The year Karen’s father died, her entire world turned upside down. She thought there would be no more big Christmas’s, no more big turkey dinners for Thanksgiving. Her mother was recovering from a partial stroke that left numbness down her entire left side. She was unable to work. Her mother moved herself and her three daughters to a small town just south of the Canadian border. The little house they moved in to was on a dead end street. It seemed to beckon them to the new life where they were going to live. Karen’s mother Jill, her older sixteen year old sister Fay, Karen who was twelve and nine year old Mattie [short for Matilda] were in a state of shock.. The house was so run down that it was on the list to be torn down. The smell of old urine, dead mice and mold hit the family as they walked in the door.
Karen’s father died on Thanksgiving Day after suffering from a severe car accident. Winter had come early that year, leaving the highways frozen. The car hit a patch of ice and tumbled down an embankment. The old house where Karen’s family moved had been empty for almost two years. As the fierce winds blew against the tar paper siding, Karen could hear the sounds of the house groaning under the strain of winter. The pipes froze on that old house as the temperatures dove down to twenty below zero. The children had to go out back and scoop up fresh snow for their mother to boil for water. They crept outside hoping no one would see them. The bitter cold wind had frozen the tops of the snow and an ice pick had to be used to break the iced capped snow bank to retrieve the snow.
Karen sat in her upstairs bedroom looking out the window over the street that led to their house. In her mind’s eye she and her sisters were shopping in a huge department store with her father. In the past years they would go up and down the escalators while he juggled bags and packages. They knew they were in for a treat before they headed home. He would take them to a nice restaurant and they could order whatever they wanted. Reality broke in as the smell of welfare powdered eggs drifted upstairs. They were suddenly thrust into the world of welfare checks and became aware of the world of a Social Security Administration.
They used to fight over the bathroom in their old home. Now, the old house did not even have a bath tub. They were forced to use a plastic basin filled with water and take sponge baths. At first Karen did not mind. Her father had taken the girls camping and they were used to roughing it. But, that was vacation and her Dad had made everything seem fun. Dad was no longer there.
Across the street Karen watched as the family was putting up their outside lights. She knew that no lights would go up at her home. She sat at the window and watched as the lights blinked on and off until she heard her mother calling her downstairs for supper.
Life with her siblings was never dull. Fay was sixteen and mostly in charge since their mother was recovering from the stroke. Fay would dole out the chores to Karen and Mattie. Karen did the dishes, Mattie set the table and cleared the plates after dinner. Fay helped with the cooking and vacuuming and made sure the laundry was done. She also made sure Karen and Mattie had their hair combed and bathed each night. Mattie could be heard complaining and arguing from morning until night with Fay. Karen kept silent and emotionally drifted into a different world.
Karen washed the dishes and dreamed silently while chaos went on all around her. Mattie had a temper tantrum and threw plates on the floor. Fay screamed and Jill intervened to discipline. Karen was oblivious to most of it. It was a daily routine now that Dad was gone. This particular evening Karen had something special on her mind. Her teacher had given each of her students a essay to write over the Christmas holiday. They were to write about ‘Something to be thankful for’. Karen’s only thought was that she was thankful that she could daydream. She would sit and watch ‘The Undersea world of Jacques Cousteau’ and dream she was in the subtropics with palm trees and beautiful beaches. While the snow filled the sidewalks that entire day; Karen dreamed of living where the snow never fell and daddy’s never died. She was told to go outdoors and help shovel the front porch. She did so willingly. She was glad to be out of the house.
Slowly, Karen pushed the snow off of the porch. When that was finished, she began to make a path to the trash can. Next, she began to push the snow from the road. She was so absorbed in what the shovel was doing, that she did not see that it was gradually getting dark. When Fay hollered for her to come in, she nodded her head and put the shovel in its place in the corner of the porch.
“How long have you been out there Karen?” Fay asked. “I know I asked you to shovel the porch but you never came back in. Are you cold?”
Karen told her no. “I was moving around and I kept warm. Do you think we’ll get another six inches of snow before morning? I could set the alarm clock to shovel again before we go to school.” Fay had no idea if it would snow. She was tired of Mattie and Karen asking her everything as if she should know everything.
“Why not watch the news and see what the weather man says. Tomorrow is the last day of school before vacation. We might not have school tomorrow if this keeps up.” Fay got up and found some old wax candles. The power had gone out the night before and they were forced to huddle in the kitchen as Fay put the oven on. Making muffins at 3 a.m. was weird but it kept them warm. The candles helped with keeping Mattie less afraid. “It’s just a new Christmas tradition.” Fay had said. Karen knew what Fay was up to and was glad not to hear Mattie’s carrying on. In the end, Mattie fell asleep on a couple of blankets on the floor and Karen put her head on the table and slept in the chair. It was no wonder they were tired in school that day.
