I’d like to offer this up as my Christmas gift to my readers. Get your hankies out, folks. You’ll need ’em.
Perhaps this will give me some Christmas Cheer…
“Stop it! Mooooooom!”
The shout rose from the living room. I sighed, staring down at the dismal mess of gingerbread cookies before me. The decorating wasn’t going so well this year. Joshua ran into the kitchen holding his left arm in his right hand. Jacob was right behind him.
“I’m gonna tell!” Josh said, looking at his twin. “Mom, Jake hit me!”
“I did not!” Jake retorted.
I put down the bag of icing and turned to the two. The twins were nearly six years old â€“ they were born New Year’s Eve. They were the least of my worries. I had a thirteen year old and three month old, too. Charles and I hadn’t really planned to space them so far apart. After fifteen years of marriage, though, we got a surprise with the new addition of baby Sarah. The day I found out was the happiest and the saddest. It was also the day we found out their father had cancer.
“Boys, please,” I begged. “Go to your room and be good for me. Okay?”
“But, mom â€“” Josh began.
“I mean it, now. Santa won’t come tomorrow if you don’t start behaving.”
I sent them off and watched them walk, side by side still pushing and shoving each other, out the kitchen and through the living room. The truth was I didn’t have the money for Christmas this year. At the twin’s insistence, I put up the tree and the stockings. I even hung the wreath on the door. But my heart wasn’t in it this year. I hadn’t even been shopping and didn’t know what I was going to tell them tomorrow morning when Santa really hadn’t come. It was heart-breaking. The first year without their father and no presents either.
Staring down at the burned cookies, my vision blurred with the tears. How could I go on? Only a year ago we discovered Charles had the cancer. It spread so quickly there wasn’t much the doctors could do. We tried chemo and radiation, but it was no use. He died six months later and left me pregnant with three kids, two dogs, a mortgage, and two car loans, not to mention a mountain of hospital and doctor bills. I had fallen behind on the credit card bills, too. I was the lucky recipient of bill collectors who called constantly.
Upstairs, the baby started to cry. Wiping my hands on a dish towel, I pulled a bottle of formula from the refrigerator and put it in a pan to heat. We didn’t have one of those bottle-warmers like I had seen. I warmed my bottles the old-fashioned way.
I trudged up the stairs and found the twins played with their train set they got for Christmas last year. Mark, the eldest and named for his paternal grandfather, was in his room with the door shut. He played his music so loud it reverberated through the walls. I could only shake my head and continued to the baby’s room. I was sure he woke her with the deafening music.
After diapering and soothing her little nerves, I scooped her up. I knocked on Mark’s door and called to him to tell him to turn down the music. It went down a few decibels, but I could still hear it through the walls. As I headed down the stairs, the doorbell rang.
I opened the door to find no one there. Instead on the doorstep was a huge basket covered in blue gingham drape with a big blue bow on the handle. Juggling the baby, I picked up the basket with a free hand. I took it to the kitchen and placed it on the counter, wondering what it could be. I peeked inside and gasped. It was full of fruit, smoked meat and cheese, all still cold from the freezing temperatures outside. There was a card, too.
“A small token to help you through the holidays. God bless you and merry Christmas.”
That was all it said. No signature, no hint of who could have sent it. I shrugged to myself, a little puzzled. I couldn’t think of anyone that would have sent the basket. I continued to ponder this as I settled in the corner of the couch to feed the baby. Her small hands gripped mine as she sucked on her bottle. Her big blue eyes gazed up at me. She looked a lot like Charles.
The doorbell rang again. Unable to move and unwilling to disturb Sarah’s eating, I called up the stairs to Mark. He didn’t hear me and the doorbell rang again. I harrumphed and struggled up, taking the bottle from the baby’s mouth. She wailed as I trucked to the door and swung it open.
Another basket. This time, there were winter clothes for baby Sarah including socks and small shoes. A tiny coat. A bonnet. There was also a large box. Sarah continued to cry as I opened the lid and peered inside. It contained diapers, wipes, and formula. My heart hammered in my chest and ears. Who? I thought over and over. Who could it be? There was no note this time. I grabbed the basket and set it inside the door, then shuffled the box inside.
I stared into the dark night, looking for some clue as to who could be the culprit. It was dark on our street that Christmas Eve night except for a few houses decorated with festive lights. I stood in the freezing temperatures, watching the snowflakes drift to the ground before shutting the door and returning the bottle back in the baby’s mouth. She hushed immediately. I was rooted there, my bare feet cold on the ceramic tile, and listened through the oak door. At last, I moved away, back to the couch.
