hardware store for nails or washers or whatever Dad needed. I wanted to talk to him about books, and legends of our ancestors, and the habits of deer.
Sure enough, the day came, and the inevitable happened. I can’t even remember what it was about. She had lashed out at someone; not me this time, but for all of us, she laid waste to the aura of cheer.
I lay in bed that night, thinking how hard it must be to have mothered nine children and lost one at age two. I wondered if she thought of him, the lost brother, at Christmas. I was almost asleep, looking at the light from a crack in the door creating a beam over my head. It might have been just my imagination, but I could make out the spread feathers on a huge wing, arched up over the head of.. What?
I sat straight upright, but the image was gone. “That was weird!”
The next morning, I came down the stairs to find Mom standing by the tree, taking the angels off, one by one.
“What are you doing?” I said. “Christmas isn’t over!”
“I want you to have these.” She held the box out to me.
“Mom! Are you sure? Why don’t you keep these here?”
“No. I want to make sure you get them.”
The whole thing was making my hair stand on end. She knew nothing of my dream, or vision or whatever it was, from the night before, or how angels were now at the forefront of my consciousness. She could not have known. What had made her decide that THIS was the year to pass her treasured Christmas angels along?
I may never know the answer to that.
About a decade later, on New Year’s Eve 2010, Mom crossed over into Heaven. I still have the six angel ornaments, now fragile antiques. But I found a gold angel necklace to wear, year-round, to remind myself of that season. My one charitable thought in the midst of the upset, and then her generosity the next morning, led to a point of reference for me. It remains the most important part about that Christmas memory; a reminder of how we all have the ability to sift through the mix and select the gems to polish and keep.
Now, wherever there are angels, there is Mom.