Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 19, 2005
A lost nativity scene is replaced
A woman's passion for a childhood nativity set results in a lifelong hobby of collecting these scenes of Jesus' birth – and raising donkeys
By JOHNNIE DesROCHERS
I crept into the mouse cupboard often to visit my nativity, wind it up and experience the magic.
The magic vanished from Christmas in 1961, the year my father died of a heart attack. When my brother Francis died of cancer in 1963 I feared the magic was lost forever. My brother and I were decorating partners at Christmas time.
My visits to the mouse cupboard increased no matter what the time of year, and my mother rarely yelled at me to get out anymore.
I knew in my 10-year-old heart that the magic was gone for her too and she wasn't looking for it.
At Christmas it became my job to untangle the lights and check the bulbs. I could remember my father and my brother putting the tree in the stand and stringing the lights.
I remember closing my eyes and praying to feel my father's touch through the Christmas things. Sometimes I felt a flutter in my heart and a burning in my throat. This scared me a bit because my father had died of a heart attack.
My mother moved to Red Deer to build a new life for her children.
She left most everything behind in the house in Winnipeg that we forever called "538." Mother wanted a fresh start and who could blame her. She delighted in the new things she bought and the modest home she had made for us.
But Red Deer was a new and strange place for my sisters and me. Everything we had known had virtually disappeared. The furniture, dishes and knick-knacks had been left behind, sold or distributed to my brother, Albert and his wife or to my oldest sister, Janine and her family.
Gone were my bed, the kitchen table, toaster, television, but most tragic of all the ornaments including my nativity. I disliked the new ornaments and lights especially my mother's fad of all blue lights.
Thank God she never went metallic. There was no mouse cupboard in the house in Red Deer, only an opening in the basement stairs.
I never visited there, but it became my responsibility to fetch the ornaments at Christmas and do the light thing.
I did it for my mother.
She used to say, "This used to be Francis' job." He was good at tinkering. I was possessive of the job because it made my mother happy.
She talked about the past and played her Christmas music. Once in awhile my heart would flutter but there would be no magic, just flutters and the odd burning in my throat that my mother said was really "the blue arse."
My mother had an Irish-Catholic background and this explained many things about her.
Sometime in the late '60s I learned the fate of my beloved childhood nativity. My brother's daughter had become so attached to it that she played with it every night as she fell asleep. Obviously my brother's rules were not as harsh as his mother's.
The nativity soon wore out and one day my mother saw it sitting in the sandbox.
Too much for me! I would have cherished it forever.
One Christmas I received from my brother a box of eight teardrop ornaments from "538." They were truly a treasure and over the years I have carefully guarded them.
But they never held the magic of my nativity.
The years flew by and I found myself at Eaton's in downtown Calgary with my two-year-old daughter, Jacinta. Our mission was to buy a nativity scene. Nothing caught my eye but Jacinta found one that she couldn't leave alone. It seemed made for little hands with all the right characters and some neat little animals, but no light or music.
We took it home, drilled a hole in the back and put in a yellow light. Jacinta was delighted.
And so began my obsession with buying nativity sets in search of one that would take me back to the time before my father died, when the world spun as it should and little girls' giggles on Christmas morning and the smell of pine made them hysterical and reverent all at once.
My nativity search continued through my 20s, 30s, 40s and even now. I am beginning to run out of room to display all the sets I have purchased. I keep a nativity set or two on display someplace in my home all year long.
As my children grew and married I became personally involved in the selection of their Christmas ornaments.
Then God, by his will, and in his time healed my obsession and it disappeared a bit. He sent grandchildren into my heart. They are God's compensation for growing old and for lost childhood joy.
"Baby Jesus helps people be better, right Grannie?"
One of my first thoughts as Christmas 1998 approached was what nativity my granddaughter Emma would have in her room.
One of mine was the only answer. The joy it gives me to still hear today how Emma loves to play with her nativity from Grannie's house is beyond expression. She loves to stare at the light, count the animals and the kings and gives many kisses to the Baby Jesus.
In 2003 in Country Woman Magazine under the collectibles and antiques column a woman from Minot, N.D., wrote to ask about her nativity scene. She enclosed a photograph.
There, after more than 40 years was my nativity! The experts appraised it as dating back to the 1930s with a collector's value of $100 to $150.
What price can be put on Christmas magic, and the lure of the baby Jesus for a child?
I have read, "Jesus is the lure let down to cause our souls to rise." By the grace of the Holy Spirit, I am slowly coming to know this truth.
Though I no longer mourn my childhood nativity I am drawn to visit and touch all nativities I see. The magic has returned. As I look into the eyes of my grandchildren I can hear my granddaughter's prayer: "Baby Jesus helps people be better, right Grannie?"
Yes, he does,
The old me was ready to find that woman in North Dakota and offer her any amount of money for her nativity set. I resisted. Besides I have my own magic in North Dakota, as that is where some of my grandchildren live.
Speaking of love and magic, my daughter in North Dakota, contacted this woman, bought the nativity and it came as a surprise from heaven for me under the tree the Christmas of 2001.
It highlights my collection and is on display all year long. No matter what your age, or what time of year it is, the joy and peace and love of Christmas is with you always.
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