Jefferson Weaver • The Angel in the Trashcan
She waits, patiently, as she did six decades ago, as she waited for five or six decades before.
Tucked away in a box, gently wrapped in tissue left over from one gift or another, she waits until the box will be opened, and she’ll be brought out again for a few weeks. Her wings and halo will be straightened, and her dress smoothed a little.
She has learned patience. From her first days as a gift for a little girl, to the years when she was treasured, then possibly forgotten or lost, then to what might have been the last, most humiliating time, when she was tossed naked, without legs, onto a garbage can with the rest of the trash being cleared out of an old house nobody wanted anymore.
It was cold that day, the type of bitter bonebreaking cold that blows down from somewhere in Canada and takes a left on the Potomac River heading for the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic. There was a dusting of snow, and the street was icy and slush was in the gutters. There was a bit of a break from the wind in the alley behind the old homes that faced the river, and that was why the stubborn, strong woman named Lois took the alley. It was a shortcut to the busy, brightly lit downtown at Colonial Beach, a summer town that mostly stayed open all winter, even when the vacation homes and the big hotel were shuttered against the storms.
There were big chunks of ice on the river that day, and Lois wore heavy socks over her nylons, under a skirt she made herself. She had jobs at the grocery store, the department store and the newspaper, where she was just learning to write. She had four kids, and needed every dime she could scavenge, but she was better off than she had been at other times in her life. The family lived with her mother and sister in a sprawling, comfortable home a few blocks from the beach. It was a far cry from the farm where she grew up, not too many miles away, and it seemed even farther from Washington City, where she carried a hatpin to defend herself when she walked to school and worked at a doughnut shop as a teenager.
Lois took the shortcut to save time and get out of the wind and snow blowing in from the river, and that was why she found the angel.
The angel looked like anything but an angel as it lay there atop the garbage, the can filled with old papers and rotten clothes and bottles and cans. The workers were readying the house to be sold, but had knocked off a little early due to the weather.
Lois saw the angel and snatched her from the trash, immediately hiding the doll in her big purse. She was proud, and didn’t want people thinking she was rooting around in trashcans a few days before Christmas.
She wanted to make some extra hours for more presents for her kids, her mom, her sister and the editor of the newspaper. He was a skinny, gray haired man who wore sweatshirts under his white shirts to stay warm. He lived in a little house just up the river, just him and a hound named Driver. He was lonely and sad for a family he rarely got to see anymore. Lois and the editor had talked some. She had decided to invite him to Christmas with her family, since he loved her children, and he had known her daddy.
The manager of the store was happy to provide her with enough hours to buy some extra gifts, as well as the makings for an applesauce cake she wanted to make for the editor. She used some of her lunch money for the week to buy a snippet of lace, gold floss and a few other notions for the angel.
The gifts and cake were for her family and the editor. The angel was a gift for herself.
Not long afterward, Lois and the editor got married, and had a little boy they named Jefferson. When he visited his grandmother, he would walk to the small boat harbor, past the house where Lois found the angel so many years before.
Lois crocheted a golden halo that is now faded, and made wings out of cardboard and foil. They have been replaced a few times through the years. The loop on the angel’s back has had to be repaired, since even just that little bit of pressure from an ornament hook every year has frayed it slightly.
The tree was never complete until Miss Lois hung the angel. Even when my mother’s fingers shook with Parkinson’s and arthritis, and she had to use a walker to stand up, she hung the angel as a way of saying the Christmas tree for our family was complete.
The editor enjoyed the applesauce cake, and had one every year until his last Christmas in 2000. Papa always shared it, and he always loved it. Miss Lois made one or two for us after he died, but it wasn’t the same. Her heart went with him when he died.
The angel passed on to Miss Rhonda, and our own Christmas tree, whether misbegotten or monumental, is never finished before she carefully finds a place for the angel where Mother would have approved.
I have always resisted my sisters when they have asked for the angel – after all, I wasn’t even born when Miss Lois first hung the angel on the tree. Someday, maybe. But not yet.
An angel told Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah, and angels brought the news to shepherds that Jesus Christ was born for all mankind. Regardless of whatever mistakes we would make, two thousand years before I was born, He was born to save me, and you, everyone else. An angel spread the word that things would be different, that the first and greatest gift for the love of all mankind was born in a stable.
Biblically it doesn’t compare, of course, but my mother saw an angel, too – hers was in a trashcan, and she made it a gift of love to generations of her family.