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  • Carolyn Lackey

Presence

This word has been lounging around in my brain since mid-November with its hands tucked behind its head and its feet propped up on my prefrontal cortex. Presence. Then, this morning, I read the story of Jesus calming his disciples in the middle of a stormy sea. His words were simple. "Don't be afraid, guys. I'm here." I'm fully present.


I remember cooing "Momma's here...Momma's here..." to my babies when they woke up in the night crying. As I lay beside the Meems during her last days and hours, every little while I would softly whisper, "I'm here, Mom. Your daughter, Carolyn, is here."


You're not alone. I've got you. Presence is pure and simple and comforting.


I am not ashamed to admit that I start decorating for Christmas just after Halloween. She who decorates the house, buys & wraps gifts, and prepares celebratory meals gets to decide when the Christmas tree will be lugged down from the attic and plopped into its stand. It takes me about five days to transform the house because I like to take my sweet time. Each time I open a red and green tub, memories of Christmases past fly out into the air and begin circling my head like sugarplums.


Grief can weigh down mightily during the holidays. The pang of sadness lurches about waiting to strike when I remember all who will not be present. A ragged handwritten recipe for that green bean casserole topped with Durkee onions can squeeze the heart tight. My happiest childhood memories are linked to Christmas mornings on East Neal Street in Carthage, Texas. Those mornings began while the roosters were still enjoying their REM sleep. Grandma and Grandpa Kinzbach were early risers. They drove their mint green sedan across town to our house in the dark to make sure that they were there in time to see us walk into the living room rubbing our sleepy eyes and squinting into the glare of the spotlights affixed to Dad's super 8 camera.


Those Christmas mornings turned into Christmas afternoons when the out-of-town family would begin to pull up in front of the house bringing yet more presents and good cheer. Somehow Meems soldiered through the day on just a few hours of sleep. She set the lunch tables with her best dishes, cloth napkins, and sterling silver. A turkey would magically emerge from the oven leaving space for a vast pan of cornbread stuffing awaiting its turn to bubble and brown.


The kitchen on Neal Street was tiny. Aunts crowded around the little bits of counter space chopping fruit for fruit salad and giblets for the gravy. An uncle or two was bound to come wandering in to lean against the kitchen sink to chat about random sweet nothingness. Nieces waltzed in begging for help getting a new Barbie's blouse over its head and arms. Energy-charged nephews raced through with pop guns as they cleared the house of pirates and marauders of all various ilks. Before the meal, a blessing would be said thanking God for the birth of Baby Jesus. The feast would end with singing Happy Birthday to Uncle Jimmy who shared Jesus' special day. Those Christmas days loom large and sweet in my memories.


This year in early November as I climbed up and down the eight-foot ladder tucking ribbon in around the branches of the tree, I thought, "I am getting too old for this." As I straddled the kitchen sink on tiptoe decorating my sugarplum garland that frames the window, I thought, "I am getting way too old for this." During one journey up the ladder, I thought of the "good old days" when Alan and I would just show up at Mom's house on Rockview in Waco on Christmas Eve with toddlers in tow. She would be waiting on the front porch for us. Inside, we were greeted by the warmth of candles, her beautiful pink, pale blue, and teal decorations, stacks of wrapped gifts, Christmas tree cookies with sprinkles, the Ray Conniff Singers singing Jolly Old Saint Nicholas, and the promise of a delicious Christmas Eve dinner. It was nothing short of magical.


All these years later, the torch has passed. To me. I am Mother Christmas.


Digging through the red and green Christmas tubs, I found myself longing to travel in time to spend just one more Christmas on Rockview Drive. I could feel the softness of the freshly washed sheets in the back bedroom where I had the luxury of sleeping late each morning. Meems was there. She and the boys were gathered around her breakfast table munching on eggs and toast. She had my back.


When I set out the nativity set she purchased at the dime store in Carthage way back in the sixties, her presence surrounded me like the sweet scent of the frangipani candles she saved especially for Christmas. Thinking of the joy Christmas preparations gave her helped me focus on delighting my own family with all of the "things." I soldiered on.


With each treasure I carefully extracted from cloaks of white tissue paper, I began to see her. She was everywhere.


The nativity of my childhood.

A pink Santa from her tree.

The stamp that she carefully carved her first year of marriage.

I placed her favorite little Swedish girl on my bedside table.

As I decorated all the nooks and crannies, I didn't feel sad. I felt loved. Affirmed. Hugged. Comforted. Grateful. Most of all, I felt her sweet, sweet presence. And, I basked in it and breathed it in slowly and deeply.


"Mama's here."


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