It was Christmas Eve, 1907 and a little girl prayed again for a doll. She had never owned one.
Little Alma looked around her small, modest farm house. No decorated tree stood in the corner. No candles burned in the windows. No presents were piled on the table. But the house was clean and warm and little Alma was content and most of all, thankful.
Little Alma loved her home and she loved her little white frame country church.. Here she learned about Baby Jesus who was also poor, who didn’t even have a bed to sleep in, and who was born on a soft pile of hay in a barn. She listened to the story of His birth over and over with childhood wonder and awe.
Tonight little Alma was excited. The annual Christmas program at church brought out nearly every family in a tiny hillside village of Pennsylvania. Little Alma, with her mother and sisters, walked down the mile-long country road though deep snow that had been packed down by horse-drawn wagons and sleighs. It was a Norman Rockwell scene, early Americana, a clear cold, winter night that quickened the steps and invigorated the soul.
Finding a seat with her family in the country church, little Alma looked around. Sunday School students had decorated the tree which stood proudly in front of the sanctuary next to the upright piano. Candles on the tree cast an ethereal glow over the church. The country preacher read about the birth of Jesus, then invited everyone to sing carol after Christmas carol. A deacon gave each child a small handful of chocolate drops and hard candies wrapped in a paper napkin and tied with a red ribbon.
Under the tree, Christmas presents were piled high. It was the custom for families to bring their gifts for other family members and friends to the church where they were opened in full view of the congregation. It didn’t escape little Alma’s notice that, as usual, her mother hadn’t brought any presents with her but little Alma didn’t expect any. Her father was away much of the time as a woodcutter and a collector of ginseng and came home infrequently. When he did return home, money was still in short supply.
Finally, the pastor walked over to the Christmas tree, picked up the first package and called out, “Here’s a present for Blanche from her mother and father.” Everyone applauded as little Blanche made her way to the front to accept the gaily-wrapped box. Inside was a lovely hand-knit white sweater.
The pastor held up package after package, calling out names of nearly everyone in the church. Little boys received hand-carved wooden trains from their fathers; new sleds were lifted high for the congregation to view; bottles of April in Paris perfume from young daughters were presented to their mothers. A bright red spinning top was spun around on the wooden floor to the delight of the audience. Little Alma laughed and applauded. And she waited and waited.
Finally the pastor held up the last gift. Little Alma drew in her breath. This one had to be for her; the doll for which she had fervently prayed. “Christine,” the pastor called out, “this gift is for you.” Christine opened a long, narrow box and carefully removed a large porcelain doll with blonde curls, a long pink dress and matching bonnet. Christine hugged the doll tightly, then rushed to thank her mother and daddy for the lavish gift.
Little Alma stood quietly as the last carol was sung and each child struggled to carry an armful of gifts to their waiting wagons. Finally, little Alma followed her family out the door to begin the long walk home.
Instantly, she walked head-on into a hitching post, hitting her forehead with such force that she fell backward onto the packed snow. Stunned, she picked herself up and staggered to join her family who had not seen her fall. A permanent egg-shaped lump immediately developed on her forehead, a large bone protrusion that remained disquietingly visible all her life but she wore it like a badge of honor and laughingly called it her 1907 Christmas present, never bitter about the incident but a victorious, happy Christian all her life until she died at age 96.
Little Alma was my mother.
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