Each year we would drive to Clio, Georgia, to celebrate Christmas. That was Christmas. I was four when my dad brought us to America. It had been his promise to my mother. My first memory erupted into my consciousness as a result of that promise. To sail to the states required immunization. It was smallpox. My generation sports a round scar high on the deltoid of the left arm as proof of smallpox immunization. Mine is on my right arm facing outward near my elbow.
"Hold him!" shouted the doctor.
"What!" yelled my Dad cocking his ear toward him. Neither of them could hear over the screams coming from my mouth.
Wiggling and squirming I slipped from their grasp trying to run for any hiding space. Dad grabbed me by the foot. Trapped. I continued my banshee wailing.
"I got him," Dad yelled into the doctor's ear.
The doctor had placed his needle and dread on the table while he attempted to scrub my left arm with alcohol. I jerked it away.
"I need you to hold him still." The doctor huffed.
"You think I'm not trying?"
Dad put his arm around me to hold me close and still.
"I need his left arm."
"You're just going to have to give it where ever you can. I can't hold him still for long."
I was moving and shaking and squirming to do a rassler proud. My Dad, afraid to hurt such a little human being, was trying to hold me down without cracking my bones. It was a chore he'd not had to deal with before. Me? I was fighting for my life or so it seemed at the time.
"Alright then. There. Hold him. I got his arm. It's his right arm."
"That's fine. Don't think it matters which as long as it's done."
"Right." He applied the alcohol again. I was still jerking my arm in attempts to get away.
"Hold him still!" the flustered doctor said. He dipped the needle into the vaccine. As he brought it to my arm I let out a scream. Then came the puncture. Stab, stab and a dip into the vaccine. All the while my high pitched short screams were bringing people to the door to see who was being killed. Dad and the doctor looked up sheepishly.
"What you doing to that child?" One of them said.
"Trying to vaccinate the little blighter so he can go with his parents to America."
Seeing that I was not being murdered they smiled returning to their own business.
Exhausted by the ordeal, I finally accepted, going limp, tears streaming down my face. Betrayed by my very own parents.
The ragged circle of pin pricks, blood seeping through, was covered to keep me from picking at it. The doctor exclaimed that he had never had such a hard case as this one before. Dad slipped my arms into my coat and we went home.
But I digress.
Usually on Christmas eve eve we would load up a trunk full of presents. We'd take them to members of the family who wouldn't be going to Georgia for the big day. Their Christmases would be spent with other families. This night we bundled up in our heavy coats. Heck, we bundled up in our coats. We weren't rich. We had clothes enough but not coats for the different temperatures. Anyway, we hopped into the car to make the rounds.
We would be driving to Georgia the next morning. My stack of funny books was waiting in the hall to be loaded into the backseat first thing in the morning.
The last stop we made was on old Stono River RD deep in Riverland Terrace. A cozy white cinderblock house was the final destination. Dad pulled up into the drive. I grabbed a couple of packages, my Dad the rest. We climbed the three steps to the front door. I watched my breath turn to a grey cloud of steam. I tried blowing smoke rings as I'd seen my Dad do with the smoke from his Luckie. The door opened. My rings whooshed away.
The screen creaked open.
"Come in. Come in. We have hot chocolate on the stove. Come get a cup."
"Don't mind if we do," said Dad helping me with my coat. After he hung up mom's coat we joined them in the kitchen.
It was a brief visit. We drank our cocoa. The folks talked a while. I visited with my cousins. The packages we handed over. In return we were given packages to take to Georgia for the rest of the family.
While everyone was saying their good byes I slipped out the front door to attempt another bevy of "smoke" rings. The night was still. The cold gripped as it sank into the bones of my legs. I crammed my hands into my jacket pockets to ward off frost bitten fingers. I looked upward to puff out smoke rings of grey against the blackness of the sky. My eyes went beyond the feeble ring. The light of a single star captured me. A vast expanse of black punched with small pinpoints of light overwhelmed me. The blackness swallowed me. The cold wrapped around me. The concept of being utterly alone flowed through me in that moment. My breath became a cloud that disappeared. I continued to stare into the vastness above me. Alone. But high above that single star brighter than all the others filled me with a sense of hope that altered the coldness that had begun to settle inside me. That's the star, I thought. The star that led the wise men across the desert. That's the star that came to rest over the stable in Bethlehem so long ago. That's the star that reminds us we aren't alone in all this universe.
The screen door's creak caught my attention.
"What are you doing out here?" asked my mother.
"Blowing smoke rings," I said walking to the car.
I looked up as I was opening the back door. There was a star there that was a little brighter than the others. It was nothing like the one I had witnessed just moments ago.
"Where'd that bright star go?" asked nobody in particular.
"That's the north star," said Mom.
"No, a moment ago there was a really bright one."
"You mean the Christmas star? The brightest in the heavens? It's there if you look hard enough."
Whether I saw the star over Jerusalem or not is debatable. I know what I felt though. It was the promise of two centuries past. The love of the Lord for us all. A night that is forever locked in my heart.