And so you know how insane I appeared to staff at the univeristy. But, get my paycheck I did! My child was going to have Christmas! A stunned fellow faculty member with a car offered me a ride back to town via a backroad, and from Ramallah I took a public taxi to East Jerusalem to purchase gifts, food, AND THE TREE.
Mind you,I have had some strange trees during my nomadic life, but this one took the cake, so to speak. It turned out to be a sparse branch, more like a twig. Well, on the bright side, it was easy to carry. Then off to buy a few rather humbly meek decorations, gifts, and delicacies for guests joining us that evening. Then, another ride home. I returned to an excited child and a grandmother, who couldn’t stop laughing, partly out of semi-hysterical relief for my safety, and the ridiculous “treasure,” which WAS rather funny, I must admit. But Vittoria was not old enough to realize the humor and only had fun helping decorate the tree with the few trinkets I had managed to find, and putting the “Baby Tzisus” in the manger. (Earlier that year, I had found a beautiful, large, hand-carved olive wood crêche plus a camel in Jerusalem, which remains in our family to this day. Yes, an extravagance, I admit, but when or where would I ever find such a rare and soon-to-become family heirloom?)
Our "home" was humble but only laughter and love emanated from the walls that night. Once the twig was “decorated,” we laid out refreshments to welcome friends and neighbors, mostly Moslems, who wanted to bring gifts to Vittoria: Auntie Sharifa in her beautifully embroidered Palestinian gown; Auntie Jamilah with her Brooklyn accent; and others. We all laughed and sang, Vittoria danced and jumped up and down with the glee of a toddler.
Though thousands of miles away, Christmas in Al Bireh remains to this day one of the most beautiful, cherished Christmas memories: rich in spirit, loving family and neighbors, a joyful, laughing child, a grandmother who must have thought me out of my mind at times wandering off with a young daughter into the unknown – but then, who raised me?! She did come with us, however, as we roamed. Materially I hadn’t much that Christmas, but I was and continue to be rich in love, blessings, and gratitude for family and good friends. Afterall, what are a few rocks, bullets, and burning tires: NOTHING stands in the way of a determined mother!!!!!!! Believe me, I learned from the best!
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men!