I love my Christmas tree this year. Samara and I put it up very early because we knew we would be gone for Christmas. We also asked Santa to make two stops this year, one in L.A. and one in Trinidad. Here in L.A. we will leave the customary cookies and juice for Santa, as well as the carrots and bucket of water for the reindeer. I really hope they do not drag mud all over my carpet the way they did last year. I think this year “I” will leave Santa a note asking him to please clean up after Rudy and his pals, and if he insists on eating peanut butter by the fire, be so kind as to use a spoon!
When my daughter was a mere three months old, I took her “home” to Trinidad. That
Christmas, my Dad moved to Trinidad after many years of hoping and trying and planning. After coming to L.A. to meet his latest grandchild, he left for the Caribbean. My father landed on Trinidad soil and 48 hours later he was dead. He went home to die. So I bundled up my newborn, acquired a rush passport, and off we went. We laid my father to rest in a hillside grave in the small seaside village of his birth called La Lune. The lady in red, I sat before his open pine casket on the wide veranda of his house, the sea threatening to breach the front wall, as a tiny minister in a dirty black suit and Dickensian top hat, shouted and berated the bereaved of our unworthiness in the eyes of Christ. A devout Catholic who quietly took communion at home from a visiting priest every week, I silently cursed my father in no uncertain terms questioning “what the hell were we both doing here with this strange little man?!?” I wore a firehouse red dress that day as was our private agreement. After many of our disagreements and brutal truthfulness, my father would jokingly say that I would probably wear red to his funeral.
As promised, I did. There we sat smiling among the appropriately clad family and villagers,knowing what only we knew of the other. In the end, we had no unfinished business between us.
It was on this trip that I allowed my friend Father Richard to christen my baby girl. I had intended her to receive some stateside vaguely Vedic new age blessing of sage and bells and whatever else ….but something about being back in Trinidad, seeing my father, my friend, in a wooden box there by the sea, took me back to childhood. I thought hmmmm….. Let me just cover all my bases here. Just in case God does turn out to be Catholic…juuust in case those mean red faced angry black-habit-hot-in-the tropics Irish nuns were telling the truth, and we all… the entire world, had to be christened or else spend eternity in a purgatory holding area akin to JFK at 2am in a snow storm….let me just get this child christened!!!! So I did.
On a hot sunny afternoon we all gathered at The Holy Savior, my Aunt Pat’s Anglican church where my friend Father Richard sought to blanket my child’s soul in appropriately protective ecumenical raiment. I thought a High Church of England stamp of approval would be enough to squeeze her through those Catholic Pearly gates. Just in case…!!!
In my eyes, her true baptism came a week later when I dunked her naked little body three times in the sea, surrendering her up to the earth, and the sky, the water, and the air. She squealed in delight, the blessing complete. Did I mention that I am taking my now 11-year-old daughter with me back to Trinidad? She does NOT want to go. She hates and I do mean hates the idea of being away from her “real” L.A. family for Christmas, and has said so. Repeatedly. My daughter, and outspoken child, does not and cannot pretend like I do. She has no filters. She categorically does not want to go. Regardless, she is going. Why?? Because I am the grown up and I say so…..that’s why!!
Two years ago this was a dialogue between my daughter and me.
(This dialogue is happening on the way to school. Samara is sitting in the back of the car.)
Mom: Samara, we have to go to Trinidad for Christmas this year??!
Samara: No, we don’t.
Mom: Yes, we do.
Mom: Because, Auntie Pat is getting old. We have to go before she dies. She wants to see you. She loves you. She wants to see you.
Samara: Well, I don’t love her, I don’t know her, and I don’t want to go.
Mom: Samara, we’re going. She is old now, and we have to see her before she dies.
(A long silence now from the back of the car….)
Mom: Yes Samara…
Samara: I have an idea.
(I brace myself)
Mom: What’s the idea, Samara?
Samara: Just listen, ok. Just listen.
Mom: Ok, Samara. I’m listening…
Samara: Ok, here’s my idea…. I know you say Auntie Pat is dying, well… ok “maybe” dying. Why don’t we just let her die…Hold on Mom, just hear me out. Ok? If we let her die, ok mom, and “then” we go to Trinidad “after” she’s dead…
(I am sitting in the front of the car bracing myself, trying not to say anything while my child paints this picture….)
Samara: ….so after she’s dead, Mom, then we go to Trinidad. When we get there, we find out where she’s buried. We then go to the grave where she’s buried, ……Mom. MOM!!! Just listen!!
Mom: Ok Samara.
Samara: WE go to her grave….and we do a ‘ritual’ at her grave. Aunt Karen can help us with the ritual. So we do a ritual and we say goodbye in the ritual. And then it’s done, Mom. Now we don’t have to go for Christmas.
I’m sitting in the front of the car horrified and laughing and horrified…and horrified. In some odd way, I am so appreciative of my daughter’s ingenuity, her clarity, her critical thinking, her courage to speak her truth. Here are some very fine qualities I have been fostered in her. In my face!!!
Mom: But… Samara!!!! Good Lord girl. You are cold!! I mean COLD!!!
Samara: I’m just sayin’ mom.
Mom: No! We will not wait until that old woman is dead to go do a ritual! We are going to visit her while she is alive, little girl. We are going to Trinidad for Christmas. And that’s it!
That was two years ago. Lord, help me. This is the year, we are finally going…and yes. I am scared!
There is a way to have this be LOVELY!!! Lord….help!