I can’t be in Michigan for American Thanksgiving this year, which makes me very sad.
I have no explanation for this, but I cannot get Steven Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln” out of my mind. While slavery still exists today – horribly – in Africa and the Middle East, thousands of American men gave their lives to extinguish it in the United States of America. Yet somehow, if you consume very much of American media these days, you could come away with the idea that Americans are in SUPPORT of slavery. How did such a ludicrous idea take hold?
When Spielberg’s “Lincoln” was released, I booked the entire day off to attend the opening. I was surprised to see so few people in the theatre, as I assumed it would be considered a blockbuster.
The film lived up to every expectation that I had. Based upon Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals,” with a screenplay written by Tony Kushner (author of “Angels in America”), the story is absolutely thrilling. Lincoln decided, as the American Civil War ended, that all of the blood spilled and losses mounted during that war would be wasted if a new amendment to the Constitution – the 13th Amendment – was not passed. Lincoln made it his life’s mission to get it passed.
Frankly, I think every NFL player “taking a knee” during the national anthem should move to Somalia or Saudi Arabia ASAP.
Also, I am throwing down a challenge to every one of my American relatives: if you have not watched Spielberg’s “Lincoln” with your kids already, you should do so this holiday season.
One Christmas, my brother Pete built me a wooden Nativity. I loved it from the first moment I saw it and have treasured it ever since.
A generous friend saw how much I loved the Nativity structure and bought me a set of wooden figurines. Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the shepherds and angels were rustically hand-carved in Germany and very lovely.
Unfortunately, they were also extremely brittle. I learned this when my cat ran across the roof and tipped it over. Two of the shepherds snapped in half! I was dismayed, but philosophical. I could get by with two less shepherds.
Then, I stopped home one busy workday to be greeted by my housekeeper Krys and her daughter Kirsten. Krys had been part of our family as a babysitter since she was eleven years old, and we had a great working arrangement: after her babies were born, I offered to pay her to look after my house and bring her own kids with her. She did not have to pay for daycare and I did not have to worry about the endless important details of looking after a home. It made for a very happy house, and most days it worked out perfectly.
Except on this day, which was so traumatic I still cry thinking about it.
Krys met me at the door with four-year-old Kirsten, who had tears streaming down her sweet little cheeks.
“Show Rita what you did,” Krys commanded.
Sobbing and hiccupping, Kirsten held out her shaking hands. The Joseph figurine was broken into two pieces. Joseph’s head was in one hand, while his torso was in the other. I have never seen a little girl so frightened and heartbroken.
“Oh my God, those crappy Nativity pieces!” I exploded. “Who makes Nativity pieces that no one can touch?” Without even setting down my car keys, I turned around and left the house.
Krys had no idea of where I was going. She half thought she was going to be fired.
I jumped in my van and drove straight to FlatIron’s Christmas Market. “I have got to buy some Nativity pieces which are unbreakable,” I told the saleswoman.
“Oh, you need the Fontanini pieces,” she informed me. She led me to the back wall of the store – past numerous locked glass display cases of hand-carved wooden pieces, I observed morosely. Who makes Nativity pieces that no one can touch?
The Fontanini display was incredible! Mary, Joseph, Jesus, shepherds, angels, Kings, oxen, asses, camels, sheep, rams, dogs…all in hard, painted resin which could be endlessly handled and washed. I lost my mind, picking out all the figures I wanted. The Nativity, to me, represented every important thing humanity needs: love, hope, optimism, shelter, warmth, respect, caring. Joy. Work. Responsibility. Mothers. Fathers. Family.
I bought a duplicate Mary, Joseph and Jesus to give to Kirsten as a gift.
And then, I got to the cash register: $400 worth of figurines. I swallowed hard and presented my credit card; there was no looking back now.
I arrived home with my bags of figurines and enlisted Kirsten to help me set up the new Nativity. “You can play with these all you want,” I assured her. “That is the whole point of a Nativity: kids should play with the people. That’s how you learn what is important.”
Imagine my delight when, a few days later, I asked Krys if I should get my brother to build a Nativity for Kirsten.
“Oh, don’t worry about that!” Krys laughed. “Kirsten emptied out her Barbie house and put Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus in it. They already have a home.”