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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Day 6 in Countdown to Christmas

In keeping with nostalgic memories of Christmases past, I would like to share a story from my childhood with you today. As with most children, the spirit of giving was lost on me. But like most things in life, a traumatic incident will occur, embedding itself in our memories forevermore. It happened to me when I was eleven years old.

“I can’t wait for Christmas morning,” I twirled about the kitchen like a sugar plum fairy while my mother rolled gingersnaps. The house smelled wonderful, sugar and spice and everything nice. And from the living room, the heady scent of fresh pine drifted, making me delirious with delight. Outside, snow blanketed the ground, flurries swirling down on the pine branches like spools of angel hair. A white Christmas, I rubbed my hands together with glee, snatching up a cookie on the pan. The spices melted on my tongue, causing me to twirl all the faster.
“You know,” my mom looked up, her cheeks rosy from the oven, flour coating her blue apron. “Christmas isn’t all about presents under the tree. It’s about the spirit of giving and the birth of Baby Jesus. Didn’t you hear Father John’s sermon on Sunday, saying it’s better to give than receive?”
“I heard him,” I said, stealing another peek out the window to see how much snow had fallen. “It’s the same one he gives every year.”
Hearing the mailman, I ran to the door and opened it. A cold gush of air blew in, the howling wind swishing through the towering pines. The mailman handed me a stack of mail and bid me a Merry Christmas. “You too,” I all but slammed the door in his face, noticing the first letter in the stack had my name on it. Running off into the house, belting out a verse or two of Deck the Halls, I ripped the red envelope. It was from my aunt. Shaking out the card, not even bothering to read the verse, I frowned, turning it upside down. “No money, no green stuff to buy a gift,” I tossed the card on the table.
Entering the kitchen, my mom was pulling out another tray of cookies. Snatching one up, burning my fingers, I was too excited to feel the blister. Dashing off, I popped it into my mouth after waving it in the air to cool. Putting on my coat and scarf, gloves and boots, I yelled into the kitchen, “I’m going outside to see how deep the snow is. Be back in a few minutes.”
The snow was really coming down, causing my spirits to soar. A bright red cardinal perched in the fleecy pine tree, pretty as you please. I smiled, my mind on how many gifts I’d find under the tree come Christmas morning. Excitement mounted. But suddenly, I heard a door creak from across the street. Looking up, snapping out of my revelry, I noticed the old lady that lived in the house on the terrace, all stooped over with age, her gnarled fingers probing to get her mail out of the box. She wore a black cardigan sweater over her bony shoulders, her unkempt hair as white as the snow. I shuddered, thinking she looked like a witch. Feeling cold, I went back inside, the scent of cinnamon and spices wafting through the house. Try as I might, the image of the old woman next door flashed through my head. Did anyone care about her? Did anyone bake cookies for her or buy her a Christmas gift? Her husband had died years ago and no one ever came to visit. Something struck me and an idea blossomed in my head. Shedding off my coat and snow gear, I tore into the kitchen.
“I want to bake some cookies for old lady Thomas,” I said, my heart all a flutter. “I want to give her a present for Christmas.”
“That’s the spirit,” my mom said, her lips puckering into a pout. “But don’t call her old lady Thomas. That’s not nice. Her name is Mrs. Thomas.”
“Whatever,” I said, my mind on my mission.

An hour later, bundled once more in my winter snow gear, gingersnaps neatly packed on a paper plate, garnished with foil wrapping and green and red ribbons, I gingerly walked across the cobblestone street to my neighbor’s house on the hill. Taking the steps slowly, hanging onto the railing for dear life with my free hand, I got to the door and rang the bell. A smile teased my lips, anticipating her look of surprise.
The door creaked open and there she stood, hand on her hip, looking anything like what I’d imagined. Her mouth curled in an ugly frown. “What do you want, little girl? Can’t you read the sign? It says no trespassing, and that means you.”
“But…” I stammered, my heart in my throat. “I’m not selling anything, honestly. I live across the street and baked these cookies for you for a Christmas gift. I…”
My words were cut off by the cold banging of the door. I stood there, the tears spilling down my cheek. Turning on my heels, I started down her front steps. But not really watching where I was going, I missed the last step, tripped flat on my face in the snow and landed on my cookies. I heard them crunch. The foil ripped and they were all askew in the snow, bits and pieces of broken cookies along with my broken heart.

An hour later, after a hot cocoa and a good cry, my mom went to the window and looked out and gasped. “Come quick! Hurry!
“What?” I looked, following her gaze to old lady Thomas’s house.
“Don’t you see it?”
“I saw nothing. The snow had stopped falling and looking at that house on the hill made my stomach hurt. “I don’t see anything.” I turned on my heels.
My mother stopped me. “Right there where you fell. See?”
“I looked but saw nothing to get excited about. I shrugged. “What do you see?”
“Your imprint in the snow, the image of an angel.”


Judy said...

What a great memory!! Did Mrs. Thomas ever learn what a sweet girl you were? I hope so!!

Sharon Donovan said...

Aw, thanks, Judy! Unfortunately, she never came around. But in her own way, she taught me a valuable lesson. It dawned on me that lonely people are often quite bitter, perhaps due to being so used to nobody caring. From that year on, no matter how small, I went out of my way to do something for an elderly person living alone or without family. This tradition is carried on in my church. Today was the "Caring Tree." We each get a paper angel with someone's wish on it. Some of the people are shut ins, some have no family, others live in a nursing home. But this is the only gift they get and my church really takes part in spreading the cheer!

Mary Ricksen said...

If you fell today in the snow, you'd just make a bigger imprint in the snow, but it would still be an angel.

Sharon Donovan said...

Mary you always make me smile!!

Skhye said...

Aw, great story! We got the name of a 9 year old from a Wish Tree this year. We do it through Chevron where my husband works. It's a wonderful project that I encourage everyone to participate in.

Hywela Lyn said...

What a wonderful memory Sharon, and what a lovely lady your mum is to raise your spirits in that way.
And Mary's so right!

Sharon Donovan said...

Making wishes come true is what Christmas is all about, Skhye. Good for you for reaching out. Let's all follow in these footsteps and spread the joy and cheer.

Sharon Donovan said...

Hi Lyn. Yes it was a day to remember all around, and Christmas angels are like elfin fairies, sprinkling magic with their wings. I don't know if I've earned my wings here on earth, but I try to make a difference.

Linda Swift said...

What a beautiful story, Sharon. And I was hoping the poor old lady would reward you with a smile and I hurt for you when she didn't. But thanks to your wise mother, you learned an unforgettable lesson that helped to make you the caring person you are today.
When my mother spent two years in nursing homes, I realized how very lonely so many elderly people are. Before that time,I stayed away from such "depressing" places. But I kept in touch with two of her lonely room-mates until they also died. And now I have a 93 year-year-old aunt in nursing care whom I watch over and a 95-year old neighbor here in FL. The elderly are so grateful for our time and a little attention. And you know what? I never visit any of them that I don't get more joy from the visit than they do. I'm sure that's true for all of you, too. Old lady Thomas was not the norm!

Sharon Donovan said...

Hi Linda,
So true. The . elderly are for the most part so sweet and are just looking for someone to spare some time or make them feel needed. Good for you for befriending so many. You add so much joy to their life and let's not forget. One day, God willing, we will all be the elderly in question. And won't it be nice to have one special person care?

Jane Richardson, writer said...

What a great story, and what a lesson. You never really know why someone's turned out the way they seem, do you? Lives lived. But that shouldn't ever stop a person from passing on the kindness whenever they can, there's always karma. :)

Jane x