Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Opal’s Recital

December 25, 2014 Leave a comment

A short story based in Bermuda.

I recognised her silhouette in the distance, down the narrow, tree-lined railway trail that I walked every morning before work. If I stick to my schedule and she to hers, our paths cross just after Cobbs Hill Road where overhanging branches form a leafy tunnel. There’s a wooden bench before the tracks open into the daylight again, and she often sits on it, resting. That Thursday, she held the back of the bench with one hand and her dog’s leash with the other. Corky pulled at his leash, eager to continue their walk, but his owner watched me as I approached.
“Hi, Mrs. Tucker,” I called out.
“Good morning, dear,” Mrs. Tucker said. “Another Bermudaful December day, isn’t it?”
I agreed. “I hope it will stay this way, so I can get in a swim or two at Elbow Beach over the holiday. Back home, I’d be building a snowman.”
“So far the forecast is clear and mild all the way to Boxing Day,” she reported.
I bent down to Corky, who wiggled and squirmed as I tickled his round belly. His excited doggie antics usually made me laugh.
“This will be my first Christmas away from my family,” I told her. “I just started my job, so I can’t get any time off.”
A white object caught my eye. When I stood up, Mrs. Tucker held it out to me.
“I thought so,” she said. “I wonder if you would humour an old lady and come for Christmas dinner. My daughter, Crystal, will be there with a couple of her friends and some others.”
She extended an envelope to me and I accepted it.
“Nobody should be alone for Christmas,” she said with a smile. Then she allowed Corky to pull her forward to continue their slow walk.

#####

A few days later, I stood on the doorstep of Mrs. Tucker’s Warwick cottage, mentally debating over the simple action of lifting the knocker to announce my arrival. I was still unsure about spending the evening with strangers, and I had backed away from the door just as it swung open.
“How long were you going to stand there? The door was open,” said a woman wearing an apron with a red-nosed reindeer on the bib.
“Merry Christmas! I’m Crystal,” she said.

She linked her arm into mine and escorted me to the dining room where the other guests were already seated at the long table. Mrs. Tucker had collected a hodgepodge of acquaintances and friends. When she made the introductions, she included the stipulation that we must call her Opal from then on. We shared the common element that we would have spent Christmas alone if not for Opal’s gentle persuasion. Among the group was a widower from her church’s choir, a newlywed whose husband worked in a hotel restaurant, a nurse, and Evan, a quiet man of no fixed abode.
After Crystal brought the last dish out from the kitchen, Opal stood to say the blessing. Without prompting, we each sought out the hands of our table neighbours to form an unbroken chain. Afterward, conversations resumed as we passed each dish family style until we had loaded our plates with selections from Opal’s extensive menu.
Leaning toward Opal, I asked, “Haven’t you ever wanted a white Christmas?”
“I’ve spent every Christmas of my life in Bermuda,” she answered, “except for one when I thought I should go somewhere else for a change. Somewhere with snow or neon lights or crowds.” She shook her head. “Not for me. I missed playing for the church cantata and carolling door to door. I love helping with the Christmas hampers and teaching my grandchildren to make cassava pie and sugar cookies. I used to love the smell of cedar trees but I’m used to these imported ones now. Besides, gombeys don’t dance in snow. Whenever I heard those drums in the neighbourhood on Boxing Day, I would follow them all over the place.”
One story led to another throughout the meal until Crystal shooed us from the dinner table.
“Follow me, everyone,” she said, leading us to the tree. As animated chatter swirled around the cosy living room, Opal cast a wistful eye toward her beloved instrument. A beautiful baby grand piano dominated the far corner of the room, its ebony lid supported a deep red poinsettia. Corky’s little, plaid dog bed was nestled under the piano, but he had abandoned it for parts unknown at the noise of our entrance. I wondered if what Opal most missed about Christmas was playing carols on her piano. She had dedicated her life to the performance, and then teaching, of music until her arthritic fingers restricted her ability.
Opal distributed the gifts, a small memento of our Christmas together. I unwrapped a CD by Bermudian musicians, a fitting gift from the former piano teacher.
“But we didn’t get anything for you,” Nina protested. The petite nurse seemed distraught that Opal gave so graciously but had not received.
“Your company is enough,” she answered with a gentle smile. The discreet action of rubbing her hands in her lap did not escape me, and I wondered if the rigors of preparing for her guests had pushed her joints beyond comfort.
For a few strained moments, we sat in motionless contemplation. As a recipient of the woman’s hospitality, I felt humbled and warmed. Crystal looked around at the sombre group, crossed the room, and sat on the piano bench.
“Remember my favourite song, Mom?” Crystal called out, glancing at her mother before turning her attention back to the sheet music. She gathered a willing quartet of guests around the piano and led them in a medley of carols. The group sang heartily while the rest of us joined in from our seats.
“The first Noël the angels did say,
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay . . .”
From a floral wing-backed chair, Opal nodded to the music, her foot tapped as if pumping the pedal feet of the piano. Away in a Manger followed It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, and then we giggled our way through an improvised Bermudian version of The Twelve Days of Christmas which changed the mood from meditative to boisterous. What would we have been doing if not for Opal’s invitation and open doors? A group of homesick strangers now well fed, joyous, and familial, surrounded by flickering candles and blinking tree lights.
“What’s your favourite song?” Nina asked Opal.
There’s a Song in the Air,” she replied without hesitation.
“There certainly is!” Nina answered. She turned back to Crystal, expecting her to play a prelude.
“I never played it as well as my mother,” Crystal confessed, flipping through a book to find another song.
“And I’m, well, a little out of practice,” Opal said with a stilted laugh. She lifted her fingers to show her knotted joints. She shrugged in resignation. “Old Arthur’s got me.”
Evan leaned over and covered the woman’s hands with his and studied her disheartened expression.
“Give it a try,” he coaxed. “I know you can play it this once. Have faith,”
Except for the appropriately placed ‘thank you’ and ‘please’, it was the most Evan had spoken all evening. Opal did not protest but pushed herself from the chair and walked to the bench. Her daughter stood and the two women changed places. Opal closed the song book and neatly stacked the music in a small pile on the edge of the bench. She paused for a moment, spreading her fingers over the keys, and the room filled with our anticipation. She played the first three notes gingerly as if reuniting with a friend after a long estrangement. No one sang. We waited.
The retired piano teacher—the virtuosa—delved into the song, forgetting her fingers’ stiffness, her apprehension and even her audience. I listened, hoping that, in this moment, with her fingers moving expertly across the keys with miraculous dexterity, she felt as happy as she had made me feel all evening.
And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing
For the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King!
When she touched the final key, we stood and applauded loudly, pleading for her to play another song. All of us except Evan, who had slipped away unnoticed. As I pondered over Evan’s sudden disappearance, I remembered my mother’s admonishment when I was a child. Always show kindness to strangers; by doing so, some have entertained angels unawares. Opal opened her heart to strangers and received an unexpected blessing. She was unaware that Evan had been a special guest. Not that she would have done anything differently.

