Heavenly Song

Published online: Dec 24, 2020 Between the Rows, Articles Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This column appears in the December 2020 issue of Potato Grower.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

          —Luke 2:13-14

Maggie eased her tired joints into the old wingback chair. Nick had hated that chair. For years, he teased her that it was the most uncomfortable piece of furniture his rear end ever had the displeasure of coming in contact with. A wistful smile crept across Maggie’s lips, her gaze moving to the La-Z-Boy across the room, its chocolate suede worn smooth where Nick’s persnickety posterior had rested at the end of countless days spent checking pivots, digging spuds, baling hay and cussing broken-down tractors. 

Oh, she missed him. Forty-one years spent together working the same land his grandparents had homesteaded will do that to a woman. The heart attack had surprised everyone, snatched him away in the middle of grain harvest and decades before she was ready. Maggie and her boys had made a valiant effort at keeping the farm running smoothly, but with Nick gone, nobody’s heart was really in it. After a couple years, they had started auctioning off the equipment and renting out the land. The boys had taken jobs in town. All that was left now were the house, the original shop, a half-dozen mother cows, and Nick’s two-tone ’91 F-250—just enough to still call themselves farmers if the occasion warranted. 

Sitting there in the wingback, Maggie looked out the window into the bitter cold night. She watched the snow drift across the bare field across the road, gathering up against the fence at the south end. The Christmas tree’s colored lights reflected in Maggie’s window, mixing themselves up with the stars God had placed in the December sky.

Taking a sip from her mug of scalding cocoa (Nick had always liked his lukewarm, with a colossal dollop of whipped cream), Maggie wondered whether any of the stars outside her window were the Christmas star, and what it would have been like to have seen that heavenly sign in real time. For the first time, it dawned on her that, just maybe, the star of Bethlehem wasn’t some massive celestial flashbulb—but rather, a tiny pinprick penetrating the darkness, indiscernible to anyone not paying attention. 

Maggie closed her eyes and let the cocoa warm her body. She tried to imagine what it must have felt like to hear the heavenly host, and what number they had chosen to sing that wondrous night. She wondered if, at that moment, her tone-deaf Nick might be lending his friendly growl of a baritone to some angelic Christmas choir. She smiled again and brushed a tear from her cheek. 

In her reverie, Maggie could almost hear the angels singing to her. Mmmm, “Jingle Bell Rock.” Nick’s favorite. Of course Nick would badger any cherubic conductor into venturing away from all the staid, stuffy hymns. 

Snowin’ and blowin’ up bushels of fun
Now the jingle hop has begun

Maggie’s eyes flew open. The singing was real—and it was coming from her front yard. A sudden knock on the door startled her out of her chair. She hustled to the door and flung it open. And there they stood: three dozen of her family and neighbors, a choir of angels if ever there was one.

Dancin’and prancin’ in Jingle Bell Square
In the frosty air

There was her eight-year-old granddaughter Mallory, right there in front, stretching her little arms out for a big ol’ Christmas hug. There was Mallory’s big sister Clara, and their cousin Cooper, exhorting their middle-school peers to belt it out louder. Half of them were singing the wrong lyrics, but it didn’t matter a lick. 

What a bright time, it’s the right time
To rock the night away

There was Greg, who had taken charge to make sure their harvest was in before his the year Nick had passed, and his wife Tessa, who for weeks had come by every day just to give Maggie someone to cry with. There were Aaron and Sarah, whose kids came by before school every time it snowed, armed with a four-wheeler plow attachment and a couple shovels. There was Beverly, whose whispering, back-row sarcasm had made countless PTO, 4-H leaders council and Sunday School meetings bearable. There were Joe and Tammy, who now rented most of the land Nick and Maggie had farmed for so long.

Giddy-up, jingle horse, pick up your feet
Jingle around the clock

In the back, halfway down the sidewalk, stood her boys with their wives, the beautiful beaming angels who had never, for one second, allowed Maggie to descend into despair. Even in their own grief and amid their own bustling, grown-up lives, they had always ensured that she never felt alone. 

That’s the jingle bell, that’s the jingle bell, that’s the jingle bell rock

Maggie let the tears stream freely down her face. She imagined this was very much how Mary must have felt on that first Christmas night. Everything else may have gone wrong, but, at least for now, it didn’t matter. In that moment, surrounded by her family and a passel of angels, it was the happiest and holiest of nights.