A Literary Christmas Celebration presents Marilynn Griffith

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Christmas Sauce
by Marilynn Griffith

Ink-black night stretched out like a sheet above the Chevy Skylark. I wiggled in the passenger’s seat. It was Christmas Eve, and we were late. My mother eyed her watch.

“We’ll be there soon honey. Just relax.”

Anxious to obey, I turned and counted the gifts packed in the backseat. Who could use thirty-two packages of talcum powder? I wanted to ask, but Mom’s intense gaze at the road made me think better of it.

Our misaligned tires whirled against the asphalt as I stared out the window at an empty, frozen pasture. The chocolate-splashed cows that had mooed for me on Easter when I’d pressed my afro against the glass were gone. Then, I’d been wearing my best dress with the tag that read “Made for You by Aunt Donna Jean” in the neckline. Today the cold kept my moo-friends in the barn.

A reeking smell reminded me we’d pass the water treatment plant next. I snapped my mouth shut so as not to get a mouthful of stinky air, like I did when I’d passed by in July, my mouth agape in anticipation of my Uncle Dave’s fireworks.

As we rode on, I searched for the golden soldiers in silk caps I’d saluted on my way to Aunt’s Charlene’s Thanksgiving dinner. Only a frosty combine and a wagon of rotting corn remained. Eventually, Route Four faded into tree skeletons and dirty snow, slicing towards Springfield, Ohio, and the Christmas Eve I’d waited all year for.

My first Christmas without my father.

I wondered what goodies awaited me at Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Burl’s. Mouthwatering treats could be depended upon, and exciting presents as well. From pastel purses to monagrammed muffs, their practical gifts always had sparkle. Though it was the hugs sometimes, that mattered most. From the tears collecting in the corners of my Mom’s eyes and the hurt in my stomach, I knew this would be one of those times—a hug-me holiday.

Finally, we slid into the last space on Damascus Avenue. A well-worn path led to our destination, the brightest house on the street. Mom and I emerged from the car, both afraid and excited of our new and different status. A party of two, one tired and one hungry. One tall and one small.

“Watch the ice, hon,” my mother said. Her concealer faded under one eye to show a dark circle earned by overtime hours and being a “Super Sister”, the only woman, only mother and only minority in her department. All those certificates and promotions came with a price.

“I’m fine, Mom.” I lied, stumbling along with my packages and a warm dish of corn pudding. My tights threatened to cut off my circulation under my wool jumper. I wasn’t fine. And neither was she. But there were people inside who could make things fine . . . even if it was just for tonight.

My mother’s chin held her stack of gifts in place. A bag of dinner rolls bulged from her purse. We exchanged weary smiles as “Winter Wonderland” chimed from a carousel of china horses glowing in the window. I steadied my rubbery knees as we climbed the porch and stepped inside.

The cuckoo crowed eight o’clock. My cousins, all sixteen of them, circled the candy tray. Scents of freshly cut boughs and Final Net floated above the laughter.

Christmas was safe for one more year.

A neighbor plied her ample thighs from the plastic furniture covers. She approached with a smile, peach lips beneath two patches of teal eyeshadow. She took my gifts and sorted them into the proper piles. “Good girl. You marked them. Male. Female. Put your coat in the back.”

She didn’t need to tell me. I knew the routine.

Ten strides brought me to the back bedroom, the one I slept in when I visited. I pitched my velour jacket on the mountain of parkas and fled down the hall, dodging cheek-pinching ladies and tormenting boys.

Then I smelled it.

Spaghetti.

And the man I sought held the spoon.

Johnny Mathis crooned “White Christmas” from the eight-track player in the basement. A crowd stampeded past me, through the kitchen and down the stairs. Gift time.

One person stayed behind–Uncle Burl, standing near a roaster of pasta, with his arms outstretched. I rushed into his embrace and buried my nose in his hair. He had great hair for snuggling. It melted like cotton candy under my face. We didn’t say a word. For a childless man and a fatherless child no words were needed.

A scream of delight poured through a crack in the door. We smiled. Someone got the gift they’d wanted. Uncle Burl heaped spaghetti on my plate and handed me a purple soda. I stuck my fork into the mound of cheddar and swooped it upward, the full length of my arm.

I didn’t break.

He still had it.

Another shout climbed up to us, this time a teenage voice. They were getting closer to my age group. We didn’t have much time.

