The other evening, coming back from the mall, my arms loaded with parcels, the air descended on me crisp and cold, and when I blew warm breaths, puffs of smoke appeared in front of my nose.
When I got home, the scene outdoors, the sweet aroma indoors engendered a perfect memory. I realize that a perfect memory might not be the same for everyone. For me, the recall came loaded with color, sight, sound, and even scent. Sometimes when the light that flashes on memory is bright enough, more than one small corner gets explored. The revelation usually gives birth to many questions that pair up with answers just as quickly.
As a child, I hunted, craved and expected miracles. Why? I guess the story of Brother André curing my father’s heart murmur and shortness of breath always made me smile. Then, there were all those miracles Jesus performed while he walked on Earth, and, of course, those he continues to fulfill. And around Christmas, this topic was brought forth by my mother, my father, and the priests when we attended church once a week.
Then there was the time when a friend of my father’s, a priest, Aurel Plourde, came to dinner and performed a miracle of his own.
I was four years old at the time, plagued with warts. I had already been to the hospital twice in one year to be put to sleep for a doctor to burn my warts. You see, the sweet little bumps grew inside my ears and in my nose and were too numerous on my hands and feet to remove any other way. Each time I would cry not to go, and each time I returned, I was happy for the painless runs in the field, and the smooth rides on my tricycle.
After dinner, Aurel Plourde, dressed in his black cassock, invited my sister and me to come forward to get his blessing. Of course, I refused outright. In those days, I was afraid of whoever wore the color black. So, my sister went to see him, but I stayed pat at a safe distance. My mother explained about my warts and the fact they had forgotten a big one on my left index, and Aurel offered to bless it for me. Still, I refused to go closer. I remember his almond shaped, dark eyes. They bore into me without success. So, he said he would bless me, and to not look at my finger for three days, the time needed for the wart to disappear. He also assured my mother that I would never have another, this after the doctors said I would suffer from this all my life as I lacked something to fight something.
Three days later, I was playing in the ball field, not allowed to go there but drawn to the spot by my love to watch the college boys and girls play ball, and I caught one of their throws and threw it back, not far at all. But when I stared at my left finger, I noticed something different. The wart was gone. And I never had another wart since. By the way, this friend of my father later became the Archbishop of Ottawa, in Ontario Canada. Some powerful men do have kindness to spare.
People all around me called this a miracle. “Aurel performed a miracle,” my mother would tell anyone who wanted to listen. My grandmother said I had performed the miracle because I believed. I held my tongue but did not agree with her. What would be the fun in that? Fulfilling our own miracles! Still, the thought stayed with me all these years, no doubt empowering me in my hours of need. The preamble explains why I was a child who hunted and craved miracles.
Christmas was in the air, and while I still believed in Santa Claus at four years old, I had long since stopped waiting for him to bring me what I wanted, a little red wagon. One where I could put one knee inside while I rode around pushing with my other foot and directed it with the long, metal handle. I wanted roller skates and a bat and baseball. I was slotted to get dolls and tea sets.
Perhaps this was the reason I asked my mother to bring me to Midnight mass with her. I had heard a lot of praise about the ceremony. She said I was too young, and that the whole celebration lasted almost two hours, and this would be too tiring for me. I begged to go every year. At six years old, my father convinced her to bring me with her. I couldn’t help but wonder what miracle was on the premises that she might not be able to share. Some mystery would transpire that I might be too young to understand.
When I strolled with my mother down the aisle on Christmas Eve, my gloved hand in hers, I stopped in the middle of the aisle. My black patent shoes ceased their clapping, and my heart beat in my chest. The grandeur of the church paralyzed me. I could smell the sweetness of the burning incense, listen to the organ’s timbre loud and imposing, and in the background, the melodious chants of Gregorian Hymns rising from angelic voices. Christmas decorations abounded, and people entered the pews in their most beautiful attire. The graceful elegance of my surroundings struck awe in me.
“Come on Joss.” My mother tugged on my hand gently. I followed her down the aisle and into the pew, two rows from the front. My mother and I were alone since my father stayed home with the other children. And being the eldest of four at six years old, having my mother to myself was rare indeed. Still, I searched with my eyes and my senses to understand what miracle would occur here tonight that made so many people leave the comfort of their home in the middle of the night. Year after year, they came and rejoiced, abandoning their turkeys in the oven to be basted by others, their pies on the counter defrosting, their vegetables in a pot peeled and pared and ready to cook.
I sang the songs with the parishioners, and my mother looked down at me and smiled.
When I looked up, I saw how peaceful she appeared to be. Usually frowning about all the work she dedicated herself to doing, running here and there, forever cooking, scrubbing and cleaning, I rarely caught my mother laughing or smiling. If I did, the memory quickly faded. I’d never thought of her as happy or unhappy. Perhaps not even as a person like myself. She was the mother, the woman who took care of us.
So, for the rest of the ceremony, I divided my time between ogling the altar, and what went on there, and staring at my mother. I caught all sorts of emotions painting her expression that evening. Delight, love, sweet gentleness, and a strange communion with what transpired around the altar.
Overjoyed, her face and eyes appeared angelic, and for the first time since I could remember, I smiled and shed a few tears I quickly hid. Discovering my mother’s beautiful soul became my Christmas miracle.
Merry Christmas, everyone. May you find your Christmas Miracle! And to all a good night!