What is it that makes the Holidays special? When you're a child, it's all about the presents. Santa Claus, reindeer, elves and magic...unable to fall asleep on Christmas Eve, the anticipation more energizing than the sugar rush from all of the goodies. Then, we grow up...and the world, with all of its ugliness, pushes its way in. Work. Money. Worry. Strife. The magic tends to get pushed to the side.
But, if you're lucky, little things happen over the course of your life that bring the magic back. And, like the ornaments that you save from year to year, you take them out every once in a while...you lift them gently, carrying them with as much care as you can. Those memories, you see, are far more delicate and fragile than the finest porcelain. They are made with gossamer wings and fairy dust, and ingredients even finer...hopes and dreams...and love.
Twenty-one years ago today I was at a big box hardware store, my two oldest daughters in tow. It had been a rough year. I was going through my second disability retirement. Money was beyond tight. Cherish had been pregnant with Lacy, our first child together. I had not been much help to her during a good portion of the pregnancy due to health reasons that would take too long to explain here. Needless to say, when she had needed me most, I had been unable to come through for her. She had, however, carried our beautiful baby girl to full term, and delivered her on the tenth of December. Now, as had become our way in life, we were scrambling to try and get things done at the last minute with no money.
Cherish's parents were getting the girls a really nice swing set. My second daughter was really into gymnastics at that time, and had made it clear that she wanted her own balance beam. My oldest daughters and I were at that store so that I could price out the remaining items that I would need to build the balance beam in the backyard. The four by four, cement and brackets had already been purchased, but I knew that I needed screws and nails, as well as a couple of tools that I didn't own. I had just finished pricing those tools, and discovered that there was no way that I could afford to buy even one of them, let alone all that I needed. Frustration, anger and self-loathing were just kicking into high gear when Crystal, my oldest, started to tug on my sleeve.
Crystal is an amazing human being. If you have never had the pleasure of meeting her, your life truly is not complete. Her praises are far too many for me to sing, but the two that come most into play in this story are these: she possesses no guile at all...she always says exactly what she means. And, like a dog with a bone, once she believes in something, and the rightness of it, she never lets go. Truly remarkable, when you consider what she has been through in her life. Anyway...
Crystal was tugging at my sleeve. I turned to find her holding onto a very pretty, very frilly, and obviously not cheap Christmas ornament. It was an Angel...a tree topper Angel. Cherubic face, delicate gown, and a little light held in between her hands. One look told me there was no way we could afford it right now...no way. Not even a remote possibility.
No one had told Crystal that, however. Money means nothing to her. No concept at all. I mean that in a good way. She's not impressed by what others have, or what things cost. With Crystal, it's all about what's right. Keep that in mind.
We have to get this angel.
Not today honey.
We have to.
Maybe some other time honey.
Her jaw was set in that certain way. I let her lead me to where she had found it. The shelf was bare, except for the box that the angel came in. It was, of course, the only one left. I picked up the box and looked for the price sticker. It was on the bottom: $25. Might as well have said $2500. Way too much money. No way we could afford it. I tried to explain that to Crystal. Useless. Finally, I just took it from her and put it next to the box...took both girls by the hand and started to lead them away. That's when Crystal got me.
Look Sis, I said no...now, let's go.
We have to buy it.
Not today...maybe we'll come back for it.
I said that knowing it was a lie.
We have to buy it today...it's the only one.
Look, sweetie, we can't today, OK? We'll think about it, and maybe...
We have to but it for Lacy. She's our little Angel. God sent her to make up for the one he took.
I had to stop writing for a minute. Crying. That memory is still so strong...so fresh...
I can't tell you why Crystal said that. It's too personal. That is one of the memories that is so fragile that I fear it would crumble in my hands if I ever took it out. But when she said it, I instantly knew that Crystal was right. I lead them back, put the angel in the box, and took it with us to the checkout stand. I told Cherish the story when I got home. We both cried. It went on the top of the tree right then.
The next year started a new tradition. We had always decorated the tree as a family. Now, when we were done, Lacy was hoisted onto my shoulders. It was to be her job to place the Angel on top of the tree. I don't remember how she did that first year. I do remember each year after. We would always tell the story of how we came to have that Angel, and Lacy loved the story. What Lacy was too young to realize was that Crystal had been prescient beyond human ability. You see, Lacy, it turned out, actually was an Angel...
She has made a difference in more people's lives than I can count. Those people know who they are: they know what Lacy means to them, and the changes that she made in them that no one else could. Those stories are precious to each person, and are not mine to share. What I can tell you is this: The impact that Lacy has had on so many lives is not because of things that she has done. She has had that impact because of who she is. Inside. In her heart. I can tell you this...I believe she added years to my Dad's life. The joy that she brought to him...sorry...can't do it.
We still have that tradition. Every year, that Little Angel is the last thing to go on the tree. Every year, I put Lacy on my shoulders and lift her to the top. She places it, and plugs it in. Its little light shines down on all of the special ornaments, lots of them made by the kids over the years. It shines like a beacon, greeting each person who comes to our home with love, and hope, and dreams...and magic.
I have a feeling that I won't get to put Lacy on my shoulders this year. Not because of the degenerating discs or busted shoulders. The heart attack in January may have made last year my final one for lifting. I hope not. I'm going to lobby to carry her again...but I wont argue too hard and spoil the occasion.
No matter how it goes up there this year, I will relive each year from the past as it is placed and lit. Especially the first year...the year that God sent us our Little Angel, and that Crystal saw her for who she truly was.
Lacy's light shines on all who come into her circle. It touches them with warmth...and hope...and dreams...and love...
I love you, Little Angel