Laura Howard: Magic Realism: Season of Miracles


Magic Realism: Season of Miracles

My good friend Diane J. Reed is here to spend this Christmas with us talking about something very special.

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas filled with love and laughter and, yes Magic!

Because I write "magical" novels like Robin in the Hood and Twixt (where enchantment & spirituality have an impact on characters' lives), a friend recently asked me to define Magic Realism. From a literary perspective, Magic Realism is fiction that's told from a realistic point of view, but where surreal or "miraculous" events & characters intrude upon everyday life.

What makes Magic Realism different from full-blown fantasy is that it still takes place in an "ordinary" realm where people hold down jobs, try to avoid traffic jams, or hope their latest dates don't turn out to be washouts. Scholars debate over whether Magic Realism began all the way back in oral fairy tales or originated with classics like Cervantes' Don Quixote in 1605 (and continues to the present day with novels such as Toni Morrison's Beloved & Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic). But regardless of their lofty answers, I couldn't care less.

Because for me, Magic Realism isn't a literary genre—it's my life.

And it all began with my family's Season of Miracles.

So let me tell you a little about my family: My father grew up as the son of a midwestern sharecropper in the Great Depression where even young children were expected to work hard on the farm. These were not times that allowed for much daydreaming or fantasy. When my father reached 18 and enlisted in the Army Air Corps in WWII (to avoid mustard gas on the battlefields that his uncles reported from WWI), he soon became a squadron leader for B-17 missions. This is what my father had to say about his do-or-die WWII experience:

When you give up in your heart, you're already a dead man.

Because in war time, people lose their minds out of fear. It was not uncommon for soldiers to try to wrestle the controls of the airplane from my father, convinced in the middle of a brutal air fight that it would be safer to go down over Germany or the English Channel. And nothing could've been farther from the truth. If your plane wrecked in Germany, you would either be dragged through the streets and killed or sent to one of the notorious P.O.W. camps. And if your plane went down in the channel, there were no "rescue helicoptors" to save you in the miles of frigid water you would somehow have to swim to make it back to England. So my father's solution? 

Get rid of the parachutes...

Sound harsh? You're damn straight. But my father's back was against a wall—he knew the only way any of them would return home alive was if failure was no longer an option. So even though the Germans once shot out two of my father's airplane engines and nearly all of the rudder function, his entire crew banded together to steer that plane over the channel back to England (it required three men to try and hold the pilot's wheel and the rest to maintain the controls). And yes, they made it home on a wing and a prayer.

So when my father met my vivacious mother and they got married after the war, then lit out for California—the land of sunshine and opportunity—their lives should have become golden.

And for a brief time, they did have their little piece of paradise. My father found a job as a rocket scientist, and my mother eventually bore five children (yes, she was an Irish Catholic). They built a home, joined the PTA , coached Little League, and had more security than either of my parents had ever known in their own childhoods.

But there was only one problem: My mother was dying.

When I was ten years old, my mother had whittled away to 88 pounds. She had a systemic, auto-immune disorder that made her allergic to nearly all food along with advanced rhuematoid arthritis that had crippled her hands and legs. She had silently dealt with the pain for years—I never once heard her complain—but now her entire body appeared to be fighting against her. At the time, the only solution doctors had left was a medical procedure that had a 70% chance of killing her.

And once again, my father's back was against a wall. He was about to lose the love of his life and the mother of his 5 children. Only this time, he didn't have a solution as clear as dumping the parachutes. He knew only this: he refused to give up in his heart. But other than that, he had no idea what to do.

But my mother did. As easy as it might've been to admire my father as a war hero, it was my mother's indomitable courage during that time that truly inspires me to this day. Born to an alcoholic mother (who died at 42) and abandoned by her father at an early age, my mother had a backbone of steel, in spite of her fragile frame—and she wasn't about to leave her 5 children without a fight.

But she also understood that her miracle would not be of this world...

So in a total act of faith, she carted her children with her to faith healers—from big arena-size names like Kathryn Kuhlman and Leroy Jenkins, to a whole host of humble folk in the stuffy upper rooms of poverty-stricken churches where there'd been rumors of prayer warriors who could facilitate miracles. During that time, we saw everything from complete schysters to people who were so pure and in touch with the Divine that they pierced your heart. But my very favorite of all was Brother Huelly. He worked in the barrio (a Mexican ghetto) in a tiny church in San Jose, and on Wednesday nights you could go into the upper room and stand in line for prayer.

 There, Brother Huelly would lay his hands on your forehead and ask God, with every ounce of sincerity he could muster, for a miracle. And then he would stare at you with the most crystal blue eyes I've ever seen, before or since, as though listening to archangels on high. In that moment, he would release a word of prophecy for you—if he had one—or he would remain silent. And it was his silence that always killed me. If Brother Huelly did not have a word of prophecy, he refused to say a lie. And what stunned me even more was that I never saw Brother Huelly pass a plate around for donations of any kind. He was a poor man, standing in faith for the most downtrodden people in his community, and he was the real deal.

