|My grandparents' bell looked like this,|
only with three angels around it.
The happiest Christmas memories I hold are being surrounded with the small family we had with lots of food, laughter and a few gifts for everyone.
These times are so precious because as long as we can still retain these memories, they give us light, hope and goodness that we don't always see the rest of the year. No matter what terrible things might have gone on otherwise, the negative was left outside in the cold for just a short while so we could all enjoy some peace and love.
For today's post, I'm not only sharing a story I wrote for an anthology many years ago, this is also a way to spark some inspiration in your Holiday writing. What memories do you hold most precious? What special traditions did you have and pass on to your own children? How did you fill yourself with the true spirit of Christmas?
Here is my story. I'd love to hear yours.
And if I don't get back on before Christmas (as we will be crazy busy for the next several days), I hope your day is merry and filled with that spark of joy we should all experience this time of year.
I loved Christmas when I was growing up. All of the mouth-watering scents snaking out from the kitchen hinting to the wonderful dinner to come. The laughter and low hum of conversation flowing through the house. My grandpa would always have a roaring fire that not only warmed the living room, but also elicited a firey spotlight on our stockings and mantel decorations. And I loved devouring the finger food, cheese platters, pastries and, my personal favorite, devouring my grandma’s melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookies. Grandma would never divulge her shortbread secret, nor could we find the recipe. But above it all, my fondest memories swirl around a beautiful music bell that hung from its designated hook on the left side of my grandparents’ fireplace.
The bell was brass with a thick woven golden rope tied into a sparkly tassel on the end. There were three angels on its belly, each with their wings spread wide and holding a harp at their waists. I always believed they were singing Christmas songs to God. At least that’s what my grandma said.
The best part was winding the music key and hearing “Silent Night”, fast at first then gradually slowing down until the winding key stood still. The golden flames of the fire roaring in the fireplace waved across the angels giving the illusion that they were dancing in time to the music. I rewound it over and over until my grandfather said, “Make that the last one, Dumplin’. Or you’ll tire ‘em out before Christmas Day.”
Grandpa bought it for Grandma for their first Christmas together. I never heard the whole story behind the bell, but every year when it came out of its box and was hung from its hook, my grandparents shared a look between them, a movie playing a scene from their past only they could see. I caught the moment every year, which was both beautiful and inspiring.
Many years later, after they’d both gone, my Uncles were assigned the onus task of going through my grandparents’ belongings, deciding what to do with all of their knickknacks. Each grandchild received a letter asking what, if anything, we’d like to remember our grandparents. I was very close to my grandparents and their death was excruciating for me. Choosing one special item of theirs when they hadn’t been gone very long wasn’t a task I wanted to think about at that time. But, in my heart, I already knew the one thing I needed.
Their Christmas bell.
It was a symbol of their love for each other as well as a symbol of what Christmas meant to each of them. The year I’d asked for the bell was the first without either of them. I knew it was going to take some time before I’d receive the beautiful ornament, but I was patient. I hadn’t seen it since the last Christmas my family was together at my grandparents’ house when I was in my early twenties. Having to wait gave me some time to prepare myself for the emotions I wasn’t quite ready to deal with.
By the time fall blew in, I’d completely forgotten about my request. It seemed like just as I was putting the Halloween stuff away, Christmas was nipping at our heels. My daughter, Jaimie, was almost three by then. She was old enough to understand and be more interested in the holidays. She just loved helping me decorate, even if it meant all the decorations were at the lower three feet of the tree.
A couple of days before Christmas Eve, the doorbell interrupted our masterpiece gingerbread house creation. Because we were several hundreds of miles away from family during the holidays, we received a lot of packages.
“Merry Christmas,” said our cheery postman. It was his second trip to our house that day. “Here’s another one from home. Enjoy.”
“Thanks, Joe,” I closed the door, preventing any more snow from sneaking in the door. The brown package was small and reeked like gasoline from its long truck ride. When I recognized the handwriting as my Uncle’s, my heart fluttered.
Could it be?
I ripped the package open like a child on her birthday and under all the paper and foam chips there were a few small jewelry boxes, a clay jug my grandmother had made and a small object suffocating in bubble wrap. The letter stuffed on top read:
Here are some items of Grandma and Grandpa’s we thought you’d like. The most precious of which, to you and them, is wrapped up tight.
I hope it arrives by Christmas.
Love, Uncle Rick
I stared down at the lumpy object left in the box. Part of me wanted to just grab it and rip it open. But another part of me was too nervous. My arms hung at my sides like heavy lead pipes, preventing me from touching it.
Jaimie stood on her tiptoes, straining to see over the flaps of the box. “Mama,” she whispered. “I see patach?”
My nervousness quickly changed to excitement when I realized I could share this experience with my daughter as the joy it brought rather than dwelling in the sadness of loss.
“Yes, of course, sweetie,” I brought the bubble wrapped treasure down to her level. “Why don’t we open it together, okay?”
She helped me remove the tape and slowly unwrap it. As the bell spun out of the packaging, I swore I heard each angel breath a sigh of relief. It was just as I’d remembered it. A little less shiny maybe, but just as beautiful.
As I wound it up I said to Jaimie, “Wait until you hear this, sweetie. You’re gonna love it.”
When I let go of the key, the music surrounded us. I closed my eyes and was taken back for a moment to my grandparents’ living room when I was the same age as Jaimie. I smelled the turkey in the oven, I heard the laughter of my family, I tasted the melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookies, and I saw the angels dancing to the music as the flames of the fire shone across them.
The key stopped moving and I opened my eyes to see Jaimie staring, mouth agape, at the bell just as I had all those years ago.
“Gen, Mama,” she squealed. “Music gen?” She reached up and ran her tiny fingers over one of the angels. “She sing dat, Mama?”
Tears pooled in my lower lids as I re-wound the bell. “Yes, hun. She’s singing the song. Let’s go hang it up, okay?”
Months earlier, I’d stuck a little hook under the left side of our mantle, just in case. We hung our bell on the hook and listened to the music over and over until I said, “This is the last one, hun. We don’t want to wear out the angels before Christmas morning.”
On top of welcoming the bell into my home, the recipe for Grandma’s shortbread was tucked into one of the jewelry boxes.
It was the best Christmas ever.
Merry Christmas to you too, Grandma and Grandpa.