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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Christmas Lights (10/30/08)

TITLE: A Display of Love
By Margaret Gass


"See the streetlights, even stoplights, blink a bright red and green"...the lyrics from "Silver Bells" danced out of the car speakers in time with the windshield wipers as she maneuvered the trusty Honda through the crowded mall parking lot and then out onto the boulevard toward the little trailer that hardly felt like home. The cold, sideways rain that that stubbornly refused to become snow made it difficult to see, but Elizabeth also found herself blinking back tears as she continued to sing to her now-sleeping son in the backseat. It still felt strange to be driving Papa's car, and on this first Christmas without him, she could hold back her tears no longer. Instead of turning into the trailer court, she turned left and headed down the street toward the river.

She eased into a spot under a birch tree facing the water, turned off the engine, and listened to the rain. She loved rain. She loved Christmas, and all that came with it, especially since Tommy's birth on Christmas Eve six years ago. Papa had loved Christmas, too. He brought childlike joy to every celebration when he joined the family, but at Christmas he made sure that his new family saw Christmas through the eyes of a child. Elizabeth knew it was because he knew Christmas wasn't about Santa, even though he got up after midnight to put "candy canes from Santa" on the tree. It was because Papa knew Jesus, and when Elizabeth made Jesus her Savior, it was Papa she told. It was Papa who convinced her mom to let her join a Bible study and go to church on her own. How she missed the man who first showed her a father's love!

He was in Heaven, of course, but her mom had run to England, to "escape Christmas" and stay with her younger daughter and son-in-law. Elizabeth did not want to escape Christmas. "But I'm alone, Lord. How do I smile for Tommy and honor You when there is no one to wipe away my tears?" Elizabeth's husband, Eric, worked long hours at his new job and would be working swings through Christmas. He hadn't gone to Papa's funeral, and he had made no attempt to help her through her grief, so Elizabeth tucked it away in an effort to keep the holiday, and her home, a happy one.

She let her mind drift back a year, to her first trip home for Christmas since Tommy's birth. Elizabeth had spent most of the long drive telling Tommy about the sights and sounds of Christmas in the big city: about the lighted boats all along the river, office buildings with red and green lights in their windows, messages on rooftops on every hill, and the display on the roof of the Shilo Inn Headquarters, just a mile from Grandma and Grandpa's house. She didn't know that Papa had added to the display at home, too, in anticipation of his first grandchild's visit. A pair of animated reindeer graced the quarter-mile driveway up the hill to her parents' home. Papa had had put lights on most of the trees, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus smiled and waved from the bay window in the dining room, home to Mom's Christmas village. Tommy's eyes lit up, and he raced into the house to see the tree. Papa was grinning...his time on the roof was worth his sacrifice--Papa was afraid of heights. After a late dinner, Papa had another surprise for Elizabeth's boy: a trip to the city's best known Christmas light display. On the way home, Papa conquered his fear once more, driving over the highest bridge in the city so that Tommy could see those decorated Navy ships.

Elizabeth found herself crying again, but she was smiling, too, her heart full of joy at a father's sacrifice. She pulled her coat more tightly around her shoulders--she hadn't realized she had been sitting for so long--and started the Honda. The sudden burst of song from her speakers woke Tommy, and Elizabeth laughed as he "startled awake." Just as suddenly, she knew what would make her feel at home in this new place, what would keep Papa close to her heart and a part of their Christmas celebration. "Did you sleep well, Tommy? Mommy has a surprise for you. We're going to go look at Christmas lights."

"Where are they?" Tommy asked.

"I don't know," Elizabeth replied, "but Jesus does. Let's just see where He takes us."

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Member Comments
Member Date
Marlene Austin11/09/08
Sweet story that the lights comforted the MC. Lack of some descriptions left questions for me. Was unsure of the age of the child at the time(s) of the events remembered, might have made story more tender. Not clear on the personal relationships of the MC - why the husband was so indifferent to her grief; was the mother running from Christmas memories or hurtful relationship with this daughter, etc. Not really important to the story's meaning of the lights for MC but might have given more reader sympathy for the MC. Just my thoughts. :)
Joy Bach 11/09/08
Not all of us were lucky enough to have a "Papa". what a special person he was. Your love for him came through...and you began passing that same "display of love" to your child. Excellent!