Our search for a nostalgic nativity seemed to be in vain.
Mom and I looked out at the pine trees lining the snow-covered yard of her new house. I was grateful to be able to spend time with her every day, now that my husband, John, and I had found her a place only five minutes from our own.
“What’s your Christmas wish?” I asked her.
Mom thought for a long moment. “I want a Nativity scene just like the one we had on our Christmas tree farm years ago,” she said finally. “What’s yours?”
At first I wasn’t sure what to say. Mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. There was a good chance this would be our last Christmas together. What did I want most of all? “To see you smile,” I told her.
Mom touched my hand. “Sounds like we could both use that peaceful manger scene.”
I grew up on a 62-acre tree farm. Families coming to get an evergreen for Christmas always stopped to admire the glowing plastic Nativity scene we set up in the snow. From sheep to wise men, to the angel who watched over it all, every role was colorfully painted.
“If that’s what Mom wants for Christmas I want to get it for her,” I told John. How hard could it be to find a lighted outdoor Nativity?
Harder than we thought, it turned out. We drove around to all the stores we could think of, but the best we could do was Mary, Joseph and Jesus figurines from Kmart. “This really won’t do,” I said. “It’s missing the shepherds and animals. There aren’t even any wise men.”
“Let’s get the set for backup. Just in case we don’t find anything else,” John said. “Then we keep looking.”
We tucked the Holy Family into the garage for safekeeping. I got in touch with relatives to see if, by some miracle, someone still had that old set of Mom’s. I searched eBay and Craigslist, but the few sets I found were either way too expensive or too far away to ship.
Christmas was fast approaching. In between shopping, decorating the tree and planning holiday gatherings, John and I continued our search for the Nativity. Then Mom had to spend several days in the hospital. John and I drove every day to visit her. Our search seemed to be over.
A few days before Christmas, with Mom back at home, John and I found a little time to relax. We built ourselves a crackling fire and sat down to watch a football game. When I glanced at John, he was looking off into the distance, stroking his chin.
“What is it?” I said.
“I just remembered something I haven’t thought of in decades,” John said. “My parents had a Nativity scene when I was a little boy. The figures lit up when you plugged them in. Just like your mom’s old set.”
John’s parents had died years before, but his family still owned the land they had lived on nearby. The only structure left on the property was a storage shed filled with who knew what. “Let’s check out that shed first thing tomorrow!”
We drove over the next day and rummaged through the clutter. Lawnmowers, gardening tools, bicycles. I was about to give up hope when John suddenly cried out, “I see a shepherd!”
I pushed my way over to him. Sure enough, there was a tall shepherd holding a lamb. Next to him were three wise men, a camel and a cow. Even Mary. They were all looking pretty worse for wear, but there was no mistaking this was exactly the kind of scene Mom had in mind. “They’re coming with us,” I said.
Back home John went out on the frozen driveway and power-washed each figure. He even built a wooden manger for them. I bought metallic paint and set to work with my brushes to spruce them up. When the paint was dry I called John out to the garage.
“They look even better now than they did when I was a boy,” he said. “I don’t suppose they’d still light up after all this time.”
I held my breath as we tested them. Each one worked perfectly. It was like those years in the shed hadn’t passed at all. For a moment I stood there admiring the figures—wise men, shepherds and animals, Mary. We’d add Joseph and baby Jesus from the Kmart set.
And then I realized something terrible: the little scene was missing an angel.
“Two Marys and no angel,” I said to John. But he had an idea. We set up the scene in Mom’s yard as a surprise, arranging the figures in mounds of straw. Mary and Joseph huddled around their baby. The wise men brought their gifts. The shepherd clutched his lamb. For our duplicate Mary we fashioned a pair of wings out of silver tinsel and turned her into a beautiful angel. Our search really was over.
When the sun went down I led Mom to the window. John turned on the lights. Mom gasped. She was so surprised that at first she couldn’t even speak. Then finally she said, “Thank you for making my Christmas wish come true.”
Not just her Christmas wish, but mine too.