Memory of a Christmas miracle decades old endures

By Ellen Russell | Dec 09, 2013
Ellen Russell

As I look back over a mixed bag of Christmas memories, one distinct Christmas Eve stands our because of its unusual events.

As darkness overtook our small saltbox home that early winter evening, my mother did something unthinkable. It was her habit to keep a drinking glass at the kitchen sink to encourage the regular intake of H20 with its health giving properties.

She had spent a long day cooking and cleaning to prepare for Christmas day gathering at our cozy, but welcoming home.

Exhausted, aided only by dim light from a nearby room, my mother took a drink of water. After several quick gulps, she realized her error. Just a short time earlier, she had scrubbed the kitchen sink with bleach, the remainder of which had not been discarded, but remained in the drinking glass.

She had consumed an ounce or so of bleach with an equal amount of water!

Panic ensued! Mother immediately continued drinking more water hoping to dilute the bleach. She instructed my older brother to call my uncle for assistance. My uncle in turn called the fire department.

Within minutes, they all converged on our home. I peered through the kitchen doorway as a robust firefighter in full gear burst through the door, flung open the refrigerator door and ordered my mother to drink a large glass of milk. Strange time for a milk break I thought to myself!

Another, robust fireman scooped my mother off her feet, carrying her to the ambulance just yards from our porch. The red lights flashed through the lace curtains, as we children stood huddled together in our pajamas. The sirens blared as they whisked her away. My uncle remained with us. He called my aunt, who was waiting with our five cousins to hear what was happening after receiving our frantic call of distress.

Just minutes earlier, we were pleading to open a gift from under the Christmas tree, which was our Christmas Eve tradition. None of that mattered as we stared in disbelief at the lights of our humbly decorated little tree. How quickly our world had turned upside down.

The days of cell phones and immediate information had not yet dawned, so for the next several hours, we curled up on the living room furniture with our reassuring uncle nearby and awaited word of my mother’s fate. My father’s tragic alcoholism had reduced my mother to being a single mom with a meager income. Because of the trauma and abuse we had experienced, my father’s absence was favorable.

So in these days of what some would call hardship, we thrived under her loving and self-sacrificing parenthood. Consequently, our expectations of Christmas gifts were realistic.

Mom, a creative and able artist, would make new clothes for our worn dolls or sand our rusted lunchboxes and refresh them with lively paint colors. These gifts of love meant more than any expensive toys seen advertised on TV. But now, even that seemed impossible.

My childish mind wandered. Would Mom be ok? What about tomorrow, Christmas Day? Would the marvelous aromas of roast turkey and baked apples fill the house? Would our cousins come to play in the fresh snow and share hot chocolate? Would we sing Christmas carols and read the story of Mary and Joseph? Would any of the wonderful things that make this day Christmas happen?

I don’t remember falling asleep on the couch with my favorite tattered quilt, but several hours later, the clatter at the door woke me. Wrapped in a blanket herself with disarrayed hair, Mom appeared. Smiling broadly, tears flowing down her pale cheeks, she flung open her arms to reunite her family with a grateful hug.

In that moment, nothing else mattered. As I review my childhood today, I am convinced that my mother, who lived to nearly 96 years old, escaped serious injury and was allowed to overcome life-threatening circumstances numerous times.

Those are tales for another time. I believe God’s loving protection saved us three children from losing her, and falling into a very uncertain upbringing.

That unique evening, Christmas angels prevailed. Perhaps they are with her still. So, I continue to cherish the memory of being wrapped, not only in my favorite quilt, but also in the merciful arms of a loving savior.

Ellen Russell lives in Clyde.

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