Saturday, December 24, 2011
Angels, Roaches, and a Christmas Child
by Lorilyn Roberts
I never thought roach droppings would become one of my favorite Christmas stories. But stories have a way of writing themselves on our hearts.
Each year my sister Paige invites all of us to her house. We sit around the dining room table where odd knickknacks are transformed into lovely Christmas decorations. Paige is an artist, and it’s a good thing for my daughters. Most of my art projects never go as planned. I always miss an important step and my results are memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.
Last year all the cousins created angels to hang on our Christmas trees. The ornaments were dressed in white lace, had feathery wings, and a red rose dotted the front collar. Instead of halos, the kids crowned the angels with macaroni noodles.
Joy, my youngest daughter, proudly hung her angel on our tree. Christmas came and went. January rolled around, and I packed the ornaments away in our attic for another year.
Last week I climbed up into the attic to pull out the Christmas decorations. Joy set up the tree and I opened up the first container. When I unlatched it, dozens of roach droppings littered the bottom of the box. A few tumbled out onto the living room floor. Several ornaments had brown pellets clinging to them. I was quite repulsed, only slightly less than I would have been if live ones had scampered out.
I fetched the vacuum cleaner and vacuumed up all the droppings. Visions popped in my head of hundreds of roaches crawling over my beautiful ornaments. How many roaches would it take to make that much crap? I cringed. Living in Florida has its dark side.
Then Joy cried out, “Mommy, my angel has no hair.”
“What happen to her hair?”
“I think the roaches ate it,” Joy said.
We broke out laughing. The roaches had spent the summer feasting on the macaroni hair of my daughter’s angel.
As I think back to my fondest Christmas memories, many of them are also quite eclectic. There was the Christmas in downtown New York when we got trapped inside a car on fire. The electric windows were stuck and my grandfather smashed the driver’s side window with a suitcase. Mother pulled me out through shards of broken glass. Sirens blared and emergency lights flickered in the cold night air. We never did get to see the lighting of the tree but spent the evening in a fancy hotel.
Later Mother told me a Hollywood director was there for a children’s beauty pageant and had pleaded with her to let him take me to Hollywood. Sometimes I wonder if I missed my chance to be the next Hayley Mills (who I was often compared to when I was young).
My most vivid memory from that snowy winter was Christmas Eve when I heard Santa’s reindeer pounding on the rooftop of the apartment building. It was a loud swishing sound followed by gallops. I didn’t believe in Santa Claus until that night. I lay in my warm bed imagining what Santa and his reindeer looked like. I wanted to jump up and peek out the window, but I was afraid if I saw them, he wouldn’t leave me presents.
The next morning I ran to the window and looked below. To my surprise, there were large sleigh marks in the snow. I stared out the window for a long time.
I’ve thought about that more this Christmas because of a strange conversation over Thanksgiving dinner. I asked my brother’s wife if their children still believed in Santa Claus. I shared my experience at my grandparents’ apartment when I was young, but mentioned only the part about the sleigh tracks in the snow.
Mother said, “I saw them, too, and heard Santa land on the roof.”
“You did?” I asked surprised. “I also heard the reindeer hoofs pounding on the roof. The swishing sound woke me up,” I added.
Silence followed as we thought about the strange coincidence. Sometimes I wonder if God allows fanciful moments to bring comfort to children. Maybe that’s what I needed at that time—to have something to believe in.
Many years later I was in Vietnam on Christmas Eve to adopt Joy. Christmas music wafted through the streets of Hanoi. The beautiful lyrics filled the nighttime air. I rejoiced, so far from home, realizing nothing can silence what God proclaims from the mountaintops—or loud speakers hoisted on poles in a communist country.
God’s love reaches to the ends of the earth—in Nepal and China and Haiti; in Israel, where shepherds tend their flocks on the same hill that angels proclaimed glory to the newborn King. If we did not speak of the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, the rocks would cry out. Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Everlasting Father. The greatest gift of all came through the birth of one small child.
Joy’s hairless angel hangs on our tree this Christmas. All the gifts will be opened Christmas morning. I will eat far too much chocolate and then bemoan the five pounds I will gain. I will make my usual promise to start exercising on January 1, which I will probably break by the middle of the month. We will enjoy all the traditions that this wonderful season brings, full of joy, giving, and love. Then the ornaments will be taken down and packed away until next year. Hopefully, the roaches will find something else to eat besides angel hair. Life will resume its regular course, and I will be glad for the start of a new year.
But for now, during this joyous Christmas season, I will pause to reflect on the gift of the baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, knowing someday, too, I will bow before the new-born King. And, just maybe, there won’t be any roach droppings there.
This article was just published in the anthology CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS WITH...MEMORIES, POETRY, AND GOOD FOOD, edited by Donna Clark Goodrich