Gloria stood at the door, coat buttoned to her chin and a bright red scarf wound round her head and neck. “Come Sam, time for our walk.”
She let herself out into the frigid evening air. The dog stood obediently at the old ladies’ side until she took her first step. He had to sneak in three steps to keep up with Gloria’s long-legged stride. Even though she was eighty-five, she was sprightly. They were quite a sight walking the sidewalk as the sun busied itself in the sky.
Gloria walked her usual route: two blocks to the right of her house, cross the street at the old Johnston place, then back two blocks, cross the street again and backtrack to her tiny one bedroom bungalow.
She pointed her gloved hand at a neighbor’s house. “Look at that Christmas tree, Sam. Just beautiful.”
All the houses were closed up tight. As Gloria walked by, she prayed special blessings for each family that lived there. Never married, Gloria spent sixty years of her life lavishing great love onto each neighborhood she lived in.
“Miss Gloria!” A little girl ran up beside the woman.
“Mommy said I could walk with you.”
Gloria took hold of the little girl’s hand and Maddy two-stepped to keep up.
“Look Maddy. Looks like a top of the Harvey Christmas tree. It must’ve been too big and Ernie lopped it off, I would imagine.”
Maddy and Gloria peered down at their find.
Gloria’s eyes twinkled mischievously. “You thinking what I am?” Maddy grinned. Gloria stooped her tall overly thin frame and grabbed hold of the prickly branch. “I think we can do it.”
Gloria bent over, grabbed hold of the stump, and dragged it along behind her. Maddy tried to help but her little muscles did little to ease the load. Sam chased after them both as he nipped and yapped at the branches.
The trio made it to the house just as the sun hid its glorious colors for the evening. Gloria found a container and Maddy filled it with gravel. They set the tree into the bucket and hefted it onto a table in front of the picture window just like all the other trees up and down the street.
Gloria retrieved a neatly labeled box from her closet. Christmas was in bold red letters.
She sat in her rocker close to the tree and carefully wound a small strand of lights around the tiny thing and gently hung well-worn decorations from its branches. She forgot the small girl standing beside her.
Gloria sat back in her chair with a sigh. “Pretty, eh, Sam? Might just be the prettiest tree on the block.”
A flood of memories invaded her thoughts. Gloria stood up and walked to the kitchen. “Papa? You call me? I was lookin’ at the Christmas tree. It’s so pretty this year.”
Maddy touched her arm and Gloria was brought back to the present. Her eyes filled with tears. “I’m sorry. I haven’t seen Papa in fifty years. What is wrong with this old thinker of mine?”
Maddy’s eyes filled with tears, too. “Daddy didn’t come to my Christmas program, Miss Gloria.”
“I’m sorry, dear. Come sit with me. Did I ever tell you about the time my daddy got lost in a snow storm?”
Maddy shook her head.
“Papa took us into the woods each Thanksgiving. All of us kids searched for the perfect Christmas tree. When I was five my tree was chosen. Papa took my red scarf and wound it round the highest branch so he could find it again.”
Gloria handed Maddy a cookie and she munched it as Gloria continued.
“Papa went out to get the tree on Christmas Eve. The rest of us left to go to church before he got back home. As I sang in the choir I saw the snow come down hard. Mama said tears dripped down my face; I was so worried about my papa. Right before my solo, there he came. I was so excited I forgot my words. It didn’t matter, though, because my Papa was back.”
Maddy looked at Gloria. “Daddy will never come to church, Miss Gloria. Not ever.”
“Well now, I’ve been searching for a special Christmas prayer this year. I’ll be praying that your daddy comes to know Jesus, okay?”
Maddy wrapped her little girl arms around Gloria’s neck and whispered in her ear, “Thank you.”
“Merry Christmas, Darling.”
“Merry Christmas, Miss Gloria.”
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