Christmas Eve in Our Little City

December 24, 2013 1 comment

It’s Christmas Eve.

The stores are closing after weeks of Christmas-shopping hype and excitement. Weary salesclerks can go home to enjoy the holiday with their families after bagging, wrapping and providing gift boxes to countless holiday shoppers. Closed. The crowds are thinning out. Now is a good time to wander around the city and look at the window displays that creative types worked so hard on, displays that we have been delighted by from the corners of our eyes as we scurried by on our way to cross off the next item on our lists.

2013-12-19 17.38.55

The City is peppered with Christmas trees that twinkle with colorful lights, signs that proclaim “Peace on Earth” and fake snowflakes for those of us who live in areas where it never snows. I don’t mind that at all. The excitement that energizes the city wanes as shoppers stuff their packages into car trunks and onto bus seats. Don’t worry; the excitement will resurface in homes like yours and mine.

2013-12-19 17.43.16

Merry Christmas!

Day 8 – Christmas in Nazareth

December 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Dec 13

DSC_7604-Merry Christmas (531x800)

Nazareth was steeped in the celebration of Christmas when we arrived. Energy was high. People and cars raced from here to there, just as we do as we prepare for the holiday festivities. Vendors busily organized their stalls for the Christmas Festival.

Storytelling in the square

Storytelling in the square

A crowd of schoolchildren listened attentively to the story being told by “Santa”.

DSC_7608 (531x800)

At a nearby table, children concentrated on creating masterpieces at the crafts table.

Crafty kids

Crafty kids

Older students were more interested in socializing with each other and having their pictures taken by our group as we followed our guide through the narrow, winding streets after visiting the Church of Annunciation.

DSC_7625 (800x531)

Sadly, we would bid adieu to our tour expert, Mr. Ronen Khayat, this afternoon when we arrived at the border to cross into Jordan.

Ronen Khayat - Tour Guide

Ronen Khayat – Tour Guide

Ever since our arrival in Israel on Friday afternoon, Ronen answered a constant battery of questions, herded our group through the streets of Jerusalem and into numerous historical sites smoothly, not to mention kept us on time despite numerous attempts on the group’s part to slip into this shop or that for yet another souvenir. It’s not easy to corral a group of excited, camera-toting, sometimes disobedient strangers, but he conducted his duties gracefully. I appreciated his professionalism, patience, humor and dedication to ensuring that our experience in Israel was enjoyable and fulfilling. So here’s a shameless shout out to our super, efficient tour expert. Thank you for an unforgettable time in Israel that allowed us to open our eyes to the many facets of your country.

One of my favorite quotations is this:
If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay at home. (James A Michener)

Here’s to being open to travel.