Sarah finished her bottle and returned the attempted to decorate my sad gingerbread men. I put her in her swing to entertain her while I went about my business. As I looked around the messy kitchen, I decided it was time to clean up instead. No amount of icing was going to save those cookies anyway.
Just as I got the sink full of water and suds, the doorbell rang once again. I stared out the kitchen window into the dark backyard, my stomach doing flip-flops at the sound. It suddenly occurred to me that the dogs hadn’t barked at all since the doorbell began to ring. Whoever it was, the dogs either didn’t see them or were in their doghouse out of the weather. Or maybe they knew them by scent and weren’t even disturbed by the foot traffic in front of our house.
The doorbell chimed again, grating on my now-raw nerves. I trudged to the door, my heart in my throat and reached for the brass doorknob. I was almost afraid to see what was on the other side of the door. It chimed again; I flung open the door, hoping to catch whoever it was. There was no one there.
I bite my lip to keep from breaking into tears. Sitting on my porch were two bright blue bicycles. The twins had each asked for one for Christmas. The sobs were caught in my throat as I wheeled them inside next to the tree. I gawked at them, running my hand over the smooth metal and the soft cushy seat of each bike. I managed to tear myself away and go back to the kitchen to finish cleaning.
The baby yawned widely and I checked my watch. It was nearing nine; bedtime for all the kids. I scooped her up, dressed her for bed. After tucking her in, I knocked on Mark’s door, told him to quiet down as the babies were going to bed, then saw to the twins. Josh fussed and squabbled about bedtime.
“I’m not tired yet,” Josh moaned. “I don’t want to go to sleep.”
“But Santa will come if we go to bed,” Jake reasoned. “Santa is coming. Right, Mom?” His little face looked up at me with hope and joy.
“Of course,” I replied, patting his head.
I kissed them both and tucked them in. As I snapped off their lamp, I headed for the door.
“Mom?” Josh asked timidly.
“Will you tell Dad happy Christmas?”
“Sure I will.” I smiled in the darkness, the tears returning once again.
I quietly shut the door, my hand still on the knob. Standing in the hallway, there was silence in our home. I could almost hear the snow falling outside it was so peaceful. I was tired, I realized, and went back down to turn out lights and lock the house for the night. I was going to unplug the tree lights, but stopped. I watched them twinkle, the image burning in my vision. I decided to leave them on. Tomorrow was Christmas, after all.
I snuggled down between my sheets, shivering against the cold. I drifted off, thinking about Charles, the kids, and trying not to worry. Things would get better, I promised. They had to.
The next morning, the twins woke me by jumping in the bed and shouting, “Santa came! Santa came!” I merely thought they were excited about the bikes. I sat up with a wide yawn.
“Mom! Santa was here!” Josh said, the excitement evident in his eyes. “Come see! Come see!”
“Hurry! Hurry!” they chimed.
I threw on my robe and the two scrambled downstairs. Mark stood in the middle of the living room, his mouth agape. He was the first thing I saw. His eyes were wide as he looked at me when I entered the room. The twins bounded off toward the tree.
“Mom?” he asked then. “How did you . . . ?”
His voice trailed off and I followed his gaping gaze. Around the tree were stacks and stacks of gifts. There were new CDs, clothes, and a walkman for Mark. He also got the new electric guitar he wanted. There were new clothes and perfume for me, toys for the little ones. The stockings were stuffed full of goodies. The kitchen was spread with a feast. Everything from a turkey and dressing to pies and cakes. It was all unbelievable.
“Look, Mom,” Jake said, pointing to my stocking. “You got a susprise in your stocking too.”
Jake never could say surprise correctly â€“ it was always susprise â€“ and I chucked. I went to the stocking and pulled out a card. In bold handwriting it stated “To Claire” on the envelope. Inside was a holiday card with a winter scene. I opened it and read the message scrawled in the same handwriting.
“For you and your family. Merry Christmas.”
It was signed with the initials SC. I sat down hard and sobbed.
We had a wonderful Christmas that year. I couldn’t help but wonder who was responsible for it all and I never found out. It had been my wish to thank them properly for giving my family such a beautiful day. Later that night, as I sat enjoying a cup of coffee and watching the children play, I believed again in Santa Claus.
Â© Michelle Miles, 2005