Our Christmas celebration this year will consist of Candlelight Service (maybe with Sister), an actual sit-down dinner together and all three of us taking a restful day off work together, probably with popcorn and Netflix, maybe darts.
The plan was in place. Sister and I left the house together to do the last minute shopping before Christmas. This was an event. I’ve missed her. I see her every day, but she’s mostly been away for a few years. Discouraged, disappointed, heartbroken, confused; essentially shattered, she holds the pieces of herself so tightly she can hardly do anything else but work. People we love often hurt us at some point and knocked us down at others. I get it.
Sister, Opal and I move about in the world and live our lives together from behind our walls. Occasionally, I can’t contain the spirit inside me. It escapes and preys upon any unwitting subject on my way. Sister and I both felt it coming. “Let me get that door for you…” and the next thing you know I’m engaged in conversation with a friendly, talkative, complete stranger. Sister usually loathes it, but being so far from friends and other family too she understands – and suffers through my social gushing.
Happy to be out, invigorated by the warm Texas December weather, we were on our last stop for the day. A seemingly familiar woman approached the door the same time we did. Feeling I actually knew her from somewhere, and even if I didn’t, I greeted her cheerily and sprang to get the door for her. “Good afternoon.”
As if she didn’t notice us before the lady straightened very slightly, and as I swung the door open and stepped aside, she looked me in the eye as if she saw into my soul, “Oh, thank you, Baby. Good afternoon” she replied warmly, then turned to watch where she walked. Something clicked – I didn’t know what. I didn’t care. I felt alive and fully connected to the world again.
The lady adjusted her large purse and a hobo bag as she reached forward. The interior door opened into the vestibule so I awkwardly stepped around her to hold that door open for her too. I was probably overreaching, but I had to. She was one of those strong women, knowing her actual age was tricky, but the touches of grey in her hair and brows told me she was slightly older than I, but fit and sharp, if slightly preoccupied.
With that she looked into my face again. Entirely unintimidated – and unannoyed, she responded, “Why thank you, Baby,” She said “Baby” again, but as if she knew me. She seemed to start to say something else, but nodded and began walking away. Strangely, my heart wanted me to walk with her, but noticing Sister’s expression I checked myself not wanting to seem patronizing or just plain crazy. Instead I said, “Of course. You have a wonderful day. Merry Christmas.”
She’d started to walk away, glanced back saying, “Why, God bless you. Merry Christmas,” as she stepped toward the back of the store and out of sight.
Sis and I shopped around looking for a nice little something to put beneath the tree; a two-foot paper and wire figure sitting on the now vacant television cabinet in the den. We searched around for one of those special finds, and wound up looking through blouses; something I never do. I can’t wear off the rack without alterations, but Sister can wear whatever she wants. To make her happy I went along enjoying the feel of the fabrics.
“What are you looking for today?” came the voice from behind us. I turned to respond and was delighted to find the lady from the door. Now smiling broadly, wearing a plush red and white Santa hat on her head and a lanyard of keys and key cards around her neck. As she wandered away I finally recognized her; polished orthopedic shoes, black patterned stockings over support hose, a stylish, upscale, conservative skirt, comfortable, but immaculate. A shell and cardigan tastefully accessorized, every hair neatly in place; she was a Momma.
Not somebody’s mother, though she possibly was, she’s a Momma. You’ll find her at the job, at church every Sunday and mid-week service, at the local free day care, senior care center, food pantry, often a volunteer at the local hospital or hospice. You see it all over her, confidently owning whatever space she occupies. Calm, collected, always busy, but quick to help wherever she can. She never misses the slightest nuance, takes life head-on, living comfortably, modestly and entirely in love with people.
Over the years Mommas were my lifeline. When I commuted into Los Angeles for work, stuck in traffic, my boys knew to go to the church office where Momma D volunteered every afternoon. She’d take them in, get them started on their homework and usually have snacks when I got to the neighborhood, late and panic stricken. “Don’t you worry, Baby,” She’d always say, “They’re good boys. You can remember me when the offering plate comes around.” A Momma.
As a missionary, the only pink face in a volatile neighborhood, Momma Gen would often be “taking a walk” (in her house slippers) when I left the building to walk home after dark. Nobody messes with a Momma.
Working for an inner-city grass roots community center, putting in 50 hour weeks, Momma Cece would bring plates of dinner for the boys and me at least twice a week, knowing I wouldn’t have time to cook a dinner. That’s a Momma.
Sis and I kept sliding hangers. “Momma Burke” (we’ll call her as she didn’t wear a name tag) held out a blouse to each of us. “These colors are perfect for you two and they’re very popular.” Before I could gracefully refuse, she said, “It doesn’t cost a thing to try them on and it’s good to try something new once in a while.”
You don’t argue with a Momma. Sister stared me down as I took the beautiful blue, flowing top and stepped toward the fitting room. I smiled back at her saying, “I’m going for it, You might as well too.” Momma Burke pushed the rusty red shirt at Sister saying, “Now don’t waste time thinking about it. The store is going to get busy fast.”
Moments later I heard Sister gasp in the room next to me. Both the blouses were perfect.
Sure enough, when we stepped out of the rooms the store was full and noisy. Momma stepped up out of nowhere, smiling. “I knew you’d like ‘em; the colors suit you both and you can either dress them up or down.”
Sister agreed, thanked her and wandered away. Clearly she was ready to leave. I thanked Momma and explained I liked the blouse, but it isn’t in my budget until January. “Did you even look at the tag?” she asked, giving me “that look” over her half-frames. I hadn’t.
It actually was that rare find from the clearance rack. A second by most standards, but on me it draped perfectly, for $5.61. I almost giggled. Momma just smiled and went on to help other customers. I wanted to hug her tight but taking the other blouse from the returns rack, hurried to catch up with Sister and bought both blouses.
We practically flew through the rest of the shopping and were home before we knew it.
I couldn’t stop thinking how God places exactly the right people in my life at the perfect times. I’d longed for something new to wear for months. With bills to pay, paying gigs scarce, I’ve made due with what I have. What I have often isn’t a big deal. But it is today.
As I readied for Christmas Eve the next day, the mail brought a cash surprise. Immediately I thought of the leggings Sister wanted – and Momma Burke. I couldn’t get to the store fast enough. I found the leggings straight away and then went to the fitting room to find Mrs. Burke. The woman that also worked there yesterday was absolute that she’s never seen anybody over twenty-something working in the store and she’s worked there almost two years!
Perhaps Momma Burke is a new hire starting late into Christmas season. Maybe not. I won’t be surprised to confirm sometime in the future, that Momma Burke is one of those angelic beings that appear and vanish when we actually need a little special help. I shall look forward to seeing her again wherever it happens.