Patty sighed as she turned away from the chilly rain splattered window. The damp cold weather urged her towards the wood stove. A single tear rolled down her cheek as the heavy double-doors groaned on the fireplace insert.
After staring at the flames as they licked around the diminishing log, she could no longer bear the heat. Patty stuffed a piece of wood in the middle of the flames and closed the doors.
The screech of the school bus brakes alerted her to the arrival of the kids. As the door burst open she smiled brightly at her son.
“Hi, Mama, it smells like Christmas trees.” Sammy shouted with enthusiasm.
“Well, I hate to disappoint you, but it’s a candle.” Patty ruffled his messy hair as he tossed his stocking cap in the direction of his boots.
“Daddy’s coming,” Mindy picked up Sammy’s cap and laid it on the pile of winter accessories near the door.
Sammy ran to the window to watch as his daddy walked across the church parking lot. Brad didn’t disappoint him. When he saw Sammy in the window, Brad ran up and smooshed the side of his face on the cold wet glass and made a goofy noise.
Sammy opened his mouth and placed it on the pane and made a blow face, leaving slobber all over as he turned and ran to the door. “Daddy,” Sammy shouted and jumped into his daddy’s arms before Brad could take off his coat.
The duo rubbed noses together and giggled. Mindy came over to greet Brad as he bent to rub his nose on Mindy’s. “Ewwww,” she complained, “It’s cold and wet.”
Brad stuffed the offending muzzle into the crook of his pre-teen daughter’s neck. Her squeal urged him on and soon the trio landed in a heap of laughter on the floor.
Patty, always the voice of reason, interrupted the horseplay, “Homework and chores, please.”
“Do as your Mama says.” Brad stood and pointed the pair to their rooms and patted both bottoms. He then maneuvered his way into his wife’s arms as she hunted for something to give the kids as a snack.
“The house looks great, Honey,” Brad pointed out that he noticed the Christmas decorations carefully placed throughout the house. He bent to rub noses with his wife.
Patty returned his affection then laid her head on his chest and wrapped her arms around his waist, tucking her thumbs into his back belt loops. The sound of the toaster popping up the rewards of her snack search interrupted them.
“Snack is ready,” she hollered to no one in particular as she placed cinnamon and sugar toast on napkins next to half-filled cups of milk.
Brad grabbed a mug of coffee and joined the kids on the breakfast bar stools. “Tonight we will put the nativity scene out,” he took a swig of the hot bitter liquid. “Did you kids notice that Mama worked hard at decorating for Christmas?”
“When will we get a tree?” Sammy asked eagerly.
“Not sure. We will have to wait a bit.” Brad tugged on his son’s ear.
The look that passed between mother and father didn’t go unnoticed by Mindy. “We don’t need a silly old Christmas tree,” Mindy stared at her toast, “baby Jesus didn’t have a Christmas tree.”
Later that evening as the family gathered around the warmth of the wood stove, Brad read the Christmas story. The kids placed each figurine carefully in place on the mantle. Once the kids were in bed, Brad headed to the garage without a word.
Patty knew that their small salary would barely buy a gift for each child, let alone a Christmas tree. She worried about Brad. He hid his anxiety from the kids but Patty knew better.
Brad eagerly waited on the couch as his family woke up. Sammy plopped into his dad’s lap as he rubbed sleep from his eyes. That’s when he saw it. Sammy tumbled to his knees near the wood stove.
“Oh, Daddy, is this our Christmas tree?”
Brad had hung a star on the wall and strung white twinkling lights flowing from it that led to a manger constructed from kindling wood. He added straw and one of Mindy’s old baby-dolls wrapped in a soft white blanket.
“Yes, we will place our gifts under it.”
“It’s perfect, Daddy,” Mindy knelt next to Sammy, “We’ll bring our gifts to Baby Jesus, not some silly old Christmas tree.”
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