Ida Mae Magillacutty was a wonderful woman, really. She lived alone after she lost her husband, which was a nice way to say that he left. No one knows when or where or why, and no, his body isn't buried in the back yard. He just up and walked away one day. The little town gossiped about a possible affair with a blond floozy who had passed through on her way to Las Vegas, but the police never found either Mr. Magillacutty or the floozy. Ida Mae was a little surprised by it, but it never seemed to bother her much. After all, she had her two cats named Miss Priss and Taffeta (Taffy for short). She volunteered at the town library, which was big enough to have the important books like Gone With The Wind and Pilgrim's Progress, but small enough not to allow trash or pornography either, thank you very much! Ida Mae checked in the books when people returned them, and to her credit, she did a good job, though she occasionally couldn't squelch the urge to lecture some child who had left a peanut butter and jelly smudge on a page.
She would peer down at the hapless culprit and scold, "Don't you know that you've left germs all over the page now? Please don't do this again." The child would usually mumble "I'm sorry," and slink away before his momma could hear the lecture and gave him another one at home.
Mrs. Magillacutty was a member in good standing of the Third Baptist Church on Main St., which she attended whenever the doors were open, rain or shine, sick or well. It wasn't that she was so religious really, but there were nice people there and she liked the singing and the friends and the good fellowship suppers they provided on Wednesday nights. If she occasionally nodded off when the pastor preached, no one said anything because after all, she was getting on in years. In truth, it wasn't her age or her arduous schedule that made her tired, but rather the tiniest little vice she had that no one knew about. She played poker on-line every Saturday night, and often stayed up late with the shades pulled and the lights dimmed, because a) she didn't want anyone to know about it and b) she always played long enough to win back anything she lost. Sometimes this took her way up into the night, which meant that it was hard to concentrate on the pastor's sermon the next day. She already knew what he was going to say anyway so it really didn't matter.
Her life was on a regular schedule, and she sort of marched along doing whatever the season called for. On this particular year, Christmas rolled around and she just wasn't in the mood. She thought, "Oh bother, why should I drag out all the ornaments, put up a tree, string the lights, hang the wreath and all that other stuff? I'm tired of that. I think I'll skip it."
Feeling satisfied with her decision, she went about her business and the days rolled on. About the 15th of December, two of her friends from church stopped by for tea and cookies. One of them remarked to the other as they came to the door, "That's odd. Ida Mae doesn't have any decorations up this year." They didn't want to come right out and ask why, but when they got inside and saw that there was no tree, no lights, no cards displayed, and no holly boughs, they couldn't restrain themselves. Miss Percy observed, "Goodness, Ida Mae, you're getting behind here. Where is your Christmas Spirit? Where is your tree, your holly, your lights?" Mrs. Goodie added, "Christmas marks the Savior's birth. We're supposed to celebrate it in worship to Him. I'm surprised at you."
Ida Mae thought a moment and decided that she didn't want to offend her friends. "You're absolutely right," she conceded. "What was I thinking? I'll put up my tree and decorate the house right away."
Satisfied that they had put her back on the straight and narrow way, Miss Percy and Mrs. Goodie expressed their approval, washed the Christmas cookies down with some tea and left, knowing they'd done a good thing here.
Though her heart was not in it, Ida Mae didn't want to offend her friends, and who knows, maybe even God Himself. So, she dragged out the boxes of ornaments, tinsel, lights, holly, wreaths, and the plastic tree itself. "A plastic tree?" she thought, "How phony is that?" but her husband had been allergic to pine and she had bought the tree 30 years ago so he wouldn't sneeze his brains out the whole Christmas season. By this time, it looked pretty tired and a bit limp in places, and it tilted to starboard if she didn't prop it up just so.
Seeing the tree reminded her of Mr. Magillacutty and the floozie which caused her to grind her teeth. So, she promptly threw the plastic tree and all the old ornaments and lights into the trash bin. "If I'm going to do this," she reasoned, "I'll do it right." She went down to the local Wally World and bought a real pine tree, new lights, ornaments, tinsel, and even a manger scene. She brought them home, lugged them into the parlor, and set about decorating the house like a proper Christian should.
The effort exhausted her, and she had to stop for a cup of tea into which she put a drop of brandy. Sipping her drink, she sat on the sofa admiring her work. She had strung her cards on the window curtain rods, put a CD with Christmas carols on her Boom box, and pasted snow flakes on her window panes. She even wrapped a few presents for Miss Priss and Taffy and placed them beneath the tree. The lights twinkled merrily on the tree trimmed with beautiful new ornaments and a festive garland of holly. All in all, she thought, it was really quite nice. "Why, I should invite some friends over to enjoy this with me," she decided.
She called Miss Percy and Mrs. Goodie to come and see her handiwork and she also invited the town Librarian, her boss, Miss Upchurch to come as well. She made another batch of cookies, you know, the kind you buy at Walmart which are already made. You just pop them into the oven and folks think you're a real Martha protégée. She brewed a big pot of tea, left out the brandy because you never know who might be offended, turned on the lights, the music and settled in to wait for her friends to come.
