A Christmas to Remember
Like miniature cotton balls, clusters of snowflakes gathered on the window sash. Christmas eve’ …Sure didn’t seem like it. My then eight-year-old nose pressed against the frosty glass pane. Dad had lost his job--that was the least of our heartaches. Would Mom’s smile ever return? It had only been four weeks since my little brother’s death. I felt guilty for being selfish, but somehow I just knew this was not going to be a very merry Christmas. I didn’t even know what cancer was, but it wasn’t supposed to steal three-year-old baby brothers.
My wishing and wondering were interrupted by that dreadful sound. “Ri-i-n-g-g-g!” Most of those rings only made my mom cry. My dad said that people were just trying to be helpful and kind. I didn’t see how making her sad was helpful, but that’s only a kid’s opinion. Mom gave dad that look and after three rings he answered the phone.
“Hello, Mary Jane…Yeah she’s right here, hold on I’ll get her.”
“It’s your sister, she wants to talk to you.” Dad handed mom the phone.
“Hello Sis, Merry Christmas.”
“Well it will be; when we all spend it together. Said, Aunt Jane. Now listen sis, Jim is on his way to pick you all up, and He should be there in about twenty minutes. Dress the boys warm He’s driving the Purina Truck. Just throw a few things in a bag and be ready.”
“Oh sis, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, we just can’t. With Tom being out of work we just don’t have….”
“Now listen to me, everything is taken care of. Everyone here has been shopping and cooking and you just can’t disappoint them sis. For the boys sake--we’re Family and we need to be together this Christmas.
I know you’re hurting--all the more reason to come. Please sis.
“Well I’ll have to ask Tom and see what he says, give me a minute. She says that Jim is on his way here to pick us all up to spend Christmas with them, what do you think? Well--She’s waiting for an answer?”
“It’s up to you, said Dad, whatever you decide is fine, that’s a long drive to tell him no!”
“ Alright, you don’t leave us much choice. I’ll wake the boys and get them ready. Thanks Jane, see you in a couple of hours.’’
“ Oh, I’m so glad! I’ll have a fresh pot of coffee waiting; see you then, hon. Sis--Merry Christmas!
I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I heard my mom say, “I’ll get the boys up.” That was enough for me! I was out of bed before she entered the doorway. “Boys, out of bed, we’re going to Aunt Jane’s for Christmas. Hurry now, Uncle Jim will be here to pick us up soon, dress warm, you’ll be riding in the back of the Purina truck.”
“Wow! Christmas in the country.” I exclaimed. “Big deal,” grumbled my older brother, He never was very good at surprise wake-up calls.
The next fifteen minutes seemed like hours as I impatiently waited to hear that old Purina truck come rattling into our driveway.
“Boys, He’s here! Let’s go!” mom shouted up the stairs for the benefit of my snail-paced older brother.
The snow was comin’ down like feathers after a good pillow fight. Us four boys piled into the back of our temporary covered wagon for the journey to what I hoped would be a very Merry Christmas.
Finally, like the Grande ole’ Dame that I remembered, that ancient farmhouse smothered my eyes as we rounded the curve on that old country road. ‘Wow!’ I whispered. It was picture perfect. The old oaks stood tall, extending their glistening arms to welcome us. “Just let me sleep,” sputtered you know who! He just has no Christmas spirit at all, what a humbug. “Here we are,” said Uncle Jim with His typical ear-to-ear grin, as he lowered the creaky,old, wooden tail gate. To me it was like a drawbridge being lowered to a magical kingdom just inside!
“Never did my Aunt’s tear filled eyes look so bright as she stood holding open that wonderful worn oak door. She ushered us all in like an old Mama Hen. Mom was the last to enter. They squeezed each other so tight I thought their eyes might pop-out. They just stood there and cried. Everyone seemed a little quiet, like they didn’t know what to say. I guess they were just tired; It was really late.
Within minutes Mom and Aunt Jane had us all settled like corn–on-a-cob. I got stuck in a big old iron bed, with my two older cousins and yep, my humbug big brother. His breath was tickling the back of my neck we were that snug! I wasn’t complaining though, it was freezing!
