They came pelting into the house, all four of them, on that August afternoon in 2008.
"Grandma, come and see what we made!"
Now I'd been a parent long enough to know this could be either a scenario for disaster or a "grab your camera" moment. I took a chance and picked up my trusty Canon SureShot.
About three quarters of the way down our lawn, they gathered around a small tepee made of branches and twigs. Emma, who was three at the time, could fit inside standing up; the others flanked it. They were all grinning from ear to ear, pretty proud of themselves. They posed for a few pictures and then showed me the finer points of the construction, which included a pathway of larger branches leading up to the entrance. It was the sort of project that not only kept them busy and outdoors for a few hours on a summer day, but also fostered the sort of creativity that's sadly lacking in many children's lives these days.
Too soon, their visit came to an end and they headed back home to start school. A month later, the remnants of Hurricane Ike came roaring through Northeastern Ohio, downing limbs right and left and leaving devastation in its wake. When it had passed, we were amazed to see the little tepee still standing tall in the front yard. We called the kids and let them know what terrific builders they were that their creation had weathered a pretty strong wind.
After that, we became curious to see exactly how long it would last. As the calendar moved toward Thanksgiving, my husband decided to put it to use for something he'd always wanted--a Christmas crèche. He came home one night with a ceramic Nativity set of 9" tall figurines. It was pretty complete--Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, a shepherd, two wise men, an ox and sheep, and an angel.
I shook my head. "Not going to work," I declared. "Ceramic won't last a New York minute in this cold."
He let me ramble on and then, in his own imitation of a wise man, went out and put them in the tepee anyway, first adding some straw and stringing an extension cord with a spotlight. The angel was hung from the top, overlooking the Holy Family. I examined his project and found that it was actually pretty nice. It didn't make any difference that because there's so little traffic on our street, very few people ever saw it. Throughout the holidays, every time we drove out the driveway, we were reminded of what Christmas was all about.
In the spring, when the snow had melted enough to bring in the statues, we found they were still in great shape, so we packed them back in their box and stored them with the other decorations.
Christmas, 2009. The tepee was still there. It had made it through an entire year plus of rain and wind and sleet and snow and ice, and many summer lawn cuttings. Out came the Nativity set and once again the Holy Family graced the little shelter that our grandchildren had built. When snowstorms came, the spotlight melted the drifts and kept Baby Jesus warm. We found ourselves keeping the light on almost into February. We just liked seeing it, even though the snow often kept the shepherd and wise men buried.
Christmas, 2010. Ditto.
By now, the kids eagerly looked forward to seeing the tepee when they came for visits. One day, the older ones even expressed some doubt about whether this was the original tepee or whether we took it down and put it back up when we knew they were coming--sort of like Aunt Martha's ugly vase that you bring out of hiding when Aunt Martha is on the front doorstep. But no, we assured them, it was most certainly the original. We hadn't changed a twig.
2011. Not all miracles are momentous, life-changing affairs. Some are almost too small to be noticed at all. We know one happened in our yard as again we find ourselves ready for the "Christmas star" to shine, welcoming all to the stable.