The following day Fay put on the radio and listened to see if their school was being closed. Sure enough, they had ten more inches of snow and there was no school. Mattie was glad to go out to play. Karen got dressed and went downstairs. Her mother was sipping black coffee as Fay was attempting to make something from flour and eggs. Karen wasn’t sure what it was. It looked like pancakes but tasted like wall paper paste. She poured syrup over it and tried to eat. “I’m going to try to shovel off our porch.” Karen announced.
“You can do that later. I want you to grab the dirty clothes and towels upstairs first and bring it all down. Then you can do these dishes up.” Fay had made a list of things to do that day. She was going to try to clean the house because some of her girlfriends said they were coming over. Karen came downstairs with a load of laundry and set it down on the floor. Fay sorted it out and proceeded to fill the washer.
Jill took a brush to her daughter’s hair and put it in braids. Mattie was getting restless just as her mother finished her hair. When Karen finished the dishes, she and Mattie got their snow clothes on and went back outside. Mattie made snow angels as Karen pushed the snow around. Fay came out a few times and seemed agitated. “What’s the matter Fay?” Karen asked.
My girlfriends can’t come over and I’m bored.’ She answered. ‘The porch looks good. Don’t lay on that snow too long Mattie, you’ll get wet and cold.” Karen thought that was a dumb thing to say but kept silent.
“Well, it’s winter and you always get cold in winter.” She thought. She stood leaning on the shovel and suddenly she was miles away in thought. She remembered her father taking her for long rides in the country and picnics in the middle of no where. He would suddenly bring out sandwiches and cans of soda and then a box of brownies would appear. Karen smiled as she could almost smell the sunshine and see the chocolate. Dad knew she loved those brownies. A wet snowball sloshed her face as Mattie laughed. “Gotcha!”
Karen leaped over her younger sister and soon her head was buried in the snow. A shadow appeared as Fay leaned down to break up the fight. “Karen, you are older and bigger. What is wrong with you?” Karen didn’t bother to explain. She went inside and listened to her mother and Fay help Mattie out of her snowsuit. “I was having fun!” Mattie complained. “Until she jumped on me!”
Jill knew her daughter well. “She must have had a reason Mattie.” Mattie began to giggle. “Yeah, I got her good!”
Karen left to go upstairs and change into dry clothes. Nothing really mattered to her. Fay followed her up the stairs and began to point out that she needed to be patient. “Mom is trying her best Karen. She cries all the time because of our fighting. You should know better.” It was too late and the words were wasted on Karen though. She had all ready tuned her sister out and brought out her paper and pen. ‘Something to be thankful for’ she had written on the top. She had no idea what she was going to write.A Reason to Be Thankful
Karen sat in her room and made squiggly lines on the blank piece of paper. She sat there staring out the window at the snow falling and still couldn’t come up with a single thing to be thankful for. It was frustrating to her because she was an A student in school. She hated the thought of not having a brilliant idea to write about. Worse still, she really couldn’t see any reason to be thankful in her life.
Suddenly Mattie was running to her room and skidded to a halt knocking her papers off of the desk. “What now Mattie? Have you thought of a new way to get me into trouble?”
Mattie was excited and laughing. “No, silly! You do that well all by your own self! So there! Mom said it was all right for me to go over to Gramma’s and she wants you to come with me to shovel off her porch and stuff.”
Karen was glad for a reason not to do this homework assignment. “Sure, I’ll go get my coat.” Soon, Mattie and Karen were trudging in the knee high snow with Karen carrying a shovel. Mattie stopped several times to make snow balls, but because of her mother’s warning; she didn’t throw them at Karen. They made it their grandmother’s home in ten minutes. She only lived two blocks away.
“Hi Gramma!” said Mattie. “We came to shovel for you!” Karen rolled her eyes. Mattie didn’t miss a beat though and proceeded to take off her mittens and coat. “What kind of cookies do you have?” she asked.
Karen smiled and turned around to go back outside and shovel. Karen daydreamed about dolphins and sandy beaches as she moved the snow around. She didn’t hear the wind howl or the snow plows on the main roads. The snow was coming down lighter and the sun was shining off of the fresh snowbanks. It looked like a snow cone to Karen. Soon, Gramma’s porch and walkway were cleared. Karen grabbed the bag of rock salt that her grandmother kept just inside of the door. “I’ll sprinkle a little of this Gram, and then I’m coming in.” She sprinkled the salt and then stomped her boots before going back inside.