I tried a few times to snuggle a little closer to my brother, just to get warm. “ Move over!” he croaked, jabbing a sharp elbow to my ribs discouraging that idea. I lay there for what seemed like ever, shivering, wishing I was in the warmth of my own bed. Frosty wisps like smoke lingered in front of me every time I breathed. My picture perfect Christmas was Giving me the chills! Desperate now to find sleep, I squinted my eyes as tight as I could, that’s when I first heard it.
Bells? I heard bells. It couldn’t be. It sounded just like Sleigh bells, coming from outside the glazed-over frosty windowpane, not but three feet away. I poked my brother, “hey do you hear that?” No response. I rolled over and grabbed his shoulder shaking him, “did you hear that?” I whispered. “Go to sle-ee-ep!’ his answer, “oomph,” I groaned as once again my ribs tasted his bony elbow. I wished I could say I was dreaming. Even the sandman must have found a warm spot to snuggle. “I don’t know how they can sleep when I’m shakin’ like a rattle?”
My feet touched down on that old wooden floor. From the bed to that window was only three feet, but it felt like I was walking barefoot on thirty feet of ice! My eyes caught glimpse of a shadow of red. It was hard to see through all of that frost. Those bells were still jinglin’ in my ears as I scraped my thumbnail against the kaleidoscope of shapes old man winter had painted on that windowpane.
Two stories down, there He stood, as plain as the frost on my thumbnail. It couldn’t be! I flew through the air landing on top of my brother as my knees met his back with a whack! All three of my bed partners grumbled this time threatening bodily harm if I didn’t go to sleep. I lay in that bed, covers over my head panting like a dog needing water. There’s no way I’m dreaming, don’t you have to fall asleep first to dream? This just wasn’t real--those lousy bells--am I goin’ crazy?
Ok, one more peek--my brother says He’s just a fairytale anyway, but he doesn’t know everything.
I tiptoed over to the window again. My knees were knockin’ like a hammer on a nail, more scared than cold. It didn’t take long for my previous etching to frost over, “it must be below zero!” Oh, my! The red blur is still there, and those bells…still ringin’. Slowly my thumbnail went to work shaving the frost. This just isn’t possible is it? Who else could it be?
With one last scrape--yes! He stood there looking up and waving, He was waving at me! My feet were nailed to that old wooden floor…move don’t just stand there, move! From somewhere unknown I managed one-quick-surge of nerve and ran for the staircase, screaming like a banshee, taking two steps at a time!
Mom came running to the bottom of the staircase, Aunt Jane hot on her heels. Throwing myself into her arms, I tried telling her between sobs what I had just seen. Neither one of them understood a single word I said. “What on earth is wrong, said mom, did you have a bad dream?”
By this time, both my Dad And uncle were now out of bed, and hurrying down the stairs, (a little late for any rescue attempts I might add.) awakened by my screaming. My mother finally shook me, “I can’t understand a word your saying until you stop crying.”
“If those boys were scaring you, I’ll tan their hides,” said Uncle Jim.
“I saw Him--He’s out there--waving at me--His sleigh and reindeer, all of it--just look!”
“Who’s out there?” chuckled Dad. “Santa!” I squeezed out between shivering lips. Aunt Jane moved the curtains back, “ there’s no one there Hon.”
“But I saw Him, He was lookin’ right up at me, just waving, I did!”
Mom pulled me to her chest, hugged me and cried.
Everyone was awake now, curious about my Christmas Eve. Visitor.
They were all laughing and joking, (I didn’t see what was so funny) Coffee was brewing, “ anyone for breakfast,” said Aunt Jane wiping tears from her eyes. Why were they crying? I was supposed to be the scared one. Adults, they're hard to figure out.
Christmas morning as the other relatives gathered to bring us more presents, every conversation turned to a special visit from Santa, for a very lucky eight-year-old boy. Somehow everything changed, from death and heartache to a celebration of life and hope, all Because of a cold, sleepless, country Christmas Eve, and visitor, some fifty years ago.
Many times since, my cousins have reminisced over that very unusual Christmas. I have come to believe that the good Lord saw the pain and sorrow of one Family’s loss and turned it into an unforgettable Christmas of joy!
Many have chosen to believe that this was merely a young boy’s dream. Yet over fifty years later, this not so young boy, chooses to still believe in the mystery and miracle of Christmas!
John Wark 2010.
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