December 12th

Eighty-six years ago
they married

during the Great Depression
with war on the rise

they meant for the ceremony
to be in September
but he had the mumps

so the wedding occurred
on the twelfth of December
before the justice of the peace

she wore a blue suit

on the day after Christmas
she turned twenty-one

Every December after
he gave her
a red poinsettia

he knew
how much she loved them

Across the decades
she’d jest about
having nothing
to look forward to
the rest of the year

with her anniversary
Christmas
and birthday all
in the same month

December
for her
was pure delight

celebrations
of Light
and life

In the last years
when he was gone
I gave her
a red poinsettia
during the season

for the sight
of her face alight
blue eyes bright

Someone else gave her
a silk poinsettia
after she went into
the nursing home

once when I visited
she was watering it

We did not know
all those years ago
that their wedding anniversary
would become
National Poinsettia Day

I just learned it

how she’d love it

just another sign
that love is divine
and lives on and on
and on

My grandparents, on my first Christmas.
Love lives on.

Photo: National Day Calendar

Holly

History believed in your magic power
Object of healing and deliverance from evil
Legend made you a crown for Saturn’s brow
Lore of Druids: tree of eternal life, that lightning won’t strike
Yuletide of yore endures

The holly tree was believed to have eternal life as it remained green in winter when other trees appeared to die. It is a symbol of endurance. This lovely specimen grows by the playground of the school where I work. Stuff of ancient legends and lore aside, its merry, festive appearance is a spirit-lifter here on the cusp of winter break

Round yon December

a triolet for my grandmother

Come December, I’m remembering you
in the lights and silent night
—how years, like snow and feathers, flew—
Come December, I’m remembering you
at sight of ruby-red cardinals, too.
On the wings of the morning, all is bright…
come December, I’m remembering you
in the lights and silent night.

December is my grandmother’s month. She was born the day after Christmas, was married in the middle of the month at age 20, and died the day before Christmas Eve, at 90. She loved the season, children, cardinals, and the color red, symbolic of her name: Ruby. “Silent Night” was her favorite carol; whenever I hear it, she is near. Her home place and resting place are in the outskirts of a rural town named for the dawn… “on the wings of the morning” is borrowed from my favorite Psalm, 139, a hymn to the omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence of God.

The cardinal ornament in the photo was a gift from a friend yesterday. I hung it on the tree last night after choir practice with the kids at church. They’re singing “Silent Night” in the worship service on Sunday.

Grandma, you would love it all.

Sleep in heavenly peace.

Night wind

Leaving the church
in the dark
after the kids
practiced their carols

the wind whipped
sudden
and cold

sending dry dead leaves
skittering ahead
across the sidewalk

just an hour ago
the air was damp
and warm
after the storm

but now
in its last hours
November
is being yanked
like the open door
by a greater authority
on the other side

December
manifesting itself
majestically
galloping in
on the night wind
laced with
biting chill

underneath
the clear black sky
where bright stars and planets
are still

The Dark Of Night. MarcCooper_1950. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Anniversary of twelves

On the twelfth day of December, back in the Great Depression, my grandparents were married. My father was born the following October in a tenant farmhouse.

That’s my grandmother’s wedding band in the photo. It’s not the one she received on her wedding day. That ring was thin; it wore “clean through,” Grandma said. Broke in half due to overuse, in the days when washing machines had wringers, in an era of canning and preserving, in the time of sharecropping cotton and looping tobacco.

This is Grandma’s replacement ring. She had her initials and Granddaddy’s engraved inside, along with their wedding date. A wide gold band, made to last.

It is my ring now. I wear it every day.

Often thinking of December 12th.

For it’s not the only anniversary.

Almost thirty years after my grandparents married, their youngest daughter got married. On the same day.

She was eighteen. A senior in high school.

Her husband, my uncle, was going to Vietnam.

I went to that wedding. In utero. I wasn’t born for another five months. My presence was obvious; my mother couldn’t fit into the dress she planned to wear. She had to rush out and buy a new one that day.

My young aunt mailed black-and-white baby pictures of me to my uncle on his tours of duty.

He brought these pictures back home with him.

Fast forward three decades…

On December 12th, exactly sixty years to the day of my grandparents’ wedding, my husband and I learn that we will have another child.

A second son. Our last child.

My grandparents lived to see him and know him. To tell him they loved him, like they always told me.

It is a day of remembrance for me, December 12th. A deep and quiet knowing, a dark-blue glittering gem that I carry in myself in the middle of the holiday season. Meaningful. Valuable. Priceless.

I think of the long-ago Decembers. Family gatherings, celebrations. Layers of blessing. A blanket unfolding again and again to encompass the next generation.

I am a grandparent now; the mantle is passed.

It is one comprised of faith. Of courage and commitment. In it lies the story of persevering against unknowable odds. The Depression. Vietnam. In it I find strength for living now. I know that what keeps us pressing on is having someone to press on for.

Numerologists might wax eloquent on the significance of the number twelve, in all its powerful associations. We mark our time by twelves on the clock, by months in the year…there are ancient connotations such as twelve Olympians, twelve disciples, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve of days of Christmas… twelves go on and on. Twelve is considered the number of perfection, cosmic order, completion. Just now I recall that our second son was born in our twelfth year of marriage. I am not a numerologist, only a poet contemplating patterns. Not a mathematician, just a wonderer. A believer. Pythagoras is said to have said: “There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres.”

I sense a geometry in dates and a musicality to years…a song of life and the living of it. For me, this is the lesson of 12/12. There’s something of eternity in it.

Which makes perfect sense, if twelve is God’s number.

The song is love.

*******

Many thanks to Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life Story Challenge community.
And to readers…you’re all part of the story and the song.

What child is this

African Angel Boy. bixentroCC BY 

What child is this, who, laid to rest . . . .

Snow is falling. Huge flakes like white feathers shaken from the sky, a rare thing in the North Carolina Piedmont at the beginning of December.

Another rare thing: Today a former student is buried.

He was eleven years old.

I stand at the kitchen window, watching the snowflakes fall. Eleven years. That is all he had.

An only child. A latched seat belt—I can envision his mother reminding him—wasn’t enough.

I begin wondering about enough.

Did we do enough?

Nearly the whole of his short life was spent at elementary school. How much of our focus was data and test scores? Did he feel successful?

College and career ready doesn’t matter at all when you die at eleven.

Should it matter so much when you don’t die at eleven?

Were we enough? Did he enjoy coming to school, or did he endure it? 

I can hardly endure the heaviness of that thought.

The bleakness of the gray December day, but for the snow, matches the bleakness in my soul. On the television in the living room, Christmas music softly plays:

What child is this . . . .

He is Everychild now. Mine, yours, ours, all children, coming to school, day after day.

Do they have the chance to get out of the box, before they’re put in a box?

Do they have the opportunity to develop a hunger for knowledge? Do their teachers create dynamic experiences that empower the children to own their own learning? Or are the children starved for authenticity, their minds and days numbed by worksheets, by sameness, by constant assessment, by irrelevance, by teachers in survival mode, by hierarchical machinery?

Underneath all those wheels in motion lies the child. Motionless. Powerless.

Haunting that such a beautiful snow should pour on such an ugly day, for snow can mean many things beyond ice crystals. It represents death, yes, but also wisdom, purity, innocence, blessing.

Wisdom, blessing, and strength to you, Everyteacher, for Everychild in your hands. Strive for more than enough. For joy, for awe, for love-of-learning-for-life ready. There’s no way of knowing whether this child will live a hundred years, or just eleven.

What child is this, who, laid to rest . . . whom angels greet, with anthems sweet . . . .

Every minute matters.