Christmas break was underway and Dixie was glad of the rest. She had sleep to catch up on and a lot of emotions yet to process. It had been just two months since Kenny had died and even though she hadn’t known him for long, she missed him. He had made a profound impact on her life and family. Over the last weeks she found herself wishing she could tell him thank you, or ask him questions about his experience. This break from school was important, because although she was an extrovert, and wore her emotions on her sleeve, she felt the need to have time to reflect quietly on all that had happened in the last four months.
This morning the house was still. Her dad was at work and her mom was doing her usual Tuesday morning volunteering at the library. Dixie made herself a cup of coffee and padded into the den with Pumpkin on her heels. She pulled up a Bing Crosby Christmas playlist on her phone and played it through the den speaker system. Still in her flannel pajama pants and sweatshirt she thought she just might stay that way all day!
Her dad had made a fire in the fireplace, not that it was especially cold but he knew she would enjoy it. The mantel was covered in evergreen and holly, a large vintage Santa stood in the center, flanked by red candles in hurricane globes. The family tree sat in the corner bedecked in white lights, red ribbon, and family ornaments dating all the way back from her parent’s childhood. Her mother’s all white, formal tree decorated the front hall. It was covered from top to bottom with silk magnolias, gold ribbon, white frosted berries, cotton blossoms, strands of fake pearls, and pine cones. She had to give her mother credit, she had style. Dixie had noticed this Christmas that the things her mother had been uptight about before seemed to concern her less. She would always be an organized and precise woman, but the tension that had often gone along with those traits seemed to be thawing.
Maybe it had to do with the visit they had taken to Collierville, TN, a suburb of Memphis, a week ago. Dixie, her mom, and her dad had traveled the three hours to meet Kyle and his family. It hadn’t taken her mom long to decide to meet him. Her dad had encouraged the meeting, and he’d talked to Daniel about supporting her decision. While Daniel wasn’t exactly enthusiastic he had come around to giving his blessing to their mom, but he still didn’t have any desire to meet Kyle himself. Dixie hoped he would at some point, but she was satisfied for now. She herself had been bursting with excitement to see Kyle! Her mom had even given her permission to tell Gabriel that she had a brother with cerebral palsy. That had tickled her little friend. He had lots of questions she didn’t have answers to yet.
It had taken them three hours to get to the Williams’ house. Dixie sipped her coffee and stretched her feet out toward the fire as she remembered the meeting. Her mom had been nervous by the time they reached the Williams’ pretty split level home. Dixie pulled up the pictures from their visit on her phone. Sharon’s nervousness had been met warmly by the whole family who had all turned out, curious to see their brother’s family.
Dixie looked at the picture of the young man in the wheelchair, his sandy hair cropped short, blue eyes squinted in a happy smile. He was flanked on either side by Sharon and Dixie. His hands were lifted at awkward angles in his excitement. The extent of his disability was greater than Gabriel’s. While he could stand, and even walk with some support, his legs were weak enough to need the use of a wheelchair. His communication was slow and difficult to understand, but he was clever and witty. She scrolled through the pictures and stopped at another one of Sharon and Marsha, both of Kyle’s mothers. The two women had smudged mascara in the picture, from all the tears they had shed that afternoon. Through the smudged makeup their smiles were genuine as they stood side by side. Marsha was very different than Sharon, short with dark hair and a quick smile, she had a quickness to embrace people and bring down barriers. Maybe it was from years of taking care of Kyle, or maybe that’s why she had chosen Kyle. They had all liked her right away. They had liked all of Kyle’s family.
Dixie remembered what her mom had said on the drive home. “What Kyle’s life may have been like has nagged me for years. The guilt has been terrible. A huge weight has been lifted from my heart to see how God redeemed a bad situation and took care of my son! All I’ve ever wanted was to know he’s loved and happy.”
Dixie leaned her head back on the couch and listened to Bing croon out her favorite Christmas songs. It had been a crazy, stressful, wonderful fall. She would be glad to start the new year fresh, with her relationships stronger than they had ever been. In May she would graduate with her teaching degree, and then who knew what adventures lay ahead. She set her empty mug down and scooped Pumpkin up onto her chest. He lulled her with his happy purring. Today was a day of rest.
As she drifted off in the arms of a contented nap it occurred to her that her little town, in fact everybody she loved, seemed to have awakened from a lazy slumber. Everyone want to belong. Everyone wants to be loved. They were all beginning to see that the path to peace is the path of love; only hate takes the path of rejection. The Mississippi River would continue to run along beside them, singing an ancient song. And they would learn to sing it too.
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