Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Miracle of the 'Garden Angel'

Everyone has a favorite Christmas story. This one is mine. It is a true story in which a child’s faith in Christmas works a miraculous family reunion.  This is part of a collection of stories included in the book Amazing Grace for the Catholic Heart. No matter how many times I’ve read it to my kids, I cannot get through it without tearing up.
This story, like all the stories in the Amazing Grace book series, is the kind of gentle evangelization that draws even nonreligious people in. It is God’s grace at work in our lives in a way that draws us closer to him and rises above denominational lines. One thing I learned when we were compiling stories for this series is that everyone has these “God moments.” Thus I stumbled into stories standing in line, seated next to people on planes, and having random conversations with strangers. Oh, I know the Holy Spirit was at work too, but really, our lives are rich in faith stories. By sharing them, we can light the world on fire.
Christmas Lullaby
By Ann Catherine
“Ready or not, here I come,” my brother, Sparky, laughed as he played hide and seek with me and our Aunt Flo. Opening the closet door to discover Flo, he shouted, “I found you. I found you!”
We all collapsed in giggling heap on the floor. Finally Flo got up. We looked at her and realized it was time for the fun to be over.
“Do we have to go back to Mrs. Muran’s house?” Sparky tearfully asked. “Why can’t we just stay here?”
It was 1946 and our Daddy was away in the army fighting someone called Hitler. Our mother was sick, we were told, and unable to take care of us. At four years old, all I knew was that I wanted my mommy and daddy.  We had been placed in an unloving foster home but were allowed to visit Grandma, Grandpa, and our teenage Aunt Flo on most weekends.
As Flo helped us on with our coats, I cried quietly and Sparky reached out and patted my shoulder. Grammy came in and pulled us close. “We’ll all be together soon. You’ll see.”
Flo put her arms around us and sang softly: “Tura, lura lura, tura lura li, tura lura lura hush now don’t you cry…”  Our grandfather joined in singing the Irish lullaby with his sweet tenor voice.  Then he helped us put on our new mittens. “Be brave now,” he said.  “We’ll see you again at Christmas.”
I began sobbing. Flo took us by the hand to begin the long walk to the bus that would take us back to Mrs. Muran’s house, the foster home.
Mr. and Mrs. Muran were mean and short-tempered with us and the other foster kids placed there. Mrs. Muran hit us with a strap when she got mad, and Mr. Muran used his cane.  I once overheard Flo tell Grammy: “Mother, it is just like a prison. Even animals are treated better than that.”
“Yes, I know,” Grandmas had said in a hushed voice. “We are doing everything we can, Florence, but the law says their mother can place them anywhere she pleases. That doesn’t mean we are going to give up trying to have them live with us, though.”
We loved to visit our grandparents, but most of all we loved being with Flo. She would help us get ready for bed, read stories and nursery rhymes, and teach us about Jesus. One night Flo told us that Jesus loved us, and that He gave us each an angel to watch over us. I called my angel a “Garden Angel.”
“Garden Angels don’t come to Mrs. Muran’s house,” I told her one night.
“Oh yes they do. Your angel goes everywhere you go,” Flo told us.
“But not to Mrs. Muran’s house,” Sparky piped up, “cause she doesn’t like angels. She said so. Some people said you were an angel and then she got mad. She said, ‘We don’t need no angels like her around here.’”
“Mrs. Muran says Santa doesn’t come to her house either,” I told Flo, “but that’s okay cause baby Jesus still comes on Christmas.”
As we walked to the bus stop, Flo talked about our Christmas plans. We would go to Mass at St. John’s Church and see the pretty red flowers and candles around the altar and hear the choir sing “Away In A Manger” and “Silent Night.”  Then she would help us get ready for bed in our new pajamas, tell us the story of the first Christmas, and sing Christmas carols and also our favorite Irish lullaby. Christmas morning we would see the Christmas tree all decorated and maybe Santa would even leave presents for us.
When Christmas Eve day came all the other kids at Mrs. Muran’s left one by one. It was snowing hard and we stared out the window waiting for Flo. Then we saw her go around to the back door. We were so excited, but Mrs. Muran chased us up the stairs and told us to go to the attic. That’s where we slept. We went only part of the way up and stopped to listen.
Flo knocked on the back door. She knocked and knocked, louder and louder. Finally Mrs. Muran jerked the door open. “What do ya want?” she yelled. “Oh, it’s you.”
“I came to pick up the kids,” Flo said.
