In September of 1977, my oldest son was born. For a year prior to his birth, we had fought with Doris, our narrow-minded, power-hungry bigot of a caseworker from Children’s Home Society. My husband and I had told her that we would adopt a child of any race. She had responded by asking, “Any race?” We knew what she meant. “I can’t think of any race I would exclude,” my husband tossed back at her. She was not pleased. For a year we looked at available children. We wanted a girl close in age to our daughter, and there were several ready to be adopted. But each time we found one, Doris thwarted our inquiry with some excuse. “She’s too far away” (San Francisco) or “Her caseworker thinks she should be an only child.” Really? We knew what all the stalling was about.
In August, after we’d been approved to adopt for a year, I confronted her on the phone one day and let her know I was prepared to request another caseworker if she didn’t open her mind to interracial adoption. In that conversation, she told me about a woman who was pregnant at that time. The baby’s father was a different race. “I have you folks in mind for that baby,” she said. I honestly thought she’d made it all up—until she called me a month later and told me that child had been born. “He’s the color of coffee beans,” she told me on the phone. “We don’t care what color he is,” I told her defiantly. But wouldn’t you know, his nickname—at first as a joke, but you know how these things go—became Beanie Man.
For Christmas that year, a dear friend, Janet Lockett, made us a Christmas Angel for the top of our tree… a Christmas Angel with brown “skin” and black, curly hair. It was perfect. And for the next three decades, it topped our tree every year. That little angel outlived my marriage and was still at the top of our tree in 1994 for my grandson’s first Christmas.
But after I moved to the mountain in 2007, I didn’t feel the need to put up a tree (since I’m literally surrounded by them). So the little angel stayed in a box in the basement that year… and the next… and the next.
Last year, I was feeling pretty blue, it being the first Christmas without my mom, the second without my brother Dan. On an afternoon of reminiscing about Christmases past (as the Spirit of Christmas Past would have us do from time to time), I decided to go looking for all the decorations that had meaning for me. Up from the basement came all the boxes, and several hours later, the cabin was blinking and twinkling with tiny white lights and candles and various other decorations. Several years before I had moved to the mountain, Dan had given me a special bubble light as a gift after I’d told him that those had been my favorite as a child. I found that light and plugged it in every night in the weeks before Christmas, remembering my crazy brother with great fondness each time. There was no tree for Christmas Angel, so I sat him on a table where I could see him… and remember the Christmases that had been special for my kids (the first one after the divorce, when we were so poor we had nothing… but each other… and my grandson’s first Christmas, when the tree, hastily erected on Christmas Eve, fell on Nana).
This year as I discovered that the mice had gotten into the boxes of Christmas decorations (destroying nearly everything with fabric, including Christmas Bear, pictured above), I held my breath looking for that Christmas Angel. I didn’t know how I would tell my kids if it had to be discarded. I believe my daughter is pretty confident that she will one day take possession of Christmas Angel, and if I had to tell her that Christmas Angel had met his demise at the hands of indiscriminate rodents, I know she would have taken it hard. Me, too.
But there it was, safe and intact. Whew.
It’s not just the Christmas memories that it conjures with its magic; it’s a reminder that, way back then, we made a decision to let our family be defined by love, not by race or color or origin.
Our little family is bigger today (with more colors!), and love is still our common denominator. Our little Christmas Angel will always remind us of that.