Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass- it is about learning to dance in the rain.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Christmas Tales
"The Burning Cloth"

Once upon a Christmas, a beautiful hand crocheted lace cloth graced our Yuletide table. It was eventide and the meal was complete. Plates had been removed, glasses carried to the living room for use while we opened presents. The dishwasher was loaded, dessert was set out on the buffet for later, and the dining room still had candles burning. An entire array of candles flickered amidst the greenery on the mantle. On the now empty dining room table in the center of the handmade all cotton tablecloth, two tall slender nutcracker candles continued to burn. Now these candles were the kind one buys at the dollar store, they were painted (probably with lead paint), not dripless, not long-lasting either. What can I say?? They cost one dollar for the two of them and they were cute. (I love nutcrackers!)

The tablecloth was a gift, of sorts. It was beautiful; it was made by hand. It was just the kind of gift that I would have treasured forever. There was one problem. The giver and I have history. Aah, you say, history!

She was an addict with several children: two teen boys and two pre-schoolers. We had helped her off and on for several years. We'd talked to her about the Gospel. From time to time she'd be arrested for being drunken and disorderly, once for shoplifting. If we found out about it in time, we'd check on the boys. Made sure they had a place to stay. We had obtained furniture for her for one apartment when she had only the oldest two boys. On numerous occasions, we had brought food, clothes and other necessities.

But a few summers ago, she had received an eviction notice. She'd brought it for me to translate and explain. I carefully explained what it meant, highlighted what date the Sheriff would come and toss her things out if she had not vacated. We inquired if she had somewhere to go. She assured us she did; she and her current partner, father of the two younger children, would take care of it. I warned her again that things would literally be thrown out on such-and-such a date. She needed to pack necessities for the children and find a place to stay. She said she understood.

We were busy with other things that summer, other missions projects and didn't follow up until I got a call from one of the teen boys. The Sheriff had come that day, tossed out their stuff while mom stood by and wailed. Both boys were with a kindly neighbor and had nothing except the clothes on their backs. When they got home from school, they found nothing but garbage on the ground, he told me. Mom had managed to find someone to lend a truck and had some of the furniture in the back of the truck, but all of their clothes were gone. Less kindly neighbors had rummaged through everything and taken anything else usable. I'm fuming, "She can find a truck AFTER things are thrown out willy nilly! Why not before?" (I didn't say THAT out loud.)

"But she did, at least put some clothes for you in a plastic bag, didn't she?"

She had not. And I was angry. Angry that a mother had not bothered to prepare for the inevitable, had not attempted to protect her teenage sons. As far as I was concerned, she was derelict in her duty. "A change of underwear for her children, at least that," my brain kept sputtering.

I headed to the store, purchased clothing for the week. Eventually one of the boys moved in with us. He finished High School. The other moved in with relatives and had to drop out of school in order to support himself.

About a year later, she brought me the tablecloth out of the blue. It was something she'd said previously she could make for me if I'd just pay for the thread. I smiled graciously, told her thank you, tried hard to remember that she is an addict struggling to keep body and soul together, and paid for the thread. The tablecloth was absolutely lovely. I knew she'd done a lot of work on it, but it reminded me of a woman who couldn't care enough for her children to stick a few clothes in a plastic bag when she knew full well she would be evicted.

We've lost touch with the family. They've moved many times and haven't called in several years. The two older boys work, hold down jobs. As far as I know, mom still drinks and does drugs. The younger children would be teenagers now. I pray for them. Maybe Mom has learned to care for these children, but somehow, I doubt it.

Back to the beautiful cotton tablecloth with two nutcracker candles burning while we were in the other room opening Christmas presents.

Rachel looked up. "I think something's on fire in the dining room," she said.

"It's just the reflection of the candles in the mirror," I replied calmly.

"I don't think so. Something's on fire. I smell smoke," she insisted. And she got up to go look.

Then we heard a shriek, and I raced to the dining room to view my two nutcracker candles bend double, the flame now merged with the burning tablecloth. I turned to the kitchen, grabbed a pitcher, and filled it with water. (No, I still don't have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, but I do know it's a good idea to have one!)

Rob (my older son) quietly entered the room. Passing the buffet, he picked up the large silver platter of cookies and candy and sat it down on the flames. I scurried into the room with my water pitcher in hand to view a silver platter with smoke seeping out from the sides. Flames all gone. Fire out. Silver platter only slightly warm. Candy and cookies unharmed. The tablecloth, though, sported a 15-inch hole rimmed in black. The table also has a large smoked circle in the antique wood surface.

And every year, someone will look up from opening presents, glance toward the mirror in the family room and say, "Do you remember the year we set the table on fire.?" Then we all laugh at how everyone reacted. Rachel, who had sounded the alarm, stood mesmerized by the fire; I frantically filled a pitcher with water; Christy, Brad, and Bob watched from the kitchen door as Rob put the fire out.

And I remember the charred tablecloth that I tossed in the garbage and pray for a very lost woman who again has two teenage children.


His Girl said...

What a sweet story! It's amazing what memories can do for your heart, isn't it?
I know that feeling of helplessness within ministry, mixed with the hope that God is able to do something big with the little you are able to do. I'm sure those boys will never forget your kindness.

PJ said...

I have very mixed emotions about that event. A semi-sweet memory! Someday I'll hear from them again.

Casdok said...

A lovely post.

Maddy said...

Newbie visiting from tired mommy. Memories are such treasures even though they are so often bitter sweet.
Best wishes
Something peculiar has happened to blogger comments so just for now, this is my calling card "Whittereronautism"so we can find each other.

Sarah said...

Wow, what a story. There is only so much one person can do to help another person out. Sometimes there is nothing you can do after trying for so long, that person just won't change. I know this too from a personal experience of my own. Prayers for that woman and her sons. Especially her sons.

PJ said...

Yes, the memories are a treasure. And you're right Sarah, part of my anger at her stems from my inability to improve the situation. Accepting our humanity is a struggle sometimes!!

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