Shortly after my parents were married, they came across a Creche set in a small store in a small town in California. They were taken by its simplicity and beauty and bought what they could afford -- the holy family -- although there were many more pieces that were a part of this set.
Each Christmas they added another piece to the set and as their family grew, so did the set. A little boy, a little girl and an angel were all added to represent the births of each of their children. They added animal figurines on years when their family did not expand.
It was a tradition they loved.
Even when they moved from California, my parents were able to "mail order" pieces for it. -- a big deal in the era before internet shopping.
But when the store in Sausilito closed, it seemed the Creche set would forever remain as it was. It was magnificent! There must have been some 20 pieces to it by then, including three kings, a shepherd, and creatures of all sorts.
Years passed and although the Creche set didn't grow or change, the family continued to grow and change as the children became teenagers. The one thing we all agreed on was the beauty of that Creche set. Every year it brought us together. Each Thanksgiving my dad brought the box down from the attic and we eagerly unwrapped each character from its tissue paper shroud.
Ten years after we ordered our last figurine, my parents went to New Orleans to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary and take a Mississippi Riverboat cruise. As they were wandering around the city of New Orleans prior to boarding, they meandered past a small store. In that small store's window was their Creche set -- looming larger than life.
The Creche set on display was indeed by the same artisans, and as the Riley family had grown, so had the number of pieces available for the set. My parents inquired about ordering figurines and went home excited to continue the tradition that had started so many states and lives ago.
And once again, on Thanksgiving, my family would get out the Creche set, set up the pieces, look at the order form and decide upon a figurine to add to the collection -- ordering each year from that small store in New Orleans. It was a tradition we loved.
There were years when money was tight -- so a snake or a mouse joined the set. And there were years when money was not as tight and a bear or a baby elephant ambled onto the scene.
There were years when grandchildren joined the family, and they too were represented with figurines. A lifelong friend passed away and another angel joined the set. The set now had some 40 pieces to it.
And then came Hurricane Katrina...
Horrified at the devastation, my parents also knew in the back of their minds that it must be the end of the store that carried our Creche set pieces. There was no way that small store could have survived. And there was a new grandson to honor with a figurine.
Two months after the hurricane, my parents tried to contact the store. But the phone just rang and rang and rang. Just before Thanksgiving my mom decided to give it one more try -- she just couldn't give up. She dialed the number and the phone rang and rang and ... was answered. The store was back in business!
This year, the day after Thanksgiving, the Creche set came out and a figurine was ordered.
God is good.