“Lookie Daddy, them’s Christmasies.”
His three-year-old daughter squeaked in her little singsong voice while leaning way over the edge of the shopping cart. They were in Mayer’s Hardware Store on Christmas Eve. He needed to purchase a new elbow for the kitchen drain. It had frozen and cracked the night that the furnace had gone out. It might not have, but the manager of the restaurant where he work refused to give him his paycheck a day early so he could have the furnace repaired. They lived mostly hand to mouth back then, and sometimes it was a lot shorter reach than others were.
“Can we have some Christmasies, Daddy?” the little blonde-haired girl asked, her big blue eyes were clear and innocent.
It cut right into his heart. They didn’t have a Christmas tree, and if he did, there wouldn’t be any money for presents anyway. He didn’t see the point and ignored her question, and instead rubbed his hands together. It was a cool nickel below zero outside and he didn’t own a pair of gloves.
He stood at the checkout, looked out the window, and saw the public works snow plow pass by on the icy street. To get the little girl’s mind off the subject of Christmas, he pushed the cart toward a display rack hung from top to bottom with hats and gloves and mittens.
He immediately looked at her tattered coat. It was a few years old, rescued from the dumpster at the missionary second hand place. It was one of those old pile lined things, very warm and built to last. It was a good thing, because he couldn’t have bought her a new one.
On the rack, he found a little set of gloves and a matching bonnet with pink kittens on it. He looked at the price and pulled out his wallet to count the few dollars it held.
He did the math quickly in his head, though he had to double check the price on the elbow. He had seven dollars. The elbow cost two, the hat and gloves for his baby were three. That left him with two dollars. He counted in the tax and tossed the little set into the cart.
Old man Mayer watched the little scene. He’d seen the man around always helping others. Never too busy to lend a hand, not a nickel to his name, just doing the best he can. He didn’t know the fellow’s name, and only bits and pieces of his story gleaned from other men. Some of it was plain in his demeanor and some could be assumed from the faded cap and field jacket he wore, a screaming eagle on his left shoulder an arrowhead with lightning bolts on his right.
They waited patiently, making quiet conversation. The little girl didn’t cry or fuss when her Daddy told her no. It was plain to anyone who chose to see that times were tough for them, but they were weathering the storm. When Mayer bagged their meager purchase, he slipped in a pair of gloves for the fellow and some candy for the little girl. He quietly watched them as they walked out in the icy gale.
Cliff Mayer stood by the old register and watched the young man’s true character unfold.
He was rushing the little girl to his pickup when Tick Martin, the Christmas tree salesman pulled up with a load of fresh cut trees. Tick, worked several seasonal businesses around town, he owed more than he ever made, but was first in line to help anyone who needed it, often at his own expense. The young man put his daughter in her safety seat and went around to start the engine and turn on the heat. The wipers didn’t work, so he hopped out and started brushing snow away from the windshield with a battered scraper.
He looked up when he heard Tick’s deep, rattling cough. He glanced into the truck, the little girl’s head was down, and she was fast asleep in the warm cab. He went to help Tick unload his trees. They shared casual chatter as they stood the trees along the brick wall. He noticed tick’s bare hands were cracked and painful, when the older man remarked that it was going to be a long night.
The young man climbed into his truck and was about to pull away when he saw the man pull up his collar and lean back against the trees to try and break the wind. He remembered the pair of gloves and stopped the truck.
He gave the gloves to Tick who thanked him as he pulled them on and wished him, “Merry Christmas.”
The young man gave him a thin-lipped smile and forced back a tear when he said, “I’m truly sad to say it, but Santa has to skip our house this year.”
Tick stood there open mouthed as the young man drove away. Old Mayer had witnessed the whole thing. When Tick came in an hour later to thaw he and Mayer shared curious shrugs and mutual scratching of the heads.
When they arrived home, he carried the little girl in and laid her on the old couch. He got their simple dinner on the stove and replaced the elbow. He finished just as the pot of chili began to simmer. After setting the small table, he checked the mail, tossing the unopened bills on a stack. He went to the couch and rubbed the little girl’s cheek.
She rolled over and smiled, “I want my milk and supper Daddy.”
They ate their chili and she drank all her milk. After bath time he grudgingly read T’was the Night before Christmas and put her to bed. He slipped away as she dosed off. He cleaned up the house so he would have time to play with her on Christmas and take her mind away from not having any presents to open. When he finished he sank onto the old couch and turned on the late news. There he slept until he heard the plow scrape past on the street.
It was sometime in the wee hours when he heard footsteps on the porch and rose to check the door. He glanced out the window before he threw it open. As he stood amid the presents and a tiny Christmas tree, it was his turn to stand their gape mouthed as he watched them drive away.
He propped the storm door open and quietly carried the items in. He stood the tree in the corner and put the presents underneath, but there were too many and he had to stack them deep. The final one he sat in place was a red flannel stocking filled with little treats.
The next morning when she awoke, she found her Daddy in his bed. He was zipped up in his sleeping bag and she could barely see his head. She quietly tried to wake him up, kissed him on the cheek. His eyes fluttered open and he hugged her close. She smiled very brightly and he cried when she said, “That Santy guy didn’t skip us after all. I knew Jesus would be watching’ him.”
He sat with her and let her open every present, so many toys, and clothes. When she had finished and was playing in the center of a living Christmas dream he went to make their breakfast and looked around when he heard her little feet.
“Daddy this one is for you, it was tied to the tree,” She handed over a green envelope and giggled as she skipped away.
He set down the skillet and opened the card. As five one hundred dollar bills fluttered toward the floor he read, “I’m sorry to see you struggling. I need help around my store. Here’s an advance on your wages, you can start to work next Monday. It was signed, “Thank you for your service, and showing us the kindness of the Lord.”
Hard times were not forgotten and when he had the means, that young man repaid in kind by helping out another family who had somehow lost their way. When he signed the card it simply said, “I’m sorry to see you struggle, I need help around my office. Here’s an advance on your wages to keep the wolf outside the door. I’ll see you on Monday. We all must help one another, Merry Christmas to you.”
by Jim Layne