Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Return to Mama Clara's Christmas. Deep deep sigh.

My first-grader self was desperate to be grown up enough to walk from my elementary school to my Mother's shop three blocks away. But though I listed all my outstanding qualities and abilities, my parents were having no part of letting their first born -- and at this point only -- child walk the streets alone ALL THE WAY to my Mother's beauty shop.

Months of begging and cajoling, with probably a fair amount of whining thrown in, they did finally agree however, to let me walk to my Mama Clara's house a block from my school. I would stop there, call my mom and report my safety and then proceed to walk the remaining block and a half to her shop.

Mama Clara -- my great-grandmother -- was waiting every afternoon with her door opened wide, a TV tray set up at her favorite chair and my favorite snack of Rice Krispies with a little sugar and milk waiting to greet me. We would chat about my day, her day, and whatever she was working on. Mama Clara sewed for the public. Her home smelled of fabric, pattern paper and always something yummy on the stove. I still long for her chicken and dumplings. (And have been known to just stand in JoAnn's inhaling repeatedly for the familiar memories the fabric section offers.)

It was to Mama Clara's that my mother made me ride my bike under the ruse of needing ice when my sweet family threw me a surprise party for my 10th birthday.

And it was to Mama Clara's I would go every single time I had an important date in high school and simply couldn't find a thing to wear. I would show up with pattern and fabric and she would smile and ask when I needed it. She knew it would be within 48 hours -- often 24. It always was. And she always came through for me.

When I first married, and Wade and I lived in Alabama, my daddy would make us leave on our weekend visits early enough to stop by Mama Clara's house before we left town. "You never know when this will be the last time you see her, Carol." He would gently admonish me.

She was the strongest woman I knew, living alone well into her 90s, gardening and tending her yard herself, she would gather her three daughters and all of their offspring around her every single December. Though when I was little our numbers were more than 50 already, she would make each of us a handmade gift for the holiday.

Mama Clara's Christmas circa 1976....That is Mama Clara sitting with her three daughters standing behind her and some of her grands and great-grands surrounding! (I am second from the right on the first row, btw!)

My triplets were 4 when Mama Clara died. God was so merciful to us in that the kids and I were home in Mississippi the week it happened. I will forever be grateful for the blessing of being at her home-going celebration and seeing all my family gathered around.

Mama Clara and my Claire. I named her after this strong amazing woman in the prayerful hope that my little girl born so very early at only 2 and a half pounds would have the strength of this wonder woman!

I had already missed a handful of Mama Clara Christmases by that point. Living in Chicago with three babies didn't bode well for easily getting to Mississippi for a luncheon in early December.

My family still gather in honor of our Mama Clara. Only one of her daughters remain. None of her son-in-laws. And she has lost too many grandchildren and grandchildren-in-laws already. But still, the numbers are large.

I missed more than 20 of Mama Clara's Christmases. More than 20 years without being where this extended family gathered. But that ended Sunday.

Aunt Dot with Mama Clara's grandchildren that could make it Sunday -- all but two made the trip! (And one was celebrating in heaven!)

My mother and her family that could make it -- Claire had an exam so my cousin Lisa's husband filled in for her in the photo (Oh how we missed our girl!) and of course, like I did for 20 years, Len and Talley live too far away to make the day.

My grandmother Ophelia's children, grandchildren and great-grands gathered with Aunt Dot.

Maybe because she didn't get a chance to know Mama Clara or my grandmother Brown, Cate has always been enamored with Aunt Dot. She wrote her letters from Phoenix and always always asks when she gets to see her again. This one would have made Mama Clara smile! (And I bet she would have cooked Little Red some of her famous salmon and biscuits!)

I took pictures of the others too, but hate to post photos without permission. Needless to say, our group has grown so big that Wade said I would have had to get on the roof to get a full family shot (Oh I would have done that though!).

But here is the thing: Coming home after 20 years is hard. The littles I knew once have grown up and have families of their own. Those wives, husbands and children have no idea who I am. There were some awkward moments Sunday.

I hugged some sweet cousins who were teens the last time I saw them but honestly thought I was hugging their parents until my brain did the math.

I met some precious new members. I grieved the members missing -- oh how I longed to know my Dad was playing Rook with Uncle Delbert, Uncle Jerald and Uncle Rupert in the next room and that my Granddaddy was in there harassing them all!

Coming home is like that though -- things have changed, moved on and gotten both better and worse. But when we drove up and my precious cousins, Lisa and Kaye, rushed to greet us and help us unload and navigate the house, my heart was full.

And when I pulled out my camera to capture the moments, I hope I helped some of the younger cousins realize that this amazing gathering is not something we should take for granted. It is special and dear and honors the woman who started it all. And I could hear my Daddy's voice admonishing, "You never know when you will see them all again." It had been 20 years after all.

Oh dear ones, may your holiday be filled to overflowing with family and love and moments that you capture forever!!

Carol - The Blessings Counter