Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Christmas Carols/Carolling (10/02/08)
TITLE: the Christmas Gift
By Robyn Burke
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We decided to not exchange presents but instead give a gift to someone truly in need. The first person who came to mind was Annie. Everyone in our small community knew who Annie was; a homeless woman who lived in a rattle-trap old truck with her two dogs, my heart ached every time I saw her.
I knew only a little about her; she’d spent time in a mental hospital, her children who had been taken into foster care. She received government aid but worked to supplement it picking pine cones and selling them to the local sourcing establishment. When she wasn’t in the forest, she was behind the wheel of her truck, navigating logging roads, in search of quiet safe places to spend the night.
I’d had a few conversations with her over the years. Occasionally she would stop by and ask to use our phone or if we could spare $5 for gas. She was always faithful in repaying us but I would have given it to her regardless.
So we decided to put together a gift basket for Annie. I picked out a heavy blanket, thick socks, a new hairbrush, and treats for the dogs. Word got out in our church of what we were doing and other gifts were added. A flashlight and extra batteries, a gas card. Soon the basket was overflowing.
It was our church’s custom to go caroling in December and then return to the church for cider and cookies. Annie took to parking in town when the weather got nasty, so I decided to invite her to join us for the party, thinking we could give her the gift basket then. I knew she kept a post office box so I wrote out a simple invitation and headed out to mail it.
As I neared the post office I saw the familiar figure; Annie was just exiting her truck. Her dogs were yelping in excitement, lunging at the cracked open window. I stood still for a moment as I took in the scene. What must it be like to live out your every day in that small confinement? As Annie got closer, I averted my eyes, not wanting to embarrass her with my sympathy. Instead I fumbled with my coat pocket, producing the letter I was intending to mail to her.
As I explained about the invitation her eyes widened. “You‘re going Christmas Caroling?” The longing in her voice was unmistakable. I knew that just inviting her to the party wasn’t enough.
“Would you like to join us Annie?”
“Oh, no!” she exclaimed “I can’t sing, but my ma taught me the words to lots of those songs and I remember them!”
“You can still come along if you like. There will be lots of folks who claim they can’t sing.” I reassured her.
She looked away, and I could see the muscle in her jaw working.
“Once, when I was a kid, I remember some people came out to my ma’s place and brought us a Christmas turkey dinner. It was real nice. Me and my little brother each got a present. But the best part was when they stood outside on the lawn and sang “Silent Night’ to us. That’s what I’ll always remember.”
In a flash I recognized her true longing.
The night for the caroling party arrived with a good turnout. The weather was even cooperating; a light dusting of snow to set the mood. I spied Annie’s truck parked in the shadows alongside the church fence. I nudged my husband. With a sweep of his arm he got everyone’s attention and made further motions to indicate we should follow him.
The truck cab was dark but I could see her outline. We fanned out around the front cab of the truck. With a tremble in my voice I started: “Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright.’’ As the rest of the voices joined in I saw Annie rolling down her window.
When we were finished I stepped forward holding up the basket, “Merry Christmas Annie.”
She climbed out of the truck accepting the basket without really even looking at it. Her eyes were glistening with unshed tears. “You sang to me.’’ She said in whispered awe. “That’s what I’ll always remember.”
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