I shared the loss with my friend Kitty, and since we’ve endured many crises over the years, I knew she, of all people, understood my sadness. After a little discussion, she asked, “Did you ask Zeke about it?”
“Ask Zeke? Why would I ask Zeke?” For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why she thought a 23-year-old grandson would know where Baby Jesus was. Her reply puzzled me.
“Well, it seems that I remember that when you lost Baby Jesus before, Zeke helped find him – I don’t know why I think that. I just seem to remember something over the years about Zeke and the manger.”
“I can promise you I’ve never lost Baby Jesus before,” I replied. “I’ve lost the tree-top angel, and I’ve lost my mind, but never Baby Jesus.”
Kitty, being a really good friend didn’t argue.
A couple of days later, when Zeke was visiting, I couldn’t help but tell him about the mystery. He’s sensed this was an issue for me and after a few minutes asked, “Did you look in the attic?” I responded with an incredulous look and said, “Zeke, there’s not an attic in this house,” all the while thinking he must have had eggnog or something before stopping by.
“Not in the house, Gran Gran. The attic in the manger,” he replied in a tone that indicated he thinks I’m naturally blond.
The manger has a very visible hay loft where the Baby would have stood out like an aluminum Christmas tree. But, to be safe, I walked to the manger for another look. I had placed a tiny angel on a ledge hidden by one of the posts supporting the roof. I picked the angel up, peeked behind the post and behold! There was Baby Jesus in His manger, on His side tucked back in the space.
I was ecstatic – and then a little suspicious.
“Zeke, how did you know He was there?” I asked.
Looking like he did when I caught him hiding candy from his Granddaddy, he grinned sheepishly. “Gran Gran, I’m not saying I put Him there, but ever since I was little, I’ve always moved the manger people and animals around when you weren’t looking! Maybe somebody else has been doing that, too.”
We broke into affectionate grins as Baby Jesus was put in His rightful place and I gave Zeke a hug for solving the mystery.
Now that the manger mystery is solved, I’ve been able to really enjoy the holidays. My favorite thing to do is drive around at night and appreciate the enthusiasm with which home-owners decorate their yards. Sonja Hughes is one of those.
Christmas lights were very special to Sonja because her family didn’t have electricity until she was 7 years old. One of the thrills of her holidays was to drive past R.D. Simpson’s home in Randolph County, Alabama, and gaze with wonder at the Christmas lights in his yard — especially the manger. Sonja said she always thought he put out the display just for her and promised that when she was grown she would decorate her yard for neighbors and friends as a way to say, “Merry Christmas!”
It was around Christmas when I first visited her home and was delightfully surprised by the lighted, almost life-sized manger figures in the yard. I commented that it seemed she went to a lot of work for the little traffic on her road. Sonja just smiled at my observation and said this was her Christmas gift to her neighbors.
Since she lost her spouse, Charles, a couple of years ago, it’s difficult for her to be enthused about shared holiday traditions — like setting up the manger scene. Last year, for the first time, she had a bare yard. During the season, she received calls from friends whose holiday rituals included a drive by to see the nativity — some were adults who wanted to share their own childhood experiences with children and grandchildren. All expressed concern when there were no lights – no manger. Sonja realized the lasting impression she provided for friends and neighbors.
We all feel loss when traditions change. What I know for sure is that with a little help from friends and family, we’ll discover that what we think we’re missing has been there all along.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Sonja’s friends are going to help her recapture the real joy of Christmas – a manger to light up her yard and her heart. After all, without Baby Jesus, it wouldn’t be Christmas.
Garrett, a Carroll County resident, writes a weekly column for the Times-Georgian.