“Here, let me take those wet things. Thank you honey for all of that work. Here, just lay that hat and mittens on the rack I put next to the heater. They’ll dry off quick. I’ve got molasses cookies and tea. I ran out of cocoa.” Gramma said.
Mattie was busy playing with a deck of cards and watching the televison as Karen peeled off her clothes. She sat at the table sipping tea as her grandmother went back to her sewing machine. Gramma was always sewing or crocheting. “So, Karen …what’s new with you?”
“Oh, nothing. I’m supposed to write this essay during vacation is all. It’s supposed to be about what I’m thankful for. I can’t think of much to be thankful for these days. I mean it. Everyone’s all happy about Christmas and all and this year is the pits without dad. Fay has turned into a drill seargeant and Mom is struggling to get herself back to normal after that stroke. The pipes froze again. Did Mom tell you?”
Karen’s grandmother had lived through having nine children with one stillborn. Her husband died soon after her last child was born and she raised several children during the depression years. Not much went by Karen’s grandmother. She had seen the once exuberant grand child turn into a stone since her father died. Yet, she knew that sympathy wasn’t what was needed. “Seems like you need to open your eyes a bit then.” She said this quietly and returned to her sewing. The whir of the sewing machine mixed with the televison show “The Price is Right”.
“What am I supposed to be seeing Gram? It seems like every day something breaks in the house. Sometimes I think a big wind is going to come and blow our house down the embankment next door into the gulley below. Mom said not to expect presents for Christmas because she doesn’t have enough money. Fay said we might as well not put the tree up. We can’t put any lights on it because it might blow a fuse in the house and we’d be in the dark…again.” Karen bit into a molasses cookie and waited for her grandmother’s reaction. Gramma was blunt so she knew that whatever she said would make sense.
“Karen, I thought you were a bright child. Your father always bragged to me how smart you are. But, you sound like you have no imagination or creativity at all. All you see is the loss in your life. You need to see the gifts that you have. God made a big change in your life when your father died. But, not all change is bad. It gives you a chance to be a fighter and see what you are made of. Didn’t your father give you an example of being a survivor? That man lost his own mother when he was Mattie’s age. He was brought up in a barn mostly. He worked hard all of his life but I never heard him complain about it.”
“What can I do Gramma? “ Karen was bewildered by what she should be feeling and doing.
Gramma turned off her sewing machine and poured herself another cup of tea. As she thought a moment, a thought occurred to her. “You know Karen, it’s not the CAN do, so much as the Want to. You must have some dreams about what you would like to do. Why not write down what you want to do. In the mean time, whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all of your might. You can’t go forward in life if you are always looking back.” Gramma reached out and patted Karen’s hand.
Karen thought a moment. “I do not ever want to forget my dad Gramma.”
Karen’s grandmother understood her well. “No, I wouldn’t dream of suggesting such a thing. What I am suggesting though is to use what he gave you to go forward. He was a man of courage and spunk. He was creative and was able to always see the glass half full. He had passion for life. Take that from him and use it to help you go on with out him. I know you are a young girl, but it’s never too late to be spoken to like an adult. That is what I’m doing here today.”
Karen always liked the way her grandmother spoke to her like she was an adult. She understood the simple words too. She nodded her head.
“Karen, I want you to see your life as a challenge to show what you are made of. But, I also want you to be aware that you can do so many things when you ask the Lord’s help. He can show you how you can be happy even though you are going through the trials of life. I am 76 years old and have seen a lot of people die in my life. My parents, my brothers, sisters, husband and even children. Without the Lord’s help I would have wanted to lie down and die with them. But, like your own mother…I had more children to raise. So, I prayed and asked for guidance and strength.”
Gramma hugged her grand daughter and changed the subject. Yet, Karen had been given an idea and it stayed with her for the entire day. After Karen and Mattie were dry, they went back home. Mattie went to her doll house and Karen went to her little desk to make some notes. “Let’s see, use what dad gave me to move forward.” She wrote down a short list of the things she liked about her father. He was funny, he wasn’t afraid all of the time, he always tried new things, he used to have ideas for all sorts of occasions, and he believed that with God all things are possible. Karen remembered that he used to quote that several times. She sat back and realized that her father’s strength had not come out of his loss of parents. It had come because he believed in God and therefore that same God must have given him fresh ideas and strength.