“Those brats ain’t goin’ nowhere. Mostly not with the likes of you. All’s ya do is spoil ‘em rotten,” Mrs. Muran raged.
“What do you mean? It’s Christmas and their mother said we could take them,” Flo said in a strained voice.
“Well she ain’t told me nothin’ bout them goin’ with ya, so get out of here.”
“Flo, Flo!” We ran to the door behind Mrs. Muran. “Take us home with you, please.”
Flo tried again. “Mrs. Muran, it is Christmas Eve and I figure you and your husband could use some time without children around, so…”
“Well ya figure wrong,” she interrupted. “Now get outa here or I’ll call the cops, ya hear!”
“Well you can at least give them this one present,” said Flo, her voice increasing in volume. Mrs. Muran tore open the wrapping paper from the package Flo handed her.
“Pajamas! What they need these things for?” she screamed loudly. “They’ll not be needin’ those around here. Their underwear is good enough, just like all the others. We don’t do no spoilin’, ya hear? We don’t have no Christmas either.”
We were crying but didn’t want to make Flo feel bad. “It’s okay Flo, cause Baby Jesus will bring His angel,” I called to her. “You’ll see.”
“I love you,” Flo called, then yelled at Mrs. Muran, “You mean witch. How could you do this? It’s Christmas.” Flo was crying. I never saw her cry like that before.
Mrs. Muran threw the pajamas at Flo and slammed the door shut.
“Don’t worry,” Flo called to us.  “I’ll come back to get you.”
Mrs. Muran yelled at us, “Get up the stairs and inta bed, the two of ya, and fast.”  The attic was cold and dark that night. It was lonely without the other kids. We lay down, shivering, on the big old bed. It didn’t have any sheets or covers.  Mrs. Muran opened the door and threw in an old blanket. “Put this on and get to sleep, ya hear me.”
“Yes ma’am,” we said.  We were glad to have the blanket. It helped some, and Sparky pulled me closer to help me get warm.
“Jesus will come with His angel. You’ll see,” I said.
“Shh, go to sleep,” he whispered.
I went to sleep for awhile, but soon awakened. It was dark and cold in the room, but light was shining in the window. I got out of bed and went over to the window and looked below. I could hear someone singing. It was soft, but I could hear her.
“What are you doing?” Sparky whispered.
“Shh, can’t you hear her?” I answered.
Sparky listened with his ear up to the window. “Hear who?”
“The angel!  She’s singing the Christmas lullaby for us. Jesus did it. He brought His angel! I told ya he would!”
Once again Sparky listened, and slowly a sweet voice rose singing: “Tura lura, lura, tura lura li, tura lura lura, hush now don’t you cry. Tura lura lura, tura lura li, tura lura lura, that’s a Christmas Lullaby.”
We knew Flo’s voice. Suddenly a second voice softly sang, “Away In A Manger” as Flo sang the Christmas lullaby. We peeked out and saw Aunt Flo smiling up at us, but no one else was there! The light from the moon was shining on the snow and a bright star was in the sky. Flo waved at us.
We felt warm even though the room was cold. We knew the tiny Baby of Bethlehem was with us, sharing His love. We fell asleep listening to the singing with the old blanket wrapped around us lying there by the window.
The next morning, Flo came to take us with her.  To our surprise Mrs. Muran offered no protest. She had even packed up all our clothes. “Get them outa here fast, now, ya hear me? And don’t be coming around here again, none of ya. I’ll not be having you with your magic and ghosts and such. Now get!”
“Yes Mrs. Muran,” Flo said and grabbed our bag. Flo winked at us, and held a finger up to her lips so we wouldn’t talk. Then she took our hands and we all ran down the driveway, to the walk and up the corner to catch the bus.
We didn’t know what Mrs. Muran had seen, but we knew what we had seen and it wasn’t a ghost.
“Baby Jesus came last night, Flo. He brought two angels,” I told her.
“No He didn’t,” Sparky said emphatically. “That was Flo singing, silly.’
“Who were the two angels?” Flo wanted to know.
“Well, one was my Garden Angel,” I said. “She sang ‘Away in A Manger.’”
Flo’s eyes got big. “So that’s what she meant. Who was the other angel?”
“Jesus didn’t need another Garden Angel ‘cause he had you. And you sang the Christmas lullaby.”
We did all the things Flo told us we would do on Christmas, but the best gift was our new home with our grandparents. Our grandparents raised us and to this day, fifty years later, Flo is more than our aunt: she is an angel to us.

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