It is a cloudy and sometimes rainy day by the hole. Number 11 is quiet because the folks have gone out for afternoon tea.
The dogs are restful and the need to write and tell outweighs my sense to cover.
This is a strange time. Strange because the restful rhythm of life seems almost too relaxed given that Christmas is just two hurried days away.
Erica asked me why I shy away from celebrating holidays and I dug up some contrived rationalization about the single life and the course of roads that have run across too many laments about the purpose of belonging anywhere.
Her question stuck to me and brought enough weight for me to remember that Christmas brings with it one of my most special memories.
It is a memory about my grandmother on my mother’s side. She was a woman bigger than the life that filled in and around her presence at number 65 where I lived with her long enough to know that she raised her politics to cover the brutality of apartheid.
Christmas like every Friday was cause for celebration for my grandmother. On Fridays she would serve only fish in her Muslim kitchen.
We never questioned the plate she prepared with love and acceptance that we lived in and among Christians who would also stop by on Eid and wish us well over Ramadan and then leave with a plate full of Malay delicacies.
In the weeks before Christmas my grandmother would dress me and rub Vaseline into my scruffy cheeks and then walk my little feet the three or so miles to town.
She always seemed so strong to me. She walked with a confident presence. A brown Muslim woman with hardly any money in a land where the skin she kept so shiny meant nothing to the white people who commanded the sidewalk and stores that made Christmas commercially bright.
When we got back from our shopping expedition my grandmother would wrap and then pack the toys she bought me into a cupboard alongside the little bed where she would lay me down at night.
Even as she wrapped the boxes she would tell me that if I was good I could play with the toys before Christmas.
I can’t remember the content of good, but I do remember playing with little cars and firing cap guns until it was time to put the toys back into the boxes as though they belonged to the future.
As the days passed I quietly watched that beautiful woman wrap the boxes over and over again. In between the love of her hands and the patience of her praise she wrapped the gift of her being.
On Christmas day she would wake me early and say in Afrikaans “Kom Boetie (come little brother) you can open your presents now.”
As the wrapping fell for the final time her eyes would light up bright like the lights on the artificial Christmas tree she kept for most of her married life.
After my presents were opened she would retrieve the other boxes she had wrapped. These boxes contained toys she bought for the less fortunate Christian kids who lived close.
Somewhere in the day of celebration and well wishes that caused people to care enough to hug and kiss each other, my Brown Muslim grandmother walked those boxes to the eager and grateful hands of Christian kids who knew her by her community name, Aunty Dija.
My mother tells me that on the day that my grandmother passed the streets were filled with people who came to express their condolences for a woman who gave more than she ever could have taken.
One count tells that more than a thousand people attended her funeral. All kinds of people from every walk of life came to give a little something back to Aunty Dija.
I was living in Baltimore when the Great Spirit came to call her to that other time.
In retrospect I see how my grandmother grew Christmas from inside her spirit through the hands that put Vaseline and boxes into my life with the moral teaching that our common humanity stands above all else.
Her hands proved that she cared more for others than the hate and division that apartheid wrought.
And she did so, in this instance, inside of a Christian holiday meant to convey peace and goodwill to all, even Muslims.
So Christmas is special to me Erica. It reminds me of a woman I still love with my entire being. Her presence is imprinted onto my being even through the times when I have turned my back on the often contrived sentimentality of holidays like Christmas.
I am in these terms a Muslim and a Christian and a Jew because the books are linked despite the constructed divisions that have Bush and company making war on the bodies of the innocents who will live again.
At that appointed time the wrapping will fall with finality and the common humanity that my grandmother lived will reach beyond the barbarity of this time and its place.
Inside of this memory is a story about my Muslim grandmother, Gadija, who honoured the very best of what it means to be Christian.
Peace and Struggle!