This past week a bit of magic floated by and landed on a simple egg shaped shaker. Let me explain. I had organized a Christmas caroling event at several senior centers where I live. It had been a while since I fa la la’d with a group but I was desperate. Desperate to combat the corrosive commercialization of Christmas. There is no profit in caroling unless merriment is marketable and I’m sure some crafty financier could find a way. But our small scruffy troupe of singers was strictly pro-bono. A musician friend of mine brought his paraphernalia; a tambourine, shakers, and music. We sang our hearts out and the instruments were a huge hit. He let me use them for the day as he had a wedding and couldn’t make the later times. Our final destination was a large facility with many of the patients in the throes of dementia, much like the other earlier facilities. When I handed the shaker to a lively resident singing with verve; she shook it like a salsa singer her arms waving in all directions. Evelyn better known as “Eve” wiggled in her wheelchair while belting out each carol. She knew every stanza by memory. We the singers mind, you had to refer to our printed lyrics—it had been a while.
The room was packed full of faces remembering songs they sang in yesteryears. Despite wheelchairs, catheters, and the grey walls of an institution, the residents sang through their memory loss-- some with smiles others with tears. Silent Night was a favorite and we sang it twice—each time the room rang out with voices that often rarely speak. After singing for about forty minutes—it was time to go. We went around and said good-byes and many of the Elders grabbed our hands and whispered “God bless. Thank you.” It was difficult not to cry—I thought about how isolated we are in this society and vowed silently to visit again. Then Eve asked with her sweet southern drawl “What girl scout troop ya’ll from?” I wasn’t sure if she was serious or not but I laughed and thanked her for the compliment. She insisted though and one of the singers chirped “troop 45”. Eve laughed and slapped her palms together. We waved one last farewell and the room became a flurry of wheelchairs lining up for the trip back to their rooms.
A few days later while returning the instruments to my gracious friend, I realized I’d left the egg shaker with Eve. When I called the facility they reported they had not seen it but I was welcomed to stop in and look for it. A few hours later I walked into the room where we had sung and spotted Eve right away. She was cutting out green paper wreaths with a few of the other residents. When she saw me her face lit up. “I didn’t know what girl scout troop to call. I have your little black egg. Let’s go get it.” She quickly whipped her wheel chair away from the table and despite being in a hurry, I followed. We got to her room and there lie the little shaker on a dresser beside a plethora of dated black and white pictures. When I asked about the photos a silent film grew a voice.
Like a seasoned actress taking the stage, Eve grew tall in her wheelchair as she was transported back in time. “Oh that is me in Paris before the war. I was a fashion designer—Paris didn’t notice my color you know I made the finest dresses in Paris and come Christmas everywhere I looked women were wearing one my dresses.” I told Eve how impressed I was and told her I can’t even sew a button on.” She laughed. I asked her more about Paris.
“Hmm, well Paris at Christmas sizzlin. Songs and elebrations--they started December 6th on St Nicklaus day—did you know there really was a St Nick?” I said I did but it was as if Eve were talking to an unseen audience she ignored my answer and carried on. “Shoot St Nicklaus was a generous man lived oh back a long time ago. He was a priest but before that his parents had died while he was very young you see and he inherited a lot of money—but didn’t keep a lick for hisself—did you ever hear about the gold in the shoes?” I said no although I had and Eve continued. “Well back in St Nickolas’ day see a girl had to have a dowry or else she’d be sold into slavery. And there was this poor daddy he had three gorgeous girls- but no money for a dowry and soon they’d be all sold. He cried and begged and low and behold… St Nick in the disguise of dark threw gold into those girls’ shoes that were drying out on the hearth. That’s where the tale of stockings comes from. Some say it was balls of gold that landed in those shoes that’s why my mother always put oranges in our stockings and hung a gold Christmas ball on the tree—a dedication of sorts.”
Eve paused and I took my opportunity to ask her how she had gotten back to America. I wondered how we veered so far from the origins of the conversation. “Oh I moved to New York when the war was beginning. I met my husband Harry there. He bumped into me while walking down Madison Avenue. It was Christmas and snowing to beat the band. We ducked into a diner for a cup of coffee waited for the snow to ease up. Then we walked looking at all the pretty shops they was decorated so pretty. We got married six months later. I missed Paris real bad but there was no going back not with the war and all. America didn’t favor designers like me—not like Paris. But Harry bought me a little shop and we did alright—I kept on making dresses—sort a like an underground thing ya see. Come Christmas though—we had a flurry of business mind ya.”
I felt as if I was in a time warp hearing the sounds of the city and I asked Eve to tell me more about Christmas back then. “Oh it was magic-- a feeling of excitement stirring the air and well it was as if you stepped off life’s merry-go-round for a few weeks. Folks greetin one another, presents were simple homemade most of em. My mama used to make all sorts of delicious treats. I tried but I was better at making dresses mind you.” Eve paused for a moment as if reflecting on her words and there was a shift in her demeanor. She asked me to hand her a tube of lipstick sitting next to the egg shaker. She pursed her mouth and applied the ruby red color then continued. “Harry and I live in New York I wonder where he is he is usually not this late. We have to get our Christmas tree. I hope he’s not out drinking with the boys.”
At that very moment a nursing assistant popped his head in the room. “Eve you have to come to dinner now.” I smiled and nodded cueing him that I was leaving.
Eve patted her lap and turned to me “Now what girl scout troupe did you say you are from dear?” then she winked. I smiled back wondering where she was or which one of us was hoodwinked. We said our goodbyes and I grabbed the little shaker that led me through the archives of a life and back. When I told her I would return as I wanted more stories she said matter of fact she may not be here; “When Harry gets home we’re going to Paris or New York for Christmas dear.” I looked around at the stark room, the yellowing linoleum floor and thought for her sake, I hope she gets there soon.
Causes Karen Devaney Supports
Eve Ensler and any organization that deals with issues supporting women and children and the advancement of their education.