Monday, December 31, 2012

My Christmas Tamale Gift, by Annette Skarin

Steve and I put away most of our Christmas decorations today (though we still have plenty of work to do tomorrow to finish this task). “Putting away Christmas” is always a tiring job and involves so much after-Christmas clean-up. Yet it is a sweet time, in its own way. We listen to Christmas music for the last time of the season, and we remember the sweet and quirky moments from the last couple of weeks. We also give thanks for the gift of loved ones who have shared Christmases with us in the past – and some who have joined our family circle in recent years. So as we close out this season it is appropriate to post one more Christmas story. This one is a very special memory of someone who had a profound effect on Annette, an effect that continues to bless her many years later.

A few months before Christmas in 1996, I became close friends with a lady named Laurie. When I first met Laurie, she was wearing a halo, a metal one that held her neck together. She had two young sons, eight and eleven years old. Doctors discovered that she was in acute kidney failure from an inherited kidney disease. Laurie’s sister and mother had both died several years before.

Laurie smiled all the time. She expressed deep heart-felt thanks to God for her life, the eternal kind. She was thankful for her sons, thankful that she was on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, and thankful for our friendship. Eventually Laurie was completely wheelchair bound but that didn’t stop her from coming over to visit. She could push the wheels on her chair at first until she became too weak and then her son took over. We would laugh together and talk for hours.

As the Christmas season began slipping down the slope of the post -Thanksgiving hill, Laurie’s health began slipping into a painful slope of 4x weekly dialysis. I didn’t understand Laurie as she smiled and said, “I love you.” I would sit with her to help her make the process somewhat bearable. I went as often as I could.

On Christmas Day, Laurie was in the hospital.

A few days before Christmas, some Central American neighbors invited me to make tamales with them. Making tamales was a time of fun and laughter, steamy kitchens, sticky masa hands, and passing around bottles of vino, and cervaza. Multiple families and neighbors would crowd into the small spaces, dancing around one another, playfully elbowing each other – throwing back their heads in laughter and singing.

I had found a tamale recipe in a cookbook that involved making the ingredients from scratch. After placing a spoonful of the red or green sauce and chicken in the middle of the masa, Mexican cheese was placed on top. They were then enclosed in masa, blanketed with corn husks and finally steamed until all the flavors melded.

Laurie called me and said she would be hospitalized for a while. I took her some of the tamales. She hadn’t eaten real food for days. She was dying. Laurie’s mouth creased into a big shining smile. “I love you,” she said. I placed the tamales on her lap, and a fork in her hand.


I smiled. We talked and we laughed and she ate tamales.

A few days into the New Year, the hospital called to tell me she had just a few days left. I was the only visitor she ever had. She saw me coming and her face glowed with a heavenly smile.

“I love you. Don’t be sad. Thank you for the tamales, they were a heavenly gift.”

“I love you,” I said. I smiled an earthly smile.

Laurie now wears a different halo. I imagine it’s made of gold and she’s wiping tamale off her face.



  1. Dear Annette, though the experience of losing a friend is sad, it is glorious to know that you made a difference in the time she had left. You wore a halo, as you did God's work. You feed her body and her soul, and for that she had a smile for you and ejoyed the tamale all the more. And I love you all the more for that too.

  2. From Charlotte ~

    Annette what a sweet story, you were an angel. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Annette, your story is beautifully told, but it leaves me anxious and sad for her two sons. Were they with their father? There are so many people who are so alone like Laurie - it was a blessing for you as well as Laurie to give her so much comfort at that time. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Laurie's husband left her after she became ill but her sons lived with him after she died. Her sons would help her when she was alive.

  5. Dear Annette,
    Your story is so tender and warm because you are. As I sit here and wipe the tears from my checks, I understand how lucky Laurie was to have such a friend!

  6. From Charlene ~

    Dear Annette,
    You have lovingly touched the lives of so many humans with a variety of challenges and animals as well. You're a wonderful writer, and your tender story was so descriptive through your marvelous use of words. Laurie was a very appreciative individual, and she must have really appreciated haviing you as her very caring, unselfish friend.

  7. From Loie ~

    Annette's story was beautiful! It kept my interest and made me want to read on. Annette was certainly a true friend.
    Love, Loie