From the beginning we knew that Christmas dinner 2004 was going to be more sentimental than joyous. For the last several years Mom had insisted on preparing a dinner in memory of Dad for whom Christmas was his favorite time of the year. To him, who was raised during the Depression, Christmas was not just about merriment but overcoming hard times.
(That sentiment would be enhanced in 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge where he and thousands of other soldiers had been submerged in deep snow during one of the coldest winters in European history.)
No longer was her house decorated as ambitiously as it had once been, which is how Mom wanted it. Instead of the usual big, flocked tree, a small plant with ornaments stood near the television. There was, however, no cutting back on dinner which included turkey, dressing and, most of all, two of Mom’s signature dishes – mushroom rice and stuffed mirlitons.
We tried to be as upbeat as we could during dinner, but the moment was badly in need of something special. That’s when one of us glanced out the window and noticed that the landscape had suddenly changed. The gray brown of winter foliage had suddenly disappeared and was covered in white. Lo and behold it was snowing—on Christmas Day, beginning almost precisely at noon. Never had a family needed a flurry from the sky so badly; never was the timing more opportune. The street was white; the vehicles were white. For a moment life seemed purified of any hint of sadness.
Sitting at the table we did face a protocol question. Should we leave briefly to go romp in the street? Or should we remain seated? Out of respect for the stuffed mirlitons maintaining their temperature we did the latter though with many glances through the window.
We could not have realized how much life would change by the following Christmas. On August 29, 2005. because of Hurricane Katrina, the levee would break only four blocks from Mom’s house. Luckily, we were all in central Louisiana by that time and spared witnessing the horror. The aftermath was horrible enough. It was about two weeks before I got to Mom’s house where the entire interior had been turned into mush with huge pieces of furniture tossed around.
By Christmas 2005 Mom was still in central Louisiana staying with a sister, but constantly wanting to return to a home that barely existed. We relocated to a small apartment on Julia Street that at Christmas was brightened by a two-foot artificial tree purchased at the Alexandria Wal-Mart.
In 1843 Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” had created a template of Christmas being a time for good will and helping the needy. For Christmas 2005 New Orleans was a city of Tiny Tims leaning on its crutches hoping for help.
It became part of the Katrina lore, spoken in jest by some but taken seriously by others, that the ’05 hurricane was nature’s adjustment for the ’04 Christmas snow as though the cosmos was responding to a weather pattern that had gone astray.
That is a debate for meteorologists and spiritualists. I am just appreciative that the last Christmas experienced in the house that Dad built was a white one.