A few weeks ago, around the first of December, I drove back up to Clement to see my sister, who now lives at the homeplace. As I pulled up into the driveway, I saw that they had put up the manger scene. Well, it was December, so it was time for it to be put up. I thought to myself, “Well, Pa, it’s up again for another year.”
This is the third Christmas we have put the manger scene up at Christmas since my father passed away. It’s been going up for around fifty years so we couldn’t stop now. And I have helped put it up for at least forty of them. The manger scene consists of plywood cutouts of all the characters of the nativity. Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, the wise men, sheep, camels, a donkey and, of course, baby Jesus. The stable itself is plywood, with the back and the two sides and roof. When daddy built the manger he made it easy to take apart, put together and store. Well, most of the time it was easy. (Gail and Danny rebuilt the stable this year because the old one was just about to fall apart, and some of the animals are in pretty bad shape. Hey, they’re over fifty years old!)
Every year after Thanksgiving it would be time. First, we would load the stable on the back of the pickup at the barn and take it out and set it up. Most of the time it wasn’t that difficult, although setting the roof on top of the walls could be a little tricky. Then it was time to place the characters. And every character had a place. Mary, Joseph and Jesus under the manger. Shepherds, animals and wise men outside the manger, but each at a specific spot. Pa made sure of that. We would drive a tobacco stick in the ground and nail each cutout to the sticks to hold them up. We would put the star over the manger and set the spotlight and we would be finished.
It must have been a tradition because it was something we did every year. To be honest, many times I was busy and really didn’t want to bother with it. But I would get that phone call saying, “What are you doing tomorrow? You know it’s time to put up the manger scene.” So I would head down to Clement. Daddy was very particular and organized. Every thing had a place and it had to be done right. It could be very frustrating to someone in a hurry to get done, like me.
But I had noticed that over the past few years putting up the manger scene had become more important to daddy. He would say something like, “Well, I don’t know about next year, but we got it up again this year.”
As I drove down to Clement the day after Thanksgiving the first year after his death, I knew that year was going to be different. Daddy was gone. Terri and my sister, Gail, were helping me put up the manger scene. Oh, by the way, they are particular, too. I told my brother in law, “I don’t know who was the worse supervisor, L.F. or two women.” It didn’t take long to put it up and I believe we placed every character at the right place.
As we finished, my thoughts went back to the year before when daddy, Terri and I put up the manger scene. Pa was supervising while sitting in a chair, pointing to where everything was supposed to go. And I was getting frustrated. I was nailing up the manger and it wasn’t going very well. Daddy was an excellent carpenter. I’m not. I suppose it must skip a generation or something. “Why do we have to put up this thing every year?” I thought. No, I wasn’t thinking about little baby Jesus in that cradle I was nailing on at that moment. Terri sensed what I was feeling and walked over to me.
“Remember, cherish the moment,” she whispered.
She was right. Here I was with my two favorite people in this world, doing something together, and I was getting upset over bending a stupid nail and a pointing finger. I calmed down and started actually cherishing the moment. Of course, my nephew, Joey, driving up and getting Pa to ride with him to check on something also helped. After we finished and he got back home, Pa, Terri and I went to Hardee’s for supper. We joked and laughed and enjoyed ourselves because the manger scene had been put up one more time. I ended up cherishing the moment.
A little over a month later, my father unexpectedly passed away. The Christmas season can be frantic and frustrating. But be careful, be intentional, (I like that word) to cherish the moment. Because you never know…