Throughout that time, we literally saw a blind baby receive her sight, a crippled old man get out of a wheelchair, and a woman receive her voice who'd not been able to speak for ten years due to throat cancer. Yep—it was enough to make your hair stand on end and most certainly to make you cry. The unparalleled jubilation of the people I witnessed experiencing these events was enough to prove to me that we were not watching a slick hoax (believe me, in a tiny barrio church where everyone knows everyone, and there are no fancy "reality show" producers, it would have been nearly impossible to fake this). But still, my mother was not healed.

Nevertheless, that's when the magic started...

It began slowly, like a burning ember, with my older sister. When my twin sister and I hid our costume jewelry all around our yard during playtime, then promptly forgot where we'd put our baubles and became a crying mess, my older sister had a dream that night of where every single piece was (about 30 items!), and to our amazement, she went around the yard the next day and recovered all the jewelry. 

My older sister also began to "see" things—beings of either light or dark energy that hovered around the house with the intent to help or hurt us—and when she prayed, it sent the dark beings packing. Then my twin sister suddenly acquired a gift of uncanny perception—for example, we'd walk into a restaurant and she'd gaze at total strangers and burst, "Oh look, mommy—that woman is going to dump that man!" And sure enough, the woman would stand up, pour her drink in the guy's lap, and walk out in a huff. She also got the "shakes" whenever an adult with bad intentions came near us as children (who we would later find out was a predator). 

As for me, the "gifts" were particularly odd. With no desire on my part, I left my body once and was taken to an angelic realm where I was warned about the kinds of people I needed to avoid in life. 

The angels had some difficulty trying to find the right word—and I watched them go through old Latin and Greek to old French and old English, until finally they summoned a word I could understand: Hypocrite. They were quite concerned that I should know to watch out for those who pretend to be one thing, yet act another.

 I also began to have dream-visions at night where I was shown my life purpose and events that would soon unfold—and it still stuns me to admit that's exactly how my life played out. But it was my father's manifestations that surprised me the most. Imagine an extremely scientific man who prided himself on iron-tight logic with a career at NASA suddenly seeing the same light or dark entities near our house that my sister spoke of. 

And one time, a minister we knew was worried about her daughter's choice of a boyfriend, and my father abruptly said after a prayer, "You need to take a more relaxed approach with your daughter, because she will be married five times."

The minister's daughter did marry five times! To this day I marvel that my father came up with such a peculiar number that turned out to be real. It was as if, during my mother's illness, we were all forced to open our hearts to a "supernatural" stream that lies just beyond ordinary human awareness—not because we wanted to be "different," but because our backs were against a wall. We needed a miracle, and we knew it. Yet throughout this time, I wish I could impart just how vibrant my mother always appeared, even though she'd become as thin as a slip of paper. Though her hands and legs were crippled, she never once used a cane, a walker, or a wheelchair. Instead, she insisted on walking upright, no matter how slowly she shuffled, because to do otherwise was to "admit defeat." And she always proclaimed, "What you say with your mouth will come to pass," so every day she thanked God aloud many times for healing. And believe it or not, my mother's laughter constantly rang through the house! Because as she adamantly stated, "Our joy invites miracles! Whenever you laugh, you make the angels more present."

Is that why one day a total stranger approached my mother on the street? After spotting my mother's crippled fingers, she walked up and grabbed my mother's hands and said, "I know the doctor who will heal you." Out of the blue, she told my mother about a physician in Mexico who specialized in arthritis, allergies and emphysema, and she gave my mother the man's card.

We never saw that woman again. To be honest, I don't even know if she was an angel.

But after our family made the trek down to Mexico to see the doctor, my mother experienced a complete recovery and lived vibrantly for another ten years.

Can you even imagine? My father had the pills the doctor prescribed analyzed by a university laboratory, and they said they merely contained "herbs."

But we know what they really contained—my mother's faith and courage, the very same thing that had brought all that "magic" into our lives. And it has never left us since. Because a mother's love and brave example turned out to be her greatest legacy of all. She who never gave up in her heart, even when the medical profession viewed her as terminal, caused each of us to expand in magical ways we could never have imagined. And I like to think it's her angel presence that my children feel whenever we laugh too loud in our house. 

And her sense of comfort they experience when they have dreams of angels visiting (which they do). But most of all, I hope I can pass along to my boys the same courage and confidence in Divine love that changed our lives forever in my family's own Season of Miracles.


Do you have any magical memories you can share?


  1. Thank you for featuring my article today, Laura! I just received for Christmas a certificate signed by President Barak Obama honoring my father's service in the war (which I talked about in this post). It came as a surprise & is something I'll always treasure. Hope your holiday season is full of miracles, too!

  2. Wonderful post! Thanks so much Diane and Laura!

    1. Thank you, Pat--it was an honor to see this posted on Christmas day, a holiday that brings magic for so many : )


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