Karen went downstairs to ask her mother. Jill was busy in the kitchen. Karen sat at the table and wondered how to ask her questions. Usually her mother got upset at the mention of her father’s name. “Mom, Dad used to say ‘With God, all things are possible. Is that in the bible or something or did he make it up?” Jill stopped wiping down the stove. She turned around and looked at Karen.
“It’s in the bible. Just a minute, I’ll go find it for you.” Before Karen could object, her mother left to get her bible. When Jill returned with the bible, she sat down with Karen. “It’s in Matthew and Mark. Mark 10:27 ‘Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” It’s also in Matthew 19:26. Well, why are you asking?”
“Well, Dad used to say that a lot. I mean even if things didn’t go the way he wanted he would ask God and things would get done a different way. I used to be surprised that he didn’t flinch when stuff got broke or we didn’t get to do some things the way we thought. I’m thinking Dad gave us a gift to have that kind of faith. I’d like to use that gift this Christmas. Do you think it would be all right if we had a family meeting? I have some ideas. Maybe they aren’t perfect but Mattie and Fay might understand.”
Jill was a little surprised at this change in Karen. She thought for a moment and then she called her other two daughters in. Karen quickly outlined what she had been thinking. “I really miss Dad and I think we all do. But, he left us with some powerful things so that we could go on in life without him. We don’t have a choice, we have to keep living.”
Fay was suddenly emotional. “I can’t do this.” She started to leave, but Jill took her arm.
“Please hear your sister out. I think this might do us some good.” Fay sat back down and braced herself for whatever was coming. Karen could see the tightness in her face. Jill smiled at her daughter and said, “Go on Karen.”
Karen went on with a lump in her throat. “Dad was one to always see the glass half full. When things went wrong he saw the good side of it. He also was able to make simple things fun without spending a lot of money. I was just remembering that he said “With God all things are possible” Mom looked it up in her bible. I’m thinking that God gave Dad his ideas to have fun, and he gave dad the courage to do things. If God gave that to Dad, and Dad gave us that message…maybe we should use that message and ask God to help us be creative and to have courage.”
Karen sat staring at her hands hoping she had made sense. It had all seemed so clear when she was sitting at her desk upstairs.
Fay went over and hugged her shoulders and kissed her head. “I think that is so cool sis. Yes, let’s do that. I’m not real good at praying though.” Jill gathered the girls together and prayed for wisdom, strength and creativity to see the glass half full. She thanked the Lord for the gifts their father had left to them.
Karen ended the prayer “Lord, help us to be happy as we go through these days. Help us to be creative too.”
“I was thinking of Christmas and I wrote down some things. I can’t do all this but I thought of it anyways. Maybe you guys know how to do stuff. I was thinking that I know turkeys are so expensive. What about having a Christmas dinner without a turkey this year? Chicken and gravy is great.”
Fay was delighted. She had never cooked a turkey and even with her mother’s help she was nervous. “I know how to make a chicken. Plus, we can have Grandma over and she’d help out too. In fact, why don’t I go over and we can plan a menu? We don’t have to have everything, but a nice chicken dinner would be fun.”
Jill put her hand up. “Well, let’s wait and see what else Karen was thinking.” She was surprised to see that she was excited for the first time in weeks.
Karen looked back at her list. “Well, I know we don’t have money for presents. I was wondering if instead of us telling you what we want and not being able to get it anyways…we could each have two dollars? Then, instead of us trying to buy gifts for everyone we could get creative. Either make something or buy something within that two dollars. That’s eight dollars to spend but we could do more if we make something. It would be fun to see what each other comes up with.”
Mattie all ready had an idea. She had been given a loom and loops to make potholders with the past year. She smiled as she thought of what else she could do.
Fay was excited about making a dinner within her means. Each of the little family was excited to see what they could come up with.
Jill stayed up in her easy chair that night praying and thanking God for the new ideas. She remembered when she was young and had made popcorn balls. “Hmmm, I think Mattie and I could make those. Then she thought of the five and dime store where she had seen those sparkling barretts and combs. “I think they were each a quarter…hmmm”
Fay and Karen went over to their Grandmother’s the very next day and shared the news. “Do you think you can help me make a chicken dinner Grandma?”
“Why, I’d love to. I can make apple pies too. That old apple tree outback was loaded and I’ve got several jarred up. Plus, I can teach you how to make biscuits. All we need is potatoes and carrots or some other vegetable. I’ll supply the cranberry sauce and I’ll teach you how to make stuffing. This will be a great dinner!”
