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It had a place of honor on the long table in the living room along with a pretty old lamp which had colored glass all around the shade part of it, and little crystal dangly things that hung down around the bottom edge. The Bible wasn't used on a daily basis, as Mother had her own Bible which was read from and accompanied us to church on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings.
It always made an appearance to our bedroom if my sister or I were sick and in bed. Mother would bring it in and entertain us by showing us the beautiful pictures that told what all had happened in the life of Christ Jesus. I knew all about Him. He was my brother, Mom said and God was my Heavenly Father. If Jesus was my brother, I wanted Him to come and play with us, and believe me, one father was enough. The thought of having a second one who could watch every single move I made day or night almost made a nervous wreck out of me early on. I don't remember being so bad though. I really didn't want Him to be so unhappy with me that he'd leave my name out of "His Book of Life".
There was a picture of Jesus standing at a big door and he was knocking and hoping the person inside that door would allow him to come in. It was a long time before I understood what all that meant, but I do know that I was willing for Him to come into our home and I kept waiting for Him to knock on our door. I had about a million questions for Him that no one else seemed to know the answers for.
Children never do grasp the concept of religion and all it involves. The pretty Sunday School stories about little Moses in the bull-rushes, or how poor Jonah got swallowed up by a whale were as real to me as if we'd heard it on the little Airline radio that occupied the same table as the Bible and the fancy lamp. We girls knew better than to ouch any one of the three. I thought about it a lot though. After I learned to read past the first of those Alice and Jerry readers, I was pretty sure I could find out the answers if I had time enough to do it in, but then, God was watching, so I dare not touch it.
About once a month, my father would take us fishing either at one of the nice creeks in the nearby woods, or maybe his whole family of sisters, brothers and all my cousins would go to a big lake and have a wonderful picnic while the men fished. I liked to fish, but I spent all my time running up and down the grassy banks hunting for a little Moses of my own. I loved my dolls, but oh, what I'd have given for a real baby all my own to take care of. My biggest worry was if I found one, was I going to be allowed to keep it?
We often went to visit my Aunt Myra who lived on Clearwater Beach long before there were any houses or hotels right on the beach. Before I'd even get in the edge of the water where the bright coquinas were flushed out of the sand, I'd look out over the water as far as the horizon to see if there were any whales in sight. I was never sure just where I should be looking, so I didn't go into the water past ankle-deep until I was about 8 years old. I can remember having at least one nightmare about poor Jonah.
Anytime a family member got married, or died, or a new baby was born, Mother would get the Bible off the table, and carefully note the event down in its proper place. Everything was important she said, and had to be accurate. Some babies weren't named when they were first born and the birth certificates would just say "Baby Clark" or "Baby Small", then when the mother and father came to an agreement about what the baby was to be named, they had to go down and have the name registered. It took my mom and dad a long time to decide with my name was to be, and I think they never did come to a real agreement about it, so I got my first name from my mother, and my middle name from my father. What a mess! By that time, I was already nicknamed Teeny Bug, and that's the name that stuck with me until I got married and my husband refused to call me that.
The big Bible came out every Christmas Eve too, and we all sat around in the lovely glow of Christmas lights while my Mother or Father read the "Christmas Story" to us. Mother said it was the sweetest story ever told, and I thought so too. Joseph walked beside the cutest little donkey on which Mary rode. She was dressed in the prettiest color of blue I'd ever seen, and there were palm trees by the road they walked. Joseph was trying to find them a room at one of the Inns that I later learned were something like the motels we looked for when we went to north Florida to visit my aunts and uncles. Sometimes, there were signs out by the road that said "No Vacancy". It must have been the same kind of thing.
It was Christmas Eve the night Joseph led that little donkey hoping to find a place for Mary to lie down. She would be giving birth to a child sometime in the night, and it wasn't until I was grown, married and expecting my first child that I fully understood what riding on that donkey must have been like for her. Still, it was a pretty picture and one that I loved. The idea of having all the animals in with us just delighted me.
I must have been about 6 or 7 years old when I first began noticing all the handwriting in the front part of Mom's old Bible, and there were names of people there that I'd never seen, and some that I'd never even heard of maybe. It had been my Grandmother's Bible before it was passed to Mom, so there were great-aunts', great uncles' and 2nd cousins' names written there that I wanted to see, wanted to play with. Alas, they were all grown, some of them already gone to their "reward", (whatever that was). Every time that Mother mentioned it, she'd kinda roll her eyes, so I knew she wasn't going to talk about it. I later learned that at least one of the great uncles on my father's side (naturally) had been a horse-thief in a Robin Hood sort of way. He was as good-looking as any movie-star though.
Old names like Alma, Sally, Jessie, Mildred, and Julia were repeated several times. My own mother's name was Julia and so is mine. I wondered why they didn't name some of them JoAnne, Nancy or Martha, like my girlfriends in school. Or better yet, somebody should have been named Betsy Lee like Alice's doll in the Alice and Jerry readers at school. All my dolls for a long time were named Betsy Lee.
When my Mother died, and the old Bible was passed to me, I never felt that I was "old enough" to accept the responsibility of doing all the recording of births and deaths, marriages and even a divorce or two was found scattered throughout those pages as time went on. That old Bible had our entire family history written in it, and as much as I still loved all the beautiful pictures in it, I abandoned the need to share them with children who wouldn't understand them anymore than I did. I left all that up to their Sunday School teachers until I knew they'd understand.
Today, the old Bible is a treasure and is lovingly wrapped in a white linen pillow case and stored away in Mother's cedar chest which my oldest daughter also has. It has been passed to her, and is her responsibility now; a responsibility that she gladly accepted. When we're all together this coming Christmas, it'll be her or my patient sister-in-law who will read the Christmas story to our family. Everyone is grown now, but we still love the tradition. It is as much a part of our Christmas celebration as decorating a real tree is. We are celebrating Christmas and all that it means, but we are also celebrating the lives of every person's name that's written in that old Bible. I can feel Mother looking down and rolling her eyes at us.
I enjoyed this story so much that I had to read it over twice. The small touches of humor added just the perfect touches to it.
At our house, reading the Christmas story became a tradition when our children were very small, and now, they're grown, and have children of their own. Our grandchildren look as forward to hearing that story over and over as much as they enjoy the singing of carols and treats. You're so right about traditions binding a family Pookarina. It's just so good to hear that others are still doing the same kinds of things for their children and grandchildren.
Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful story. I think we may include it in our family gathering this year for everyone to enjoy.
Merry Christmas Pookarina.
No one ever told us why this portion of the old newspaper was in the Old Family Bible. I would guess that my Grandmother Bryan had either wanted to copy one of those lovely gowns, or perhaps a bonnet.