Writers are always attuned to sources of inspiration. A word, an expression, or even the smallest shared story works its way into an author’s headspace and becomes the basis of stories, poems, novels. The chapter titled “Nativity” is a collage of two real pieces of inspiration that came together in my novel, The Bystanders. It may be read on its own as a story, or as a chapter from the novel.
When my family moved from Los Angeles in the late 1980s—to live off the grid—we found ourselves outside the small town of Lawrenceton, Missouri. It was quite a culture shock. We went from the city to rural living, but it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever lived. And the people were amazing.
At my family’s first Midnight Mass at St. Lawrence Church, I was selected to play the part of Mary in a live nativity. I was in third grade at the time, and I recall being concerned people might think I gave birth to Baby Jesus, so that was kind of funny. But the live nativity element was the first bit of inspiration for this chapter/story.
The second part that influenced “Nativity” was one of my mom’s most precious possessions, a Vatican commissioned nativity scene that cost a fortune. It’s stunning, but it was a pay-as-you-go program and every month a new piece arrived, except the most important character of all, Baby Jesus. For three years mom received, lambs, cows, multiple angels and shepherds, but no Baby Jesus. As you can imagine, she was getting upset. And then one day Baby Jesus arrived, and my dad and sister got to him first. Big pranksters, these two. They wrote an official looking letter from the Vatican apologizing because they weren’t going to be able to send Baby Jesus, they had discontinued the collection, and to please accept a cow in his place. They found one of the many cows in the collection and replaced the cow with Baby Jesus. My mom was livid when she opened that box and read the letter. Eventually, they fessed up and now the nativity scene takes up her mantle during the holiday season.
With “Nativity.” I wanted to write a classic Christmas story. So many of our modern holiday stories are really new versions of classics. I also wanted to share one of my favorite family memories. I hope you derive some mirth from “Nativity” as my family and I have over the years.
Lena and Holda were twins; however, most parishioners didn’t see them as two eccentric hens, but as one big lady who cracked in half. They lived in a ninety-eight-year-old house that once served as the rectory for Saint Lawrence Church. After the last full-time priest passed, the diocese decided the new priest, Father LeClair, should split time between the two town parishes—Lawrenceton and Bloomsdale. Hoping to preserve one of few original structures left in town, the ladies bought the rectory, and moved in. In turn, the parish supplied them a tiny income to keep up the church. They attended every Sunday Mass, every wedding and Baptism. They were at church for each feast day, every saint day, and most importantly, Midnight Mass—they had overseen Christmas almost as long as Christ. READ MORE…