“My big bubby is a soldier-man. Did you know that, miss?”
I had been so engrossed in my work, that the little voice startled me. I spun around quickly. It was only a girl, about six years old, dressed in a pretty denim jumper. Blond ringlets spilled out from under an enormous camouflage hat. She craned her neck to look up at me so that her eyes could peek out from beneath the large bill.
I looked around for any adult that she might possibly belong too, but we were alone in the shoe department. Sighing, I turned away from her. Perhaps if I ignored her, she would go back to her parents and leave me to my work. A little pest yammering away at me was not going to improve my foul mood. “Christmas stress,” had found a home in my heart and it had slammed the door when the “Christmas spirit” tried to come and call.
But instead going away, she picked up a tan hiking boot from the display I was working on. “My bubby has some boots like this. Only his’re a lot bigger. My bubby has big feet.”
“That’s…nice,” I plucked the boot out of the little girl’s hands and placed it back on the display. “Good for him.” I walked away, hoping that she wouldn’t follow me.
She did. “My bubby gave me this hat. He got a new one a’fore he went to the desert over…over…” her little nose wrinkled as she thought. “Over…somewhere, I fergits where, but when he left he gave me this old hat. He told me that ever’ time I wear this hat it can make me think about him and pray that he stays safe.”
I quickened my pace.
“You sure does walk fast, miss.” But it didn’t faze her. She just skipped along behind me. “You know, sometimes my bubby misses mommy’s cooking so me and my mommy send him cookies to cheer him up. Peanut butter cookies is his favorite. Mine too.”
Why did this little girl insist on following me around? Why couldn’t she talk to someone who cared? I was beginning to lose my patience. “Where are your parents, little girl?” I snapped.
My harsh tone did little to deter her. “Well, my daddy’s at work. But my mommy’s right over there.” She pointed her finger to a tall woman with salt-and-pepper hair, watching us cautiously from the clearance section of the children’s department. The girl yanked on my sleeve, jerking me towards her. “She told me to stay here by the shoes and not to look at her,” she spoke in a loud whisper. “So that makes me think she’s gettin’ me a Christmas present!”
Suddenly, she hung her head. “Christmas,” she whispered so softly that I had to strain to hear her. I heard a little sniffle and then she lifted her head to look back up at me, her eyes shimmering with unshed tears. “It’s eight more days until Christmas, miss, but my big bubby can’t come home. He’s gots to stay over in the desert and help protect you an’ me an’ ever’body else from the bad people.” She smiled bravely. “I gots to share my bubby. It’d be selfish to cry and wish him home, but I still miss him.” Her smile wavered slightly as she reached up to take off her hat. She played with it for a few moments before she spoke again. “But it’s a sac-er-fice, I’s gotta give ‘cuz I’m a little soldier, too.”
“Liberty.” I had not noticed the little girl’s mother approach, but I could see little through my tears. “It’s time to go home, honey.” The woman looked at me, smiling shyly.
Little Liberty placed her brother’s hat back on her head. “Have a very Merry Christmas, miss.” Hand in hand, they walked away.
I stood where I was for a moment. “I think I will, Little Miss Liberty Soldier,” I whispered after her. “I think I will.”
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