"Jesus is going to get the monsters with him's spanking stick," Myra says.
"Oh," I say, ice a sheen on the road ahead of me. Myra in the passenger seat, Lucy in the jump seat behind, we skitter home in the inky night.
"And him's gonna shoot the bears with him's gun," Myra says.
I shift the little pickup in and out of third gear. The engine chugs.
"Yeah," Lucy nods, "Myra doesn't believe bears go to heaven." I turn a blinker on, scan the fog for cars, ease into the far lane. "Myra, bears DO go the heaven," Lucy prods.
"No they don't."
"Shhhh, that's enough," I say, eyes tracing the road. Myra pokes an index finger in each ear, sets her jaw, croons in a whisper.
I wrangle the shifter again, slog it back into third. The engine whines to speed. It had been in fifth. I try to flick the wipers on but flash the headlights instead.
"Myyyyra," Lucy says.
Myra mumbles on, fingers jabbed in her ears. I ping-pong between her and the road.
"What did you say?" I pull her hand down and snap back to the road, back to her. We curve around a basalt outcropping.
"Um. Ah," she says.
"What?" I frown, wrinkle my forehead. "Myra?"
"Bears DON'T go to heaven," she relents. I blink. She stares. "But the little ones, we won't SHOOT," she covers. "I'm gonna SNUGGLE with the little ones." She tilts her head, frowns the left corner of her mouth.
All that frost-bound road and dank fog, and I bust into chortles. The girls make eyes, laugh. Bears don't go to heaven.
The night winds down to a perfect knot. We finally sidle up the driveway, coral everyone to bed, move through the strokes of advent.
Christmas rings in with new jammies and oranges, a whole box of oranges. We splay the day with popcorn and gingerbread men, sugar cookies and filberts and fudge.We spend the day playing. We play board games.
"Jesus, thank-you that this is the best Christmas ever," Jane prays. "I pray every Christmas can be this great."
We sift the children into bed, holiday chaff fluttered away.
"It's my treasure thing," Lucy says, a black oval in hand. Reclined on her belly, she snaps open a discarded sunglass's case. The hinges creak. I clamor up the bunk-bed ladder.
"Here I'll show you," she says. She fingers an old floss container labeled THRED. She clicks it open. "This is my favorite part." She gently pulls the spool out, rewraps the thread. It wisps up like a tail. "Maybe I can use it for my sewing class," she says. She slips the spool over the spindle like a newborn babe, rethreads it through the eyelet.
"Wow," I say.
"I like what everyone gave me," she says. She cuddles the thread with her fingers, then sets it back. She strokes an agate, fingers a lavender zip-pull, drapes it over her hand. Then finally, she tucks them all back in the case.
"Yeah," I say.
The hinges creak when she shuts the treasure thing. She puts it in a shoebox next to her pillow.
"Love you, Lu." I kiss her forehead. She hugs me to her cheek, her hair a fan across the pillow.
Then, I shimmy down the ladder. Christmas. A river of contentment spills over me.
5052. "I have baby Jesus in my tummy," Lucy says, her favorite dolly stuffed down her shirt.
5053. "Momma, 're are you?" Joey calls in the middle of the night.
5054. I make the kids clean up before lunch, but Jack goes the extra mile. He pulls out the big vacuum and cleans the rug.
5055. "I might be a shepherd," Jack says. "Joe's gonna be a wise man."
5056. "Jesus died on the cross for us," Myra says.
5057. "Emma, have you finished eating?" I ask. She's turning pirouettes to Christmas music in the sunroom.
5058. "I wish that I could go to Jude and Zeke's house," Myra pines when we hear they are sick. "And then when they're throwing up, and I'm throwing up, we could bring some stuff to throw up in. That'd be really fun."
5059. We celebrate Christmas just the seven of us. It's a circle of love. Simple love. It's perfect.
5060. We celebrate with the whole wide clan on my side. Felicity and hope, crepes and plum sauce, whip cream, real vanilla, gifts made by hand, others invisible, love, it's a liturgy of love.
5061. The seven of us sit together for the annual candlelit church service. Even Myra gets a candle.
5062. We await celebration with Craig's side.
5063. We start dispersing the annual Christmas card.
5064. And somewhere in the middle of all the Christmas joy I crumble and cry under expectations. Craig picks me up, shoulders me on strength. I say I must be Scrooge. He says, no, Cruella. And we laugh and laugh. And somehow, there in the middle of my quaking heart, solid, immovable joy. Jesus.
5065. Jesus. I'm thankful for Jesus.