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Christmas with Mahalia Jackson

June 1, 2009

Every room in Uncle Joe’s house
Is a different color—
Orange, green, blue—
And the walls are adorned with vibrant paintings,
Beckoning you to come in.

But once a year, that little house in Atlanta
Is decked out for Christmas.
From the tree hang homemade ornaments,
Of once-discarded charms and wood and clay,
And it is much warmer within than without.

Our family was all together,
Cooking, reminiscing, laughing,
And I joined as I listened to embarrassing stories
Of Aunts’, Uncles’, and Cousins’ adolescent years.

Remember when Pete snuck out that night?
When Crystie dated that boy?
When Joe had that imaginary friend?
That summer we went to Amacalola?

I was sipping a huge mug of coffee—
The steaming warmth running down my throat,
When Uncle Joe put a Mahalia Jackson Christmas album
Into a dusty CD player.

The black woman’s booming voice
Was suddenly engulfing the house.
“Go and I will send thee,
What will Thou send me?”
She sang, accompanied by a bluesy piano.

And then Uncle Joe started a conga line,
Followed soon after by almost the whole family,
Marching to Mahalia’s beat as she belted,
“One is the Holy Baby, born in Beth-lee-ham!”

My grandma muttered something about
Our crazy family as she watched.
From an armchair.
But her feet still tapped to the beat,
And if we are crazy, she is one of us.

If crazy means stopping at every thrift store,
Managing to get a van stuck on the side of a mountain,
Or getting lost in every state in the southeast,
Then we fit the definition perfectly.

Our tromping dance
Fizzled away
As Mahalia neared the end of
Her holiday musical countdown:

“Four is the four that stood at the door,
Three is the three that couldn’t git free,
Two is Paul and Si-las,
One is the Holy Baby, born in Beth-lee-ham!”

We have listened to Mahalia
Every Christmas since.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Anita Simpson permalink
    June 1, 2009 7:21 pm

    You’ve captured it, Amy!

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