One of my most cherished Christmas memories involves a Christmas when the only gifts I received came without gift-wrap.
My mother gave birth to my new brother, Richard, on November 22, 1948. When she brought him home from the hospital, she put him in my lap, saying, "I promised you a baby, and here he is." What an honor! I had turned four just one month earlier, and none of my friends had a baby of their own. Maybe Mother didn't intend to mean the baby belonged to me, but I interpreted her words as such, and love filled my heart for the little red creature squirming in my arms.
From that day forward, I spent hours by Richie's crib, studying his wrinkled little face or playing with his tiny fingers. I marveled at my living baby doll and even dreamed of him at night. I sang to him. I entertained him with stories and told him over and over how much I loved him. He gurgled to me, and I delighted in his every move and expression. I could hardly get to sleep at night, because I was so eager for morning, when I could sit near my very own baby again. I could barely lift him, but I learned to change his diapers with a great deal of guidance and assistance from Mother.
Richard had been home but a few weeks when he developed a cough. I dreaded the sound of his shallow breaths and the sight of his runny nose. He slept more than he had before, and I would anxiously sit nearby, waiting for him to wake up.
One morning I found his crib cold and empty. I ran back to the room I shared with my six-year-old sister, screaming that someone had stolen my baby. My sister rocked me in her arms as she explained that Richie had gone to the hospital to get well, but would be home again soon. From then on, my 12-year-old sister prepared our meals while Mother and Dad spent endless hours at the hospital, keeping vigil over the infant with pneumonia. I overheard whispered conversations with ominous words and phrases, such as "hopeless," "pitiful," "dying," and "so young."
Tightening Our Belts
One December evening, my father gathered my two older sisters, my older brother, and me in the living room. We sat around in a semicircle, the way we often sat when the family played "musical instruments". Dad sat on the piano bench, as usual, but facing us rather than the keyboard. We kids sat empty-handed, instead of holding our usual "instruments" of wooden spoons and kitchen pots.
"We've got to tighten our belts," Dad told us.
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I thought of the sashes on the dresses Mother sewed for me and wondered why I had to tie them tighter. I kept listening, trying to understand. As my father spoke, his eyes filled with tears. I'd never seen him cry before, and I felt bewildered by the sight. "Don't expect any presents this year. If your baby brother lives, that'll be Christmas enough," Daddy said. "We should all be happy for what we have and hope that Richard comes home soon, strong and healthy."
I could not comprehend what my father had tried to tell us. I missed my baby terribly, but the thought of the upcoming holidays cheered me a little. How could my brother's illness affect Christmas? Santa Claus had always filled our stockings with apples, oranges, and walnuts. Nothing could change that.
A Very Different Christmas
Richard's hospitalization changed many things. Dad did not bring home a Christmas tree. Mother did not sew or crochet gifts. Every night we kids ate simple meals unlike the ones Mother usually cooked.
Dinner conversation contained a few chuckles, but nothing like the raucous laughter we used to enjoy when the whole family gathered together. With Richard in the hospital, we youngsters would usually sit around the kitchen table looking quietly and helplessly at each other as we ate our dinner, which often consisted of just cold cereal and milk.
As the days dragged on, I grew fearful of asking about my baby. Nobody mentioned his name anymore. Silence had replaced the laughter that used to float through the house. With Mother and Dad still at the hospital on Christmas Eve, my 10-year-old brother Barry supervised while we kids hung our stockings -- including a small one for Richard -- placing a name at the top of each. Though we had no tree and no presents, I knew Santa would take care of filling our socks.
The Greatest Christmas Gift
The phone rang early on Christmas morning. Dad jumped out of bed to answer it. My father always bellowed into the telephone, as if to ensure that his voice would travel the distance to the other end. From my bedroom I heard him say, "What? He's all right?" He hung up and yelled upstairs. "The hospital said we can bring Richard home!"
"Thank God!" I heard Mother cry.
From the upstairs window, I watched my parents rush out to the car; I had never seen them so happy. I also felt full of joy. What a wonderful day! My baby would soon be back home, and my Christmas goodies waited below.
The Socks Seemed Empty but...
I skipped downstairs and into the living room. I gasped. The socks hung exactly as we had left them, lifeless and flat. Behind me, I heard footsteps.
I turned to find Barry, also still in his pajamas. I grabbed his flannel sleeve. "There's nothing there," I sobbed.
He hugged me and looked over my shoulder at the mantel. "Did you look closely?"
I told him I didn't have to. I could see from where I stood.
"Well, look." He walked to the fireplace and pulled down a note.
I sniffed. "What does it say?" He read to himself and nodded.
I moved closer, curious. He pointed to lettering that looked suspiciously like his own handwriting. "This explains everything."
"What?" I asked through tears.
Barry cleared his throat. "It says right here: 'These stockings may look empty, but they are filled with love."'
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Adams Media Corporation.
Visit their website at www.adamsonline.com
This article is excerpted from the book:
A Cup of Comfort: Stories That Warm Your Heart, Lift Your Spirit, and Enrich Your Life
edited by Colleen Sell.
The stories in this inspiring collection are joyous reminders of what the holidays are all about . . .Written by people just like you, these uplifting stories celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. You and your family will be thoroughly entertained by the celebrations, merriment, and revelations that fill these pages. You will immediately feel the holiday spirit as you share in the moving experiences featured in this volume
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About The Author
Bobbie Christmas is a book editor and coauthor of The Legend of Codfish and Potatoes. She is the current president of the Georgia Writers Association and owner of Zebra Communications, a literary services company. Services include: book editing, ghostwriting, manuscript evaluation, copy editing, proofreading, book layout, poetry review, publication assistance, writing seminars, writers consultation and more. Visit her website at www.zebraeditor.com.