Day 9 – Here’s to Relaxing

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

The City in Lights

No, you haven’t missed anything; I’ve skipped. The past couple of days have been very laid back, I’m proud to say. Finished a book I received as a Christmas gift in the company of a glass of juice, sunshine through my window, and the solace of an empty room. The book was a distraction just for fun, for the pleasure of reading, to proudly tell the giver that I’ve finished it already. I’m laughing at myself for reading The Cinderella Pact by Sarah Strohmeyer because I never embraced the Cinderella/princess thing. But I managed to learn a thing or two about dieting and the struggles some women face every day in their quest for love and acceptance. That’s something most–if not all–of us can relate to.

The book, well written and entertaining, inspired me to push my computer’s ‘on’ button and write. After walking my dog this morning through the railway trails, I returned home in a creative mood. Is this how Hemingway felt?

C’mon doggie, let’s go home. I’ve got some words to put on paper.

“Write until your thoughts dry up” was my determination. Did fairly well. Wrote for hours. Hemingway, however, made a living at it, and that’s where the similarity ends.

About my to do list. While I may not be making the progress that I initially anticipated, I am enjoying my freedom to experience and notice something new every day. They’re not big things. Just things that make me smile. Like Christmas lights. It is almost New Year’s Eve, and soon the lights will be gone for another year. I will miss them, but I will still have my vacation photos.

Day 6- Quiet Reflection

December 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Gombeys

Time for reflecting

We don’t have a tradition here of spending the day after Christmas back at the mall to return gifts. Ninety-nine percent of the stores are closed, and most people are just chilling out if they don’t have to work today or spending time with family and friends. It’s Boxing Day, a public holiday. I got a brief glimpse of the gombeys performing in a neighborhood with their colorful costumes and festive dancing–which is a tradition here.

Of one thing I’m particularly proud–tearing myself away from lingering at girl time with old and new friends to stick to my exercise routine. Zumba on Boxing Day? Now that’s a new one for me, but it was worth it. Yeah, me.

After the frenzy of the Christmas build up, it’s a good day for quieter moments. I have some books on my things-to-do-while-on-vacation list, and I plan to find a comfy corner, curl up like a dog on the sofa and lose myself in them, including the new book by a friend, “Sacred Thoughts“. Well, except for the work-related reading I must do; that’s not exactly comfy-sofa reading.

Now, who wants pie?

Day 4 – Google Gave Me the Giggles

December 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Bethlehem Scene at Church (Hubby's photo)

The Google homepage doodle wants to go caroling. I’m game; I love Christmas carols. I pressed all the little buttons–boxes–and each box changed to a Christmas animation. Cute. A bell, snowflake and snowman. Then a candle, gift and Santa. With all of the display in view, the doodle danced to Jingle Bells. I couldn’t help but giggle. Jingle Bells is okay, but I like Christmas hymns. ‘Joy to the World’, ‘Silent Night’, and ‘O Come, O Come Immanuel’. They focus my mind on the true reason for Christmas. The Google doodle celebrates with six symbols of Christmas. Perhaps ‘Xmas’ is more appropriate, since there’s no sign of the baby Jesus. But that’s okay, too, because Jesus is bigger than the Google doodle, and He’s not a baby anymore.

Standing in church singing songs that commemorate the birth of Jesus, the Savior, fills me with joy. To think that God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

Christmas Day is almost here, and my anticipation is building. Sightseeing has been halted, and shopping is finished. It’s time to read the real Christmas story (Luke 2) and enjoy the holiday.

Merry Christmas!

Day 2 – Bags, Bows and Kwanzaa

December 22, 2011 Leave a comment

When I was a kid the library was one of my favorite places. Its big, heavy doors always swung out wide to welcome me to any adventure I was willing to take when I wandered through its corridors of novels, magazines, newspapers and microfilm (does anyone remember microfilm?). I always felt at home in the library, a place I could lose myself and forget about whatever chaos was happening on the outside. Things are orderly at the library and mostly predictable. I can wander from the computer that replaced the card catalog to the bookshelves then to an empty table to study, use my computer or work on whatever assignment demands my attention.

Lately, however, with the convenience of the internet for research I don’t visit the library nearly as much as in the past. The library is a neglected old friend, I admit. My trip today was not the result of nostalgia or to gather information. I needed a diversion; I missed my bus by one minute. Since the next bus on my route wasn’t for another hour, I went to the library and used the opportunity to look for a particular book I am intereested in. I didn’t find the book, but I did find the Kwanzaa display, complete with the kinara featuring the seven candles respresnting the principles of the Nguzo Saba: unity, self-determination, co-operative economics, creativity, purpose, collective work and responsibility and faith. Bumping up to the Kwanzaa display, reading the articles, enjoying the African artifacts and reflecting again on the guiding principles added focus to Day Two of my vacation at home.