She’s six, and a true believer in both Christmas and everyday miracles.
Stella Vida, star life. Her name fits her. Like the stars, she has a magical quality, full of mysterious fire and challenging questions. Her favorite thing is the moon. Stella is the first person to spot its hazy appearance at the end of the day. “The moon!” she’ll yell, like it hasn’t come out every night.
It was Stella’s idea to have a Day of the Dead party to celebrate our dead relatives. She was obsessed with the movie, Coco, the story of a Mexican boy who goes to the land of the dead during Día De Los Muertos and restores the memory of his Grand Papa. This idea for a Day of the Dead party came after she told me that her blue-eyed, blond-haired, two-year-old baby brother had been reincarnated.
“Don’t tell Mommy, but I know who Travis was before he was born,” Stella said to me one evening in September, just after her sixth birthday.
“You do?” I responded casually, dying to hear the answer.
“Yup. You know the guy who was the president of black people?”
“Barack Obama?” I ask.
“No. The one who had a dream,” she patiently corrected.
“Martin Luther King? He wasn’t a president. He was…”
“He was the leader of black people. That’s a president,” she said, putting me in my place.
“Okay,” I concede.
“Travis was Martin Luther King.”
“Wow,” I reply, trying to wheedle my way inside her head. “How do you know this?”
“I just know,” she answers. “And, Nana, look at him. You can see Martin Luther King right inside him.”
We both turn to stare at Travis, tied to his highchair, bits of mac ‘n cheese stuck to his bare chest, his yellow hair pushed in every direction from a long, sweaty nap. For the first time I notice his patient face, his knowing eyes. Suddenly I could see it. It brought me to tears.
“I think you’re right,” I said. Then the three of us went back to eating, me trying to force Martin Luther King to eat at least one green bean while pondering his sister’s latest revelation.
This Christmas, Stella asked Santa for one thing – a locket with a picture of her great grandmother, who died a year ago. When my daughter, Casey, told me about it, we were both still emotional about the loss of my mother-in-law; a woman I miss and appreciate more now that she's gone. Stella talks about her often. Casey and I decided Saint Nick needed a little help with this one.
Christmas eve is my family’s traditional day of celebration. In spite of having added three son-in-laws to our family, I have managed to maintain my hold on this one holiday gathering. Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, Easter and birthdays are now shared, though reluctantly, with in-laws. But not Christmas Eve. We are a big family with an Italian heritage (though Ancestry.com says otherwise). The Feast of the Seven Fishes is celebrated, along with a complicated version of the Yankee Swap and a present-opening game involving oven mitts, a Santa hat, and a set of dice. It’s, without a doubt, our favorite family holiday.
This year, before the present opening began, I announced to the family that I had something special to tell them.
“This crazy thing happened a few weeks ago,” I say, standing in front of this large, expectant family. “For the first time in my life I got a letter from Santa!” I pulled an envelope out of my mother-of-pearl keepsake box beside the fireplace. “At first I thought it was a hoax,” I say. “But when I read it, I knew it was from the real Santa.” I removed the letter from its stamped, dated, special delivery envelope and began to read:
December 10, 2018
Christmas Control Center
North Pole, Planet Earth
Dear Mrs. Aspden,
Greetings from the North Pole!
As you know, every year I get millions of requests from children all around the world for special Christmas presents. Most of those requests are happily taken care of by the expert team of elves we have here at the North Pole. But every once and a while I need to ask for a little help, which is why I am writing this letter to you today.
It appears your granddaughter, Stella Vida, of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, has made a request which we are having a bit of a problem producing. You see, she asked for a gold locket necklace with a picture of her Great Gramma, who is now in Heaven. We tried to find a picture we could copy and had no luck because of the privacy restrictions on your Facebook page. Then one of our elves had a great idea – ask her Nana to find Great Gramma’s real locket and put two pictures in it! One of Gramma and one of Stella!
It was brilliant!
Please let us know if you have any trouble with this. Stella is a wonderful person, and, like her mother, she always keeps the spirit of Christmas alive in her heart. I really want her to have this special gift and I know you can make it happen.
Merry Christmas to you and yours,
P.S. Give my best to Kalie, Vinny, Anthony, Bella, Jack and Travis. They have been wonderful children this year. You are a lucky Nana.
Everyone was crying. Stella’s eyes were huge. I handed her the wrapped box containing my mother-in-law’s locket. Her cousins watched in awe as she opened the locket to reveal the newly placed pictures of herself and Great-Gramma. The smile on her face was like sunshine.
“Wait?” she said. “This is from Santa?”
“Yes," I said. "I guess you could say it’s from Santa. He was the one who told me about the locket, and then I looked in Gramma’s jewelry box and saw there was one just like the one you asked for,” In that moment, I realized a miracle had actually happened and that my part in it was only as an instrument in a celestial orchestra. I cried, too.
Stella lives in a world of magic where dreams come true. But, more importantly, she lives in a world where it’s safe to dream, to hope, and to love. Stella expects miracles. Every child should be so blessed.