December 27, 2019

Little Lights

In Cedarfield tradition, the Pastoral Care Team created this compilation of holiday memoirs by team members and residents. We will share one a day through the holidays. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Florence Brooks, Team Member

When I was in the 5th grade, my mother and my brother and I went tolive in Inverness, a small town in the Mississippi Delta with a beautifultradition of luminarias on Mound Bayou on Christmas Eve.

Apparently, the tradition began in the early 60’s when one of the residents ofInverness, Thelma Catlette, was perusing a magazine at the family insurance agencyand came across a picture of luminarias in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where therewas a rich tradition of using these warm lights to light the way for the spirit of theChrist child to one’s home. Mrs. Catlette was so taken with the image that shewent home and started to experiment. She got some small brown paper grocerybags, rolled down the edges of the bags a bit, poured in a little sand, and nested along-burning candle in the sand. It worked! But she needed help. She recruited theMethodist minister and the mayor, and the three of them began to assemble luminariasin a large back room of the mayor’s office for a portion of time each day. Theplan was to place the luminarias every 10 feet or so alongside Mound Bayou whichran through the center of town. As Christmas Eve approached the group of threebegan to expand to include children, cousins, and classmates. On Christmas Evethe paper lanterns were placed on both sides of the Mound Bayou for about a ¼ ofa mile. Everyone loved it!

In the years to come, more people began to be recruited to assist with the project,and it became a true community event with the number of luminarias increasingeach year. When we moved to Inverness in the 1970’s I joined the luminaryteam. It was a fun way to spend Christmas Eve. And I am sure that my mother wasgrateful that there was something that would occupy me for a large part of the day.I would head out first thing in the morning on foot, since we lived only a block orso from the bayou, to find out the plan.

By the time I became involved, the luminariaswere no longer assembled in the back of the mayor’s office, but a large pileof sand would be dumped on the bank of the bayou and we would all gather at anappointed time and begin rolling down the edges of the bags, using old coffee cansto scoop and measure sand, and finish with dropping in a candle. We would thenplace the little bags into the back of a pickup truck to distribute. A couple of folkssitting inside the bed of the pickup would hand off bags to runners on the ground.Late in the afternoon just before dark several of us would spread out to various areasand light the candles. Some years rain would stall our efforts. Other years windwould impede the lighting and a few would catch fire. One year only a small groupof us showed, but we assembled and placed as many bags as we could, albeit sporadically.I can remember riding around that evening after nightfall and seeing patchesof light knowing that our little group’s efforts had punctuated the darkness.

Eventually, the community began to realize that this was a key event not only forthe town, but the region. Families began to assemble luminarias and place them ontheir driveways and sidewalks. People from all over the Delta would travel to Invernessto see these little lights which now stretched beyond Mound Bayou all the waythrough town guiding travelers from Highway 49.

It has been a long time since I have scooped sand with my friends into paperbags on Christmas Eve, but folks still gather in Inverness to continue the tradition.Now there are many volunteers, along with a large tractor shed where the luminariasare assembled days in advance and then placed onto numerous flatbed trailersto be distributed at the appointed time. This last Christmas over 2,100 luminariaslined the streets and the bayou of that little Delta town on Christmas Eve.

At a time of year when the nights are the longest and the flat barren land stretches outacross wide open spaces this little gift of light is a true delight. Light in the night is socompelling. Perhaps, we could all let our brighter sides shine a bit more this Christmasand bring unexpected joy into the places we are and the lives of people we are with thisholiday season.