Condensation beaded on my pop like tears. I took a sip and laughed. The bubbles tickled my nose. Uncle Burl savored his own drink, orange. With his diabetic diet and my health concious mother, icy, sweet drinks were a luxury for both of us.

“Mary Lynn!”

“Where is she?”

At the sound of my name, my uncle and I locked hands and plodded down the steps. He stood next to Aunt Gertrude while I squeezed in next the lava lamp, my favorite spot.

Someone shoved boxes onto my lap. The room went quiet as it always did until the first gift was lifted for all to see.

I tore into my gifts with relish. Houseshoes, a bunny sweater and a two-dollar bill rounded out my initial booty. I cracked the lid on one of the signature gold boxes. A red velvet nightgown with satin roses. My mother looked heavenward, her thoughts probably on the shrinking nightshirt in my closet.

The last box revealed a pair of white leg warmers with gold glitter. The older girls squealed with envy. The tag read, “To Mary Lynn, from Daddy”. In my uncle’s handwriting.

Uncle Burl winked at me and called someone else’s name.

I smiled, my arms full of treasures, my belly stuffed with spaghetti, and my heart awash with love.

It was Christmas, with all the sauce

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marilynn Griffith is the author of eight novels, mother to seven children, wife to a deacon and proof of God’s enduring mercy. She has served as national Vice President of American Christian Fiction Writers and has served on faculty at several national writers conferences. When she’s not writing about friendship, family and faith, Marilynn blogs and speaks to women and writers.

One of her novels, If the Shoe Fits, served as a prop in Tyler Perry’s box office hit Why Did I Get Married? (The mistress has a book in her hand at the beginning of the scene where Jill Scott is forced off the plane. One blink and you’ll miss it, but we’re hyped about it anyway!)

She most recently took part in the Soul Expressions Book Tour with Angela Benson, Victoria Christopher Murray, Kimberla Lawson Roby and 11 other authors throughout Indiana and Illinois.

Though she lives in Florida now, Marilynn’s muse often wanders the Midwest (especially her native Ohio) wearing a warm jacket and carrying a long stick, eavesdropping on the conversations of imaginary people. To book Marilynn for media interviews, speaking engagements, or book club call-ins stop by http://www.marilynngriffith.com or find her on Facebook, Twitter or the SistahFaith Network.

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There are 15 comments for this article
  1. Stanice Anderson, Author & Inspirational Speaker & Performance Artist at 6:42 am

    Really nice, Marilynn. I so enjoy your writing. Your voice is strong. Your descriptions make me feel like I’m there with you. Thanks for sharing your gift.

  2. Jeanette Hill at 9:14 am

    Girl, you know we both share the ‘fatherless’ and the native ‘Ohio’ thing! Not only do I know it, I can feel it, in fact, I’m going to the kitchen to make me some spaghetti right now! Love you!

  3. Claudia Mair Burney at 8:06 am

    Oh, girl. That one was so rich. I’m over hear teary-eyed and sighing. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story.

  4. Lynette Sowell at 8:01 am

    I love it, and I felt it, Marilynn! Beautiful, beautiful story.

  5. LaShaunda at 8:45 am

    My first thought. That girl can write. I remember the leggings. Can you believe they’re bringing them back? Spagetti for Christmas, how cool is that.

    Great story. Now you’re making me re-write mine. LOL.

  6. Marilynn at 8:54 am

    Stanice and Lynette,
    Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas from my family to yours.

    Ty,
    Thanks for doing this. It’s a beautiful thing!

  7. PatriciaW at 8:59 am

    Short story, novel…doesn’t matter, if it’s one of Marilynn’s. I know I’m going to enjoy it.

    Funny she mentioned hugs in her story because that’s the warm, blanketed feeling I always get when I read one of hers.

  8. Stacy Hawkins Adams at 8:54 pm

    Beautiful story, Marilynn. Love your writing!

  9. wvoices-admin at 10:05 pm

    Marilyn you touched quite a crowd of folks today! Thank you so much for sharing it on Written Voices.

    Blessings,

    Ty

  10. Marilynn at 10:07 pm

    Ty,
    Thanks for having me. This was big fun. I’ll check back and see what everyone is up too. It’s 20 days away y’all… LOL

    much love,
    marilynn

  11. Jennifer C. at 9:49 pm

    Marilynn, this was such a beautiful Christmas story. It touched me deep and made me weep.

    Thank you for this. I hope the right person reads this and get a great treat ans message.