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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Christmas Gifts (11/13/08)

TITLE: Last Minute Christmas
By Betty Castleberry


The pain slithered back into Jean’s life like a serpent, its vicious bite poisoning her. The medication had been able to stave off the searing in her gut for only so long.

She was hesitant to say anything to Keith, but he knew. She could see it in the quizzical looks he gave her when she tried to hide her grimaces.

Finally, he asked. “Babe, you’re hurting, aren’t you?”


“I’ll call the doc and get your pain medication increased.”

“No. I don’t want to be drugged. Just pray for me.”

She was taken back to the day when she found herself in the hospital, being poked and prodded, as the doctors tried to find the source of her pain. One morning, two doctors spoke to her and Keith, their faces grim. Jean was in and out of reality, hearing only bits and pieces. The phrases “Nothing we can do”, and “Fast progressing”, drifted around her on dark clouds of despair.

Keith interrupted her thoughts, holding her close and stroking the smooth roundness of her head, now devoid of any hair. “Of course I’ll pray for you.”

Jean pulled away and looked into her husband’s worried eyes. “I love you.”

“Yeah, I know.”

The holiday season was Jean’s favorite time of year. She and Keith had only been married five years, but they had already formed their own holiday traditions. Jean wanted more than anything to be able to enjoy just one more Christmas with her husband.

The day after Thanksgiving had become the day the young couple picked out a real tree and brought it home, enjoying the clean scent of pine that permeated their living room. Keith would set the tree up while Jean carefully unwrapped the hand blown glass ornaments Keith had bought her for their first Christmas together.

It was Keith’s job to untangle the spider web of Christmas tree lights, and Jean invariably laughed at his frustration. After the tree was up and decorated, Jean always placed the manger scene on the mantle and lit the Christmas candles. They completed the day by having a simple meal in front of the fireplace.

Jean recalled being hospitalized again on the day they normally put up their tree. Sighing, she looked around the undecorated living room. With Christmas only a week away, she tried not to feel too sad.

She had told Keith not to bother with any decorations. Second thoughts nagged her, but she couldn’t bring herself to say anything to her husband. Jean imagined Keith was almost as tired as she was. The past few months had been an ordeal for them both.

She caught Keith staring at her. “What? Is my face dirty, or something?”

He chuckled. “No. I haven’t bought you anything for Christmas. What do you want?”

“To be well.”

“If it was in my power, that’s what you would get. I want that, too.”

“I’d settle for a wonderful Christmas, but I think I’m too tired to enjoy it.”

“I’ll be back. I have an errand to run.”

Jean napped on the couch and woke only when she heard the front door opening.

Keith propped the door open and tugged a Christmas tree inside.

Jean sat up. “What are you doing?”

“Giving you a wonderful Christmas. What else?”

“Yeah, what else?”

“You’ll see.”

He went whistling down the hall and returned with a box of Christmas ornaments. “Do you feel like unwrapping these?”

She nodded.

Keith set the tree up while she removed the tissue paper from the ornaments. He got a chair and placed it in front of the tree. “Your throne, my queen.” He took his wife’s hand and helped her to the chair, then handed her the ornaments. “I’d be honored if you’d hang these.”

“The tree will only be decorated as far as I can reach around it from my chair.”

“Perfect. We’ll call it the Ornamentally Challenged Tree.”

Jean laughed through her tears. “All right.”

“It gets even better. We’re having bologna sandwiches in front of the fireplace.”

“Yum.” Jean fiddled with an ornament hanger. “Hey, thanks.”

“For what?”

“For giving me this great Christmas gift.”

“It’s for me, too, Babe.” He turned from her so she couldn’t see his tears, then pointed to the tree. “You know you shouldn’t hang two red ornaments together. Fix that.”

“Yes sir.“ She replaced one of the red ornaments with a gold one. Smiling at Keith, she mouthed the words, “I love you.”

He whispered back, “Me too.”

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This article has been read 854 times
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Catrina Bradley 11/21/08
Bittersweet. I like how the husband is so attentive to her that knew what she wanted without her voicing it. You took what could have been a morbidly sad story and made it a sweet romance.
LauraLee Shaw11/23/08
This is really sad, precious, sweet. Love your ending.
Joanne Sher 11/24/08
So sweet and touching. I love the attentiveness of this wonderful man. Just the right amount of "bittersweet."
Angela M. Baker-Bridge11/24/08
I agree with the others...this is sad but laced with love. I felt like I was there with them, well done.
Jan Ackerson 11/24/08
Betty, this is heartbreaking and unbelievably tender. I don't think you missed the mark at all!
Lynda Schultz 11/25/08
Great stuff. I especially liked the humour shared even in the midst of such a difficult situation. Love the "ornamentally-challenged tree" too.
Carole Robishaw 11/25/08
This was very touching, you should have given a tissue alert. A good story. Great interplay between them.
Teresa Lee Rainey11/26/08
This is beautiful.
Laury Hubrich 11/26/08
What a sad entry but very nice writing.
Marijo Phelps11/26/08
SWEET, SAD and TOUCHING - really expressing the LOVE shared.
Dee Yoder 11/26/08
Last Christmas's really are bittersweet,but it's best to make the most of it and try to remember the hope that awaits each Christian...lovely story, Betty.
Diana Dart 11/26/08
Very nice. Your opening line was wonderful and you drew me right into the living room of this couple. Thanks - sniff, sniff.
Loren T. Lowery11/26/08
I can only think of one word for this entry and that is "precious". It is the simple things in life that bring us the greatest joy, lifting us out of despair. Your entry reflects this so, so well!
Pamela Kliewer11/26/08
What they all said! :)
Joshua Janoski11/26/08
Bittersweet is definitely a good word to describe this story. The little joys of life often get forgotten until we are forced somehow to remember them and cherish them. I would hope that we would take the time to appreciate them now without waiting until tragedy strikes.

I hope that the woman won the battle with her cancer. Thank you for sharing.
Norma-Anne Hough11/27/08
A sad story beautifully told. Bless you.