A week before Christmas,
I got a note from my old great Aunt.
It read: "Of course I'll understand
Completely if you can't,
But if you find you have some time
How wonderful it would be
If we could have a little chat
And share a cup of Christmas tea."
She'd had a mild stroke that year
Though house-bound now, my folks had said
It hadn't hurt her pride.
They said: She'd love to see you.
What a nice thing it would be,
For you to go and maybe have a cup of Christmas tea.
Boy! I didn't want to go.
Oh, what a bitter pill.
To see an old relation
And how far she'd gone downhill.
I drove in from the suburbs
To the older part of town.
The pastels of the newer homes
Gave way to gray and brown.
How I got up to her door
I really couldn't tell...
I watched my hand rise up
And press the button of the bell.
I waited, aided by my nervous rocking to and fro
And just as I was thinking I should turn around and go,
I heard the rattle of the china in the hutch against the wall
The triple beat of two feet and a crutch came down the hall.
She stood there pale and tiny,
Looking fragile as an egg.
I forced myself from staring
At the brace that held her leg.
And though her thick bifocals
Seemed to crack and spread her eyes,
Their milky and refracted depths
Lit up with young surprise.
"Come in! Come in!"
She laughed the words.
She took me by the hand
And all my fears dissolved away
As if by her command.
We went inside and then before
I knew how to react,
Before my eyes and ears and nose
Was Christmas past: alive, intact!
The scent of candied oranges, of cinnamon and pine,
The antique wooden soldiers in their military line,
The porcelain Nativity I'd always loved so much,
The Dresden and the crystal I'd been told I mustn't touch.
Like magic I was six again, deep in a Christmas spell
Steeped in the million memories the child inside knew well.
And here among old Christmas cards so lovingly displayed,
A special place of honor for the ones we kids had made.
And there, beside her rocking chair,the center of it all
My great Aunt stood and said how nice it was
That I had come to call.
Defying the reality of crutch and straightened knee
On wings of hospitality she flew to brew the tea.
I sat alone with feelings that I hadn't felt in years.
I looked around at Christmas through a thick hot blur of tears.
And the candles and the holly she'd arranged on every shelf;
The impossibly good cookies she still somehow baked herself.
These rich and tactile memories became quite pale and thin
When measured by the Christmas my great Aunt kept deep within.
Her body halved and nearly spent, my old great Aunt was whole.
I saw a Christmas miracle, the triumph of a soul.