Darkness surrounds the Christmas season. Lights are enhanced because of dark nights, dark rooms. The lightning of most of my holiday memories are dark. This is not bad or good, just stating the obvious. It is December, the month with the shortest day, the nights are dark. The silver christmas tree, in the corner, slowly circling with silver foil draped over the branches and highlighted with red and green christmas lights was a tree I liked and didn't like all at the same time. But Grandma Esther, she loved it all the time. It was clean, crisp, and in style and those three adjectives placed it on her favored list.
Esther was a small framed little woman as high as she was wide, stocky little lady with stocky little legs. She wore heels past the safety point of any elderly woman, beyond the obvious reasons to put them back in the closet. To be in style, that was top of her priority list. Every christmas you could depend on the never changing nature or character of the crisp, clean and in style christmas decorations. The elves, the hanging ball that moved and played a christmas tune, the nativity scene, the silver christmas tree, the glass candy dish and the hummels, all a part of the show. But not in excess - for that would not be classy.
I was not the child who could enjoy these objects completely without a fair share of contemplation. There was something melancholy about these decorations. The Christmas Red and Christmas Green were two colors that lured and irritated me all at the same time. Without a blazing fire in the background they simply lacked something. The little brain of this little girl never stopped. Only later in life did I discover my preferences, what I wanted to be surrounded by, and they were not red and green, at least for a while.
Esther and Boots had neighbors who lived in their former farm house. I will never forget one Christmas when they came for a "christmas" visit. It felt like my first horror show. We were all sitting in a circle ready for visitors. But No one warned me. No one had ever explained to me anything about special needs. NO ONE. The little girl wobbling into the room was obviously not right. Later in life she would be wheel bound but today she walked and headed right for me. She not only had problems with walking but she was mentally challenged as well.
She looked so different from other girls. She was scary with those thick eyebrows scanning from one side of her head to the other, drool hanging from her lips and her arms in a dinosaur fashion. She was making a slow bee line towards me and I was trapped, frozen. The pure fear that ran through my body was the beginning of fear at Grandma's house, nothing I had ever experienced in my five years.
Her arm reached out to the top of my head. WHAT WAS SHE DOING?!!!
My brain was racing. It was the curlers, she was going for my stupid curlers. My mom took great pride in my little crop of fine textured hair. She was either using Dippity-Do or plastic curlers to make my small amount of brunette hair do what she wanted it to do. Today, it was curlers. I HATE CURLERS! And the pull and small tug from each stupid circular pointy plastic hurt ten times more as this girl tugged on them. This felt like a slow motion movie, a very bad dream. It was haunting, and yet funny sad all at the same time.
I turned my head, and crawled into my father's arms, I couldn't look. The adults were chuckling, completely unaware of what I needed; just a warning and now a simple explanation of special needs. For all I knew I was hallucinating or someone had let in a monster. I simply did not know. I was embarrassed. But I was also mad, very mad at myself. For I knew she was human and I was being rude. I would learn her name was Donna.
From that point on going to my grandparents became a fearful thing. I would have nightmares and my grandmother would hop in bed with me as I would call out to her in the middle of the night. This was no small feat, it left me with very little sleeping room. That single moment, lasting all of five minutes, when she reached out for my curlers, was enough to make years of torment. I wrestled for many years with my fear of Donna.
But God in His mercy had me face this fear and as the years passed I too passed many moments with Donna and her single mother and brother. Donna's walking stopped, she was trapped in a wheelchair and her mother had a lifetime of diapers. Their Christmases were lonely and hard. I would come to know how many quiet, lonely moments, were spent in the their old drafty farmhouse, just the three of them. For many this season is a blur while watching others head fully into nostalgia. They long for beautiful nostalgia. But for them it all adds up to work, aloneness, and work.