When they arrived, Miss Percy and Mrs. Goodie oohed and aahed over the wonder of it all and secretly patted themselves on the back for their part in getting Sister Magillacutty back in line. Miss Upchurch didn't say anything at all, but her brow was furrowed and her eyes narrowed as she took it all in. When Miss Percy asked her if she didn't think it was just beautiful, Miss Upchurch sniffed and said, "It's OK if you want to celebrate a pagan holiday."
Turns out, she belonged to a strict Fundamentalist Church which forbade the celebration of Christmas or Easter because they were not authorized in the Bible. If it didn't say to do it in the Bible, then it was a sin, you see, and besides, everyone knew that Christmas was really a pagan holiday marking the birth of Zeus, a Greek god. Anyone who celebrated something like that was no Christian in her book. She believed there should be no tree, no lights, no presents, no cards, not even a Christmas mouse. With a scowl that would have made the prophet Jeremiah nervous, she concluded darkly, "You'd best repent or you could regret it for all eternity!"
Horrors, whatever was Ida Mae to say now? This was her boss speaking, thinking she was a pagan worshipper and here, she was just trying to be a good Christian. Where did that get her? If she didn't have a tree, her church friends thought she was horrible and backslidden, not loving Christ enough to celebrate His birth, and if she did have a tree, her boss thought she was bound for hell because she was a pagan. What's a good woman to do? The tea party quickly dissolved after that as the women beat a hasty retreat and left their hostess in a blue funk of dirty cups and cookie crumbs.
When they left, Ida Mae poured herself a cup of tea with a lot of brandy in it. The more she thought about it, the more she was disappointed, hurt, angry, and confused. What was she supposed to think? Whether it was the brandy or contrition, we don't know, but Ida Mae burst into tears and sobbed, "God, what am I to do here? What do you want from me already?"
She didn't really expect an answer, since usually when she asked questions of the divine, there was a profound silence in response. So, imagine her shock when the voice said, "Ida Mae. Quit crying. I love you." She opened her eyes and saw a light filling her parlor and a figure dressed in a white robe, which she knew must be the Lord. She fell to the floor on her face before Him and sobbed, "Oh Lord, I'm sorry about the on-line gambling and the brandy."
The voice replied, "Ida Mae. I didn't come here to talk to you about poker or brandy. I came here to tell you I love you."
"But Lord," she sobbed, "I tried to celebrate your birth, and I just made everyone mad at me no matter what I did."
"Ida Mae, did Miss Percy or Mrs. Goodie or Miss Upchurch die for you on the cross?"
"Of course not. What an idea."
"Then why do you listen to them telling you what's right and what's not?"
"Well, I don't want to offend anyone."
"Do you think I ever offended anyone in my life on earth?"
"Oh no, Lord. You would never do that."
"Then why did they crucify me?"
"Oh, I never thought of that."
"Well, think about it, Ida Mae, and the next time someone tells you what you're supposed to do about this or that, smile at them and say, 'Thanks, and I'll just check that out with God to be sure.'"
Ida Mae looked up from the floor where she had been lying and smiled. "But how wonderful that is, and how simple."
"Yes, dear child. What I teach is simple, but men make it difficult."
Emboldened by the warm flow of love she felt from the Lord, Ida Mae asked, "Before you leave, can you tell me who is right? Is Christmas your birthday or isn't it?"
Now the Lord smiled at her and replied, "My birthday is the day you invited me into your heart. Now THAT's a day to celebrate!"
"But what about my tree and lights and all of that?"
"If you are doing it to celebrate me, then leave it, but if you are doing it to be pleasing to men, take it down."
At that, the light faded and Ida Mae realized she was alone in the room again. She got up, dried her eyes, hugged Miss Priss and Taffy, turned on the music, and danced around the parlor with great joy in her heart because she got it. She saw it. She was set free from the ties which bound her up with guilt and duty and obligation and people pleasing. She decided to leave the tree and the lights and the holly and the wreaths right where they were because she liked them, and they reminded her that the Lord Himself had come calling that day to personally tell her of His great love for her. She was one happy woman that Christmas season, and since God's love is eternal, she felt it every time she thought of the Lord's visit, which she knew she would for the rest of her life.
She decided that her friends could think what they wanted and she wouldn't be mad at them nor expect them to be like her. Maybe God had never appeared to them to say how much He loved them, and that after all, Ida Mae concluded, is the real meaning of Christmas. God loves us one and all, rich and poor, tall and small, black and white, Asian, Indian and Afghanite. For Jew and Greek and all who seek, His love never ends, nor depends on anyone else but Him. What wonderful, wonderful good news!
Until the next time,
From Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Mrs. Magillacutty Goes To Hell and Back
Merry Christmas, (2006)
The Glory Road
This writing was uploaded to the web 11/22/05,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 11/29/09.