Fay spent the next day in the kitchen with a cook book. She taught herself how to make Christmas sugar cookies. She’d found cookie cutters and cookie decorations in the cupboard. She planned to use them as part of her gift. With her two dollars she would get flour and eggs. That way she would have what she needed for the biscuits too.
The next day Karen went to the kitchen and saw that her mother had her checkbook out. She was showing Fay how to use it. “I have trouble signing my name with this lame arm, since the stroke. I thought you and I could go with Grandma to the bank. I will put you both down as power of attorney because you are too young right now.” Karen wasn’t sure what she was hearing.
Karen and Mattie stayed home while Grandma went with Jill and Fay went to the bank. Fay was very nervous when she came back home. Grandma stayed in the kitchen making coffee while Jill went to lay down. She had grown quite tired. Karen went to the kitchen and heard Fay say to Grandma..’I’m so scared Grandma! Mom hadn’t made any deposits and if you weren’t there it would have been a mess. I’ll have to watch the mail for the checks and then do all the banking. I already have my hands full with the housework and making sure Karen and Mattie are presentable for school. I don’t know what to do.”
Grandma looked up to see Karen standing in the doorway. “Well, being afraid isn’t unusual for a sixteen year old girl. Come here Karen. Now, I want to talk to you both.”
Karen pulled out a kitchen chair and sat down. Once again things began to look gloomy.
Grandma poured herself some coffee and sat down. “We can’t always have the life we want. This is what we’ve been dealt so now we have to deal with it. I know most teen agers are busy with parties and such. I also know that if we work together, we can make this work.
Karen, you are eleven years old. So far, I see that you do the dishes and make the beds. That’s good. Do you know how to make braids and ponytails?” Grandma proceeded to show Karen how to fix not only her hair but Mattie’s as well. She called Mattie from her room and explained some new ground rules. A list was made up for the younger girls to follow. Each night they were to set their alarm clock and get up a half hour earlier. They had their clothes set out the night before. They were to wash and dress, and then Karen did not only her hair but Mattie’s as well.
While the younger ones did this, Fay was getting herself ready and making breakfast. She set up Jill’s pills for morning. The household chores stayed the same. Mattie was given more to do so that she wasn’t bored. Mattie was the official furniture duster every day. Fay told her where the furniture polish was.
Grandma and Fay would look over the checkbook once a week. Grandma volunteered to bring Fay and Mattie to the bank with her. ‘It’ll be good for her to see the bank. Plus, she can help carry groceries on the way home.’ Grandma did not drive, but walked down town each week. Sometimes she would hail a taxi. This way Fay did not have to worry what the girls were doing when she was at the bank. Karen would stay home with Jill.
Karen learned how to make salads with Jill’s help. She also learned how to make soup and stew. On the day everyone else went to the bank, Karen had dinner waiting when they returned home.
Karen noticed that her neighbor had a big box out front for the junk man. She saw an old brown coat and it had a pretty light brown satin lining. Also, there were 3 pillows in the box. She suddenly had an idea. After getting permission from her mother, she took the box to her grandmother’s home.
Grandma was sitting in front of the TV crocheting. “Look Gram, the neighbor threw this out. I was wondering if I could take the lining and make fancy bed pillows for Mom and Fay. The outside of the coat would make a great teddy bear for Mattie, don’t you think?”
Gram’s eyes were sparkling. Karen didn’t even know how to sew. “Well, my dear I think it is a great idea. Of course, this means I will have to show you how to sew by hand though. I won’t have time to sew it using the machine. Are you ready to thread a needle?” In the following week Grandma showed Karen how to sew by hand. She also had her help with washing the pillows and then taking the stuffing out of them. She had Karen spend the night so that the project would get done. There was a little left over and Karen took that home. She had an idea for making Gram a present too.
While Karen was at her grandmother’s, Fay spent the night at her girl friend’s home. This gave Jill the time to make popcorn balls with Mattie.
The following night, Mattie took her little potholder loom to Grandma’s house and made her potholders. She made enough for her mother, her sisters, and even Grandma.
Fay went into the bathroom and noticed some blood on the sink. “Karen, what happened?”
Karen’s face went red. “I’m learning to sew. I took out some pins and stuck myself. Gram says I need to make myself a pin cushion after Christmas. I’m such a klutz!” Fay grinned; she had wondered if there was something she could make for Karen. She’d crocheted head bands for Mattie but Karen never wore them.
