Thursday, December 6, 2012
Each Christmas season, Alivia and Lucas have enjoyed playing with my Nativity set, but I could not find it in its usual place in the storeroom this year. I then remembered that my brother-in-law had passed on my childhood Nativity set, which I had packed away with other family "heirlooms." Alivia and I took it carefully from its wrappings and I placed it on a table. It is obviously well-worn and missing figurines, but beautiful in my eyes.
As I look at it, though, I also feel a deep sadness. I am the only one left of my original family of six -- parents, grandparents and younger sister. We lived together in a small house in a rural community, and my childhood was happy and secure. It feels strange, though, to know that they are all gone. There is no one to tell me what happened to the missing figurines. There is a tiny ceramic Mary looking down lovingly at a sweet little ceramic Baby Jesus; she doesn't fit with the larger, unbreakable figurines. Are these two figures original to the set, and if so, I wonder if the remainder of these ceramic figures were broken or lost. I don't remember -- I felt a flash of recognition as soon as I unwrapped the little Mary, but only questions remain. There is no one alive now who knows.
This happens frequently -- this feeling that I can't quite put all the pieces together. Fleeting memories or names drift through my consciousness, but I cannot bring them clearly into focus. After my mother's death almost twelve years ago, my sister and I relied on each other to share the family stories and sift through the confusing memories that sometimes surfaced. Usually between the two of us we could somehow unravel the mysteries of long-forgotten names and moments. And then, in 2009, a month shy of her 53rd birthday, my sister passed away. Suddenly, I felt like an orphan. There is no one left to remember the little questions that come to mind -- where is Great-Grandma's portrait that hung in the stairway; who were the couple that our grandparents were friends with for so many years; where is my father's recipe for waffles; what happened to the Nativity figurines??
I miss them all -- my grandfather's teasing, my grandmother's soft, warm lap, my father's strength, my mother's gentleness, my sister's laughter. But, most of all, I miss the relationships -- of being someone's granddaughter, someone's daughter, and someone's sister, a continuity of sorts. There is a security in being loved just because you belong to someone -- because you are part of them -- and that security is missing. What I wouldn't give for a few moments again with each of them to ask the simple questions that have arisen, as well as the deeper questions that sometimes haunt me. I look into the placid face of my tiny Mary figurine and feel the pull of a long dormant memory that will not quite surface. Maybe the memories of this old Nativity set will find their way into my consciousness -- or maybe they, too, will remain just beyond my reach -- missing pieces of my past.