Evening in Advent

Invitations had been sent for a little soiree after the Christmas concert, to be held at my house. Musicians always like to relax together after a performance. “What a great audience! Did you see the little boy in the elf costume? Santa was especially talkative this year.”

Wassail punch would be warm and festive on a cold December night, along with assorted sandwiches, my usual Polynesian crab dip, and the gorgeous chocolate cake I had been eyeing for months at the local bakery. It would serve at least twenty people, so this was the right occasion. I had never dared to purchase it before, but trusted it to taste delicious.

The house was ready: tree glistening by the fireplace, five stockings hanging from the mantel, and candles in place. Menu items were prepared and arranged on Christmas platters and bowls, with tiny labels on the dining room table to mark where each would be placed.

Then the snow began, just a dusting at first. It was beautiful, and I enjoyed watching birds at the feeder by the kitchen. Performance clothes were laid out and a hot bath waiting, when the email message arrived. “Concert CANCELLED due to inclement weather.”

Of course, this was a good decision for the sake of safety, as two children’s choirs were performing with the orchestra and many people would be driving on treacherous roads. As for the soiree, my house was ready, food in place, and Wassail punch fully prepared, just waiting to be warmed. A final to-do list lay on the kitchen counter—just three simple items. The beautiful chocolate cake sat on a silver platter anticipating hungry guests.

The evening turned out to be quiet and reflective, actually quite enjoyable. I was tired after all that work, and the snow continued to fall in its peaceful loveliness. I decided that getting ready for the post-concert gathering had been a meaningful process. And then it came to mind.

Preparing for a party is like Advent—anticipation of something very special, a time to prepare our hearts to receive the gift of the Christ Child. God’s own son would enter our lives, be a guest at our table, enjoy our company and the humble offerings we have for Him, and turn our lives around. He would impact the world as none other has done.

Fortunately, there was no cancellation of His birth so many years ago. Regardless of weather conditions and over-booking at the inns in Bethlehem, the Baby Jesus arrived safely. And the musicians performed. “Suddenly there was with the angel a heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men.’ ” (Luke 2:14)  Now that was a celebration, and it has been going on for more than two thousand years.

On that recent snowy night, one dear friend braved the weather and came by. We made a dinner out of the holiday party foods and cut two slivers from the scrumptious-looking chocolate cake. It was a perfect Advent evening!

Memories….

…….. of springtime as a young girl bring to mind images of my mother in the kitchen working at the little black featherweight sewing machine. Springtime meant Easter was approaching and we girls needed Easter dresses. Mother always seemed to find beautiful fabric that had been tucked away in a closet or wooden chest along with patterns for fancy dresses with flowing skirts, puffy sleeves, sashes, and bows that were just the right size or nearly right. She was very skilled at both altering patterns and sewing.

As Easter approached there were late night “parties” in our kitchen—pressing darts, setting in sleeves, basting lace, and measuring and hand stitching hems. My sister and I helped as best we could but mother did most of the work. When the dresses neared completion we tried them on for fit and then climbed onto a dining room chair and stood patiently as she moved slowly around us with a pin cushion and yardstick. Standing still was important with those prickly pins all around our legs!

A new dress for Easter was only part of the project; a flowery straw hat, black patent leather Mary Jane shoes, and white gloves completed the outfit. Our mother was a smart and practical woman and so we passed the hats down, if they hadn’t been sat upon, and  purchased the shoes at a special spring sale. However, in all her frugality she put aside the cost factor for the final item. There was no skimping on the beautiful fresh white gloves. Indeed, it was the gloves that added an extra touch of elegance and beauty to the lovely new dress, colorful hat, and shiny black shoes.

My how times have changed! The once-popular featherweight sewing machines are now found mostly in antique shops, little girls wear dresses and shoes made thousands of miles away in factories where the workers are children themselves, and white cotton gloves are worn only by magicians. Mother was very proud of her girls in their Easter finery as we sat together in our usual church pew, sang joyful hymns, and listened to our father’s sermon. She too looked beautiful and must have been very happy……. However, she would have had trouble pumping gas on the way to church in her pretty white gloves, if indeed a gas station had been open. Yes, things have changed.

Reflecting on Christmas 2015

My father is ninety-four years old and has dementia. He lives in the personal care area of a nursing home where he benefits from the quiet environment, predictable schedule, and friendly staff. Chattering birds and a fluffy guinea pig reside in the lobby and add amusement and life in a place where people are slowing down. Daily activities and devotions led by the chaplain enrich Dad’s days. He receives healthy meals served to him at the same table, in the same seat, with the same companions each day. He is content.

Christmas 2015 was special. My sister had planned a meal at a nearby kid-friendly restaurant so that family members of four generations could gather at the table. Dad was dressed nicely as I spotted him slowly crossing the parking lot in his usual cautious way.  He was fidgeting with his wallet when I reached him, which he found to be empty. I quickly gave him a few bills, believing he would feel good about that. I think he did. We found a nice long table in a quiet corner. The ambience was festive and the food tasted yummy.

An unexpected challenge arose when Dad began asking about our mother. He asked repeatedly “Where is Mother?” and eventually turned to me between bites of pecan pie and apple crisp to ask “Is she dead?” Indeed, our mother, his dear wife of sixty-nine years, died five months ago.

We had been advised to not talk with Dad about her passing. It made sense, since we could see that he would probably not progress through the grieving process to a state of healing. The news of her death would be a surprise each time. In the past months, we had all tried to gently skirt around Dad’s inquiries. There were a few times when I thought he may have grasped the reality and wanted to protect me from knowing our mother was gone. Dad had invented reasonable explanations for her absence. “She’s on a retreat and will return soon.”  ”She’s attending a meeting.”  Occasionally he asked if I had seen her.  I told him he will be the first to know when I see her.

Somehow Christmas Day was different from usual visits. The family gathering made us all very aware of Mother’s absence. Leaning closer and looking into his sweet eyes, I had to be honest and say “Yes, Mother is dead. She’s with Jesus now but we can feel her presence in our hearts. She’s still with us.” He seemed to understand as I answered his repeated questions. It seemed right to simply be honest on this day of celebrating Jesus’ birth. Indeed, the image of our mother with Jesus was beautiful and comforting.

Amidst the sad moments at our Christmas table, there were the joys of smiles and laughter, antics by the youngest children, heartfelt conversation, and a hobby horse direct from Santa’s sleigh. Dad ate a good meal and even had two desserts.  By the next morning he had forgotten all about Christmas. Breakfast time found him at his usual table, in his seat, enjoying coffee with his companions. The disease that causes his forgetfulness is also a blessing, and we are grateful!

Author’s note – I share this family story in the hopes that some readers will identify with the situation and be touched, others will become curious about dementia and seek information, and many will advocate for increased research so that brain health will one day keep pace with body health. I welcome your comments.