Josie sat in her comfy livingroom chair, pulled up close to the table lamp. She was crocheting the last few rows of daughter, Maple's, soft yellow winter scarf. It was three weeks until Christmas and she still had to make a scarf for Red (Frederick Lewis Morangi III). Her Christmas baking wasn't finished either.
Her heart was heavy with aloneness, as Fred, her devoted, gentle husband, was in the War. He wrote long, loving letters once a week and called on even- numbered Sundays. Red and Maple lived for those calls, and Josie, well, she consumed his words, the inflections of his voice, and his laughter.
After the phone calls, the atmosphere in their little rented house was gloomy. Josie drew an idea from the recesses of her mind. “Following Daddy's call we're going to make apple star paper.” she exclaimed on December 2nd.
“What's that Mommy?” asked bright-eyed, three-year-old Maple.
Josie pulled out a green bin with white sketch paper, pots of paint and huge red apples. She cut each apple in half, exposing the interior star shape. “Like this kids, dip an apple into a color, then press it onto the paper. It makes a design.”
“Oh Mom, this is neat.” voiced Red.
The project helped them wile away an hour. Then Josie announced,
“Now, go scrub your red-green-blue fingers in the bathroom, and while our pages dry, I'll read three books for each of you."
She cleaned up the dribbles, spread newspaper on the counter to hold the artwork, then joined the kids on the worn brown couch. As the youngsters snuggled in on each side of her they noticed Mom held a bowl of almonds in her lap; a snack for munching while reading. She said “eenee-meenee-minee-mo” to chose which child's book she would read first, with Red the winner. His favorite book was about an astronaut and a monkey traveling to a distant star. At age 8, his imagination was fun to watch. Maple's most ragged book was about a little bear lost in the woods. Soon another half an hour slipped away.
Their weekdays were busy with Josie working three days a week at the downtown Skylamar Cafe. She worked the days Maple was in pre-school. Red was in third grade. During school breaks, Fred's mother or one of the sisters-in-law or brothers-in-law helped with the kids. Fred's Dad, Rick, paid the rent on this little yellow house so they could be near his family and they were able to help Josie. Although she missed her own family, 300 miles away in Bayberry Point, it was more practical to be here. Her own parents were more interested in country club events than fingerpainting sessions.
Fred's brothers, John-Lewis, and Hiram, kept her supplied with split wood for the heating stove. Her job allowed her to pay for utilities and groceries, so she wasn't completely beholden.
Supper times were lonesome. One night Maple sobbed, “I miss my Daddy. His chair is empty. May I sit there?” And so began a new tradition, the three waifs taking turns in Fred's seat at the head of the table.
Josie and the kids put up their tree on December 12th, just like always, on Fred's birthday. They had sent him presents weeks before, but had hand-made things to finish for everyone here at home.
December's days passed by. Josie and the children baked pumpkin bread in coffee cans. Candy cane cookies marched along the counter, ready for Mrs. Sumson, Mr. McGuire, and the family gatherings.
Fred wrote he'd have a special whole hour to talk on Christmas Day, and for her to be home at 3:00 for that call. The whole day's events revolved around that promise.
The smells of roasted turkey and hot cocoa wafted through the cozy house at 3:00 when the phone rang. Gift wrappings were strewn across the linoleum floors and a new toy fire engine with a piercing siren, wailed. Twin baby dolls were given wild rides in a red buggy.
Josie answered the phone and recognized Fred's melodious voice. “Hi Honey. Step into the yard for your BIG Christmas present.” With phone in hand, she opened the door, and there stood her love.
Fred was “the” gift. He was home. He was home for good.
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