On Christmas Eve, 1992 the Smith family gathered for what was to be the final time at Grandma Smith’s house. With grandkids, great grandkids, and great great grandkids growing up, the numbers were “down” due to new commitments and travel. The traditional Christmas program at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church again had lived up to the staid Wisconsin Synod standard – the slightly over and hour gospel story presented in memorized verse by all the Sunday School classes, replete with song and choir hymns. The “Silent Night” conclusion brought many tears, then a crowded exit with children receiving the anticipated gift bag of goodies, some not so much, like that mystery piece of candy. The Smith gathering included an overheated living room, gifts for each, snacks and laughter, so much laughter. The night ended with carols sung in German to honor the family history.
One month later, mom was gone, passing in her sleep on January 25, 1993.
Last Wednesday, in search of a notebook, I came across a rough draft of a poem I wrote about her in the spring that followed her death. It sat these years in various storage with moves and life changes, seemingly waiting for this moment to share. I trust the movement of the Holy Spirit in my life and with that encouragement, I offer these old lines.
And plucks frets of crabapple,
Amplifies in strobes,
Slashing streaks, cracking
Between billowing smokes of cloud.
Splattering rain freshens cuttings,
Mingles into kitchen scents,
Streaks the panes.
Flashes spotlight mom’s photo,
Her head chin-rested on folded hands,
Elbows firm on the table top,
Straddling the Bible,
Her “shall not want”
“Fear no evil” Psalm perhaps adorning the page.
My mind travels to that Poynette time,
The swag lamp dim clinging to her kitchen.
Night stalk shadows creep lamp lit Main.
A Chevy tosses guttered puddles
Against the her picture window
Just a sidewalk’s width from the street.
Headlights dance with the dripping splay
Across her pane.
She flips a page, moves to bed,
A content pursing age-thin lips.
Death stole her sleep.
Now, rain drums,
Crescendos accompany harmonizing neon and lightning
Poles waggle, transformers fail –
A curtain drawn on the storm.
The picture has aged,
A bit of fade,
Her window lost off frame.
January chill displaced Christmas warmth.
The head, the hands, the Bible.
All the same,
But frost, fingernails on chalkboard,
Etches her panes.
Sis had seen her off to bed,
To her “How Great Thou Art” slip to peace.
A stroke took her to a new dawn
Left my anger in tangled, empty sheets,
In the empty rocker,
In the tucked away sleeper bed
Now harbored in my basement.
I glance to the storm,
Am reflected in the streaked dribbles.
Shoulder stiff to the frame,
Search across shadows,
Through my panes,
Into the walnut and white oak branches
To find her eyes,
Wrinkled with years,
Tinged with warmth,
The tease of happy on her lips.
A full moon would taunt shapes
Like white-tipped waves
On the Goose Pond edging the fields
Below Reddeman’s Hill.
Breezes would join cries of owls’ voices
Or chirrup with crickets along the fence lines.
I wish the dark
A black-holed everywhere.
I wrap in melancholy,
Wrap in the loose draped sheet,
Her lace work an intricate tat
Across long edges and one short end.
She left the frayed remainder for me,
My hand clutched to it,
My eyes on the night,
Through the panes.
The sharing brings a sadness, an easy to forget the Bible moment or two. She cherished that book, pages read daily and prayers ending each sitting – at the table, hands folded. In that I find those bygone Christmas’s. Each began in church, from the time of my birth in ’49 and from the time each of her children was born, Christmas began with Jesus’ story, at His manger in Bethlehem. For a while after ’93 mine did not. And I found the season empty. Jesus came and we celebrate as a church family, as a unity of belief in a gracious God who gave the gift of eternal life through His only son. I no longer have the melancholy, the sadness. My pane reveals a panorama of joyful life walking with Jesus and the Holy Spirit each of my remaining moments. That is very good.