There’s a musical nativity figurine I take out every December since 2002. It’s a nice ceramic piece that plays, Away in a Manger, and has beautifully painted figures of the Holy Family in the classic scene: Mary kneeling, hands folded in prayer, gazing adoringly at the Baby Jesus in the manger with Joseph standing watch over them, a staff in one hand and a lantern in the other. The bottom of this figurine has the date, Dec. 2001, and my mother’s name. And that’s the important part.
This particular figurine was not my first choice when I shopped for a musical nativity for my mom that Christmas. I had glanced at it quickly then passed it by, moving on to other stores. My mom loved nativity scenes and musical boxes, and I was looking for one that revolved while playing a tune, and one that was larger (this one is a bit over 6 inches tall) so my mom could more clearly see the details given her failing eyesight. After shopping for hours and not finding what I wanted, I chose this one because it was pretty and it played one of my mother’s favorite Christmas tunes, Away in a Manger. I wasn’t totally satisfied with it…the melody sounded rather tinny and the music didn’t play very long before needing rewinding…but with time running short, just a few days to Christmas, I bought it with the idea that it was fine for now and I’d get her a better one next Christmas.
Before wrapping the gift, I wrote the date and my mom’s name on the bottom with a magic marker because she was staying in a nursing home. When I arrived, she looked at me with the faraway, blank stare that had become her expression these days. She said my name, as she always did, and nothing more. Sometimes you could not engage her at all, as if she just wasn’t there. I handed her the gift, she opened it...and then she smiled! Yes, she smiled, and that was a big deal, she did not smile often anymore.
With her failing eyesight, I wasn’t even sure the figurine was big enough for her to see the wonderful detail in the figures. But no matter…she seemed to see it well enough to smile right away when it was unwrapped, and an even bigger smile that lit up her face when she heard, Away in a Manger. She loved music; she loved to sing. In her younger days before the illness that left her body alone but took her mind…and oh, did it take her mind to places where a dark unreality could turn a warm summer day into a harsh winter night…she sang at a local USO club for WWII soldiers. When my siblings and I were children, my mother sang to the radio every day. She had a lovely singing voice. Although I enjoy singing, I can honestly say I did not inherit her vocal talent, but one of my sisters did. Then the illness took my mother's body, too.
"Away in a manger, No crib for his bed,