“The Christmas Gift,” Tambuli, Dec. 1993, 12
Katy, Yolanda, and Marcia sat on the couch, looking through the new Christmas catalog.
“Oh, look at that dollhouse!” Katy exclaimed.
“Wouldn’t it be fun if we could have that for Christmas!” said Yolanda.
“Let’s ask Mom and Dad,” said Marcia, the youngest.
At the supper table that night, Katy mentioned the dollhouse. Dad and Mom looked at each other. “I think things are going to be a bit different this year,” Dad said. We have some extra children on our Christmas list, so we’re going to have fewer things than usual for ourselves.”
“But why?” Marcia objected. “Who are these children, anyway?”
Mom answered with a question: “Have you met the Peterson girls who moved into the Daytons’ house?”
“The Daytons’ house?” Katy exclaimed. “They must really be poor!”
“They are poor, Katy. Our family is going to help them. That’s why there will be fewer presents under our own tree this year.”
There was silence around the table as the three sisters thought this over.
Dad sighed. “I can see that this won’t be easy for you, but we have so much, and your mother and I feel that it’s important to share.”
“You will still get a few things,” Mother said, “but the best gift that we’ll all get is a wonderful feeling.”
Katy was not convinced. “You can’t open a feeling on Christmas morning.”
Dad looked disappointed. “If you each give just one of your toys, that’s all we’ll ask.”
“Except that I could use some help with the Christmas cookies,” Mom added. “We’ll put some in a big basket for them.”
“What about us?” Yolanda whined. “Don’t we get any?”
“I think that’s just about enough,” Dad said sternly. “You’ll meet the Peterson girls tomorrow at church. We know you will be kind to them and help them feel welcome.”
The meal ended in gloom and silence.
The next day the three sisters kept looking around the chapel to see if they could see the Peterson girls. “There! On the third row, next to the door,” whispered Yolanda. Her sister slowly turned around and stared at the two strangers.
“Shhh!” said Mom. “It’s not polite to stare.”
On the way to Primary, Dad introduced the new family. “Girls, this is Sister Peterson and Susan and Beverly.”
“Hi,” everyone mumbled.
“Where are you from?” asked Katy.
“From Grafton,” said Susan.
“That’s a long way from here. Why did you move?”
Before Susan could answer, the Primary president poked her head out the door. “Time to get started, girls.”
At lunch the next Saturday, Marcia asked, “Why did the Petersons move here?”
“Well,” Mom said slowly, “their father died last summer. Sister Peterson was able to get a good job with the telephone company, but she had to move here to work.”
“If she has a good job, why do we have to give up our Christmas for them?” asked Yolanda.
“Because she doesn’t have any money yet,” Mom said. “And you’re not giving up your Christmas—just a few things. Try to remember that these girls have lost their father.”
“I still don’t like it,” said Marcia.
Just then the telephone rang. Dad answered. “Yes,” they heard him say, “I’m sure that they’d like to come.”
“Who was that?” asked Katy.
“It was Sister Peterson inviting you to spend the afternoon with her daughters.”
“No way! They didn’t say three words to us at church. Please, Dad!”
Dad was wearing his stubborn look. “Look, girls, I know this is hard. But sometimes we do things just because they’re right.”
Mom helped them into their coats and sent them out the door. It seemed like too short a walk through the fast-falling snow. A soft knock brought Sister Peterson to the front door. Her daughters stood silently behind her.
“Come in, girls. We’re happy that you could come over.”
Katy, Yolanda, and Marcia entered the living room. There was no furniture, just a big pile of moving boxes against one wall. They followed Susan and Beverly into the big, old-fashioned kitchen and were greeted with the smell of gingerbread. In the middle of the room was a large oak dining table. On it were candies, bowls of frosting, and a sheet of baked gingerbread.
“Bev and Susan thought it would be fun to make gingerbread houses,” said Sister Peterson.
“Wow!” Yolanda exclaimed. “I didn’t think we would—” Katy pinched her before she could say “have any fun.”
“Come on,” said Beverly. “Let’s get started!”
“Yeah,” said Susan. “We do this every year with our friends. We’re glad we have you to share this with.”
The five girls started on the gingerbread houses. Soon they were laughing at each other because of the frosting on their faces.
Later, while they were waiting for more gingerbread to cool, Katy said, “Let’s go play in your bedroom.”
“We can’t,” said Beverly. “It’s too cold in there. We go there only at bedtime.”
Beverly jumped up. “I know—let’s make paper chains for our windows! Mom, don’t we have colored paper somewhere?”
Soon the girls were absorbed in their project, scattering bright paper scraps like confetti on the floor.
“Let’s make some for your tree, too,” Yolanda said.
Susan and Beverly exchanged glances. Finally Beverly said, “We might not get a tree this year. They’re pretty expensive.”
The three sisters looked at each other. After a while, Katy said, “I’m tired of making chains. Let’s make something else.”
“I know,” Susan said. “Let’s make foil stars and hang them from the light fixtures.” Soon they were scattering silver foil and cardboard among the bright scraps of paper already on the floor.
Before long, the setting sun appeared through the clouds, filling the room with light. Later, just as the clock on the wall chimed five times, a knock sounded at the kitchen door.
“Look, it’s Dad,” Yolanda said. “What does he have?”
“It’s a tree!” cried Beverly as Sister Peterson opened the door.
“A little present from our family to yours,” said Dad with a grin. “Do you have a big bucket or something else we can put this in?”
“Bev, run to the shed and get that old gray bucket. Brother Harris, how can we ever thank you?”
“Well, we all wanted to do something fun.” He winked at his daughters.
Beverly ran into the kitchen, carrying a large gray bucket. The next few minutes were filled with happy, noisy confusion as everyone tried to help Dad put up the tree. Satisfied at last that it was secure and well watered, he stood up, sniffing appreciatively.
“Mmmm, pine trees and gingerbread—it sure smells like Christmas! Bring out the ornaments, and we’ll finish the job.”
“Well, I’m afraid all I have is a string of lights,” Sister Peterson said.
“We have something!” cried the girls. They scampered off and brought back armfuls of paper chains and foil stars.
“Now, that’s the right idea! Sister Peterson, you go get those lights. Girls, get that stuff untangled, and we’ll be ready. Hey, do you have any gingerbread men?”
As everyone got busy, they filled the old kitchen with laughter. Finally they all stepped back to admire their handiwork.
A soft knock sounded at the door. It was Mom carrying a large casserole dish. “A little something for your dinner,” she said. “My, that’s a fine tree! It looks like you girls have had a busy afternoon.” She set the steaming dish on the counter.
There were tears in Sister Peterson’s eyes. “Thank you,” she said. “Thank you for remembering my family. This is a Christmas we will always remember.”
Katy, Yolanda, and Marcia didn’t know what to say. Mom did. “Thank you for letting us share. You’ve helped us, too.” She gave Sister Peterson a hug. “Come on, girls, let’s go before their dinner gets cold.”
As the Harris family walked home, Yolanda turned and looked at the Peterson kitchen window. The Christmas tree lights blinked brightly. “Mom, what did you mean when you told Sister Peterson that they had helped us?”
Mom took Yolanda’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Do you remember how you felt when you went to the Petersons’ this afternoon?”
“Well, how do you feel now?”
“I feel wonderful. Is that what you meant? I understand now—this really is the best gift we could get.”