The next night, the power went out again. Everyone was in the kitchen as Jill made hot cocoa. No one was talking though. Karen was busy sewing by candlelight for her grandmother’s scarf. She had used the inside of both coat sleeves and the pretty satin would look nice with Grandma’s black coat. Fay and Mattie watched as Karen threaded the needle by the light of Jill’s flashlight. Mattie asked Karen to tell her a story while she sewed.
“You always tell the neatest stories Karen.” Karen waited a moment to think of something. Then she proceeded to tell them all a story about a lonely fish in the south of Wales. The fish had been separated from his family and decided to set out to see the world. The story took on many new routes and Karen explained the different countries she had learned in social studies. Mattie and Fay were both astounded as Karen went on and on for half an hour.
Jill sipped her coffee and talked about the Christmas of the depression where her brother drew a tree on the wall because they could not afford a tree. “Nowadays we have fake trees, but they were unheard of back in the thirties.” The memory went into story form and everyone was happy. This gave Karen another idea. She would give her mother a hand written story for Christmas. It would be about a missionary.”
While the family huddled in their kitchen, Grandma was home making her own gifts. She had crocheted a hooked rug for her daughter. The bedroom floors were stone cold. For each of her grand daughters she had made hats, mittens and scarves. She made a mental note to bake a fruitcake. Jill had always loved her fruitcake. “The girls won’t eat it, but that’s ok” she thought.
The power was restored at one a.m. and everyone went to bed. For Grandma, the next morning was busy. She baked several pies and made sure she had the menu for Christmas dinner.
Karen was kept busy with writing her story of a missionary in a Mexican orphanage, plus making a stuffed teddy bear for Mattie. This was hard, since Mattie kept coming into her room. She finally explained that she was making her present and wanted it to be a surprise. Mattie smiled and left.
Jill and Mattie wrapped their popcorn balls in plastic wrap and then rewrapped them in old Christmas paper that was stored in the attic. Jill had an idea. She enlisted Fay and Mattie to help her bring the tree downstairs and help decorate while Karen was busy picking her arms with pins while trying to sew.
Two hours later, and Karen went downstairs just as Jill plugged in the Christmas lights. Everyone looked at the antique Christmas bulbs, and pretty blue lights. Jill had decided to just use blue that year. It was a beautiful tree. Fay and Mattie had put their old Christmas stockings on the book case. It was supposed to look like a fireplace, Mattie said.
“It’s all so pretty!” Karen said.
That night an old Christmas show was on. Mattie and Karen watched ‘Rudolph’ while eating popcorn. Fay and Jill sat in the kitchen. Fay was staring out the window as Jill sat looking straight ahead. When the commercial came on the tv, Karen went to the kitchen. She knew what her mother and sister were thinking. No matter what they did, everyone missed Dad. She returned to the front room and sat listening but not hearing the rest of the show.
That night after everyone had gone to bed, Karen went downstairs and turned on a lamp. She opened up her father’s old leather bound bible. He had several passages underlined in ink. “Lo, I am with you always’ seemed to shout at Karen. The pendulum clock struck 3 a.m. as Karen continued to look over the bible that had belonged to her father. She went to the book of Luke and read the original Christmas story. As she read, she began to pray silently. “Lord, if you are real…let me understand this.” She read Luke chapter 2 about the birth of Jesus.
Karen had heard the story many times. But that night when the wind was blowing, and everyone was asleep…she understood for the first time. The son of God had come to earth as a baby. He had been born in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothing. Karen understood it meant that it wasn’t baby clothes. His birth had been in a cold drafty place, even colder than Karen’s home. He had felt the draft and heard the sounds of animals. He probably had smelled them too. “Ugh!” Karen thought.
Yet, as she read on about the life of Jesus she learned how he also died. Only, unlike her father…Jesus came back to life. The story of Christmas was much more than the presents and the tree. Her father had loved Christmas. He loved the smells, the colors, the snow and the food. He loved the presents and the fun times. That is what Karen thought was Christmas. But, her Father had also told her that Jesus birthday was what Christmas was about.
Karen read where Jesus father, was God himself. Her own father had told her that. She remembered some of his short stories on the subject. All of a sudden it dawned on Karen that her father was now in heaven. He would celebrate Christmas every day. She fell asleep on the couch with her father’s bible on her stomach.
She dreamed about her father having fun hanging tinsel and dancing in heaven. He was busy going up and down the elevators. Karen woke up when Mattie tried to cover her up with a blanket. “Go back to sleep Karen. It’s only 5 a.m.” Mattie had come downstairs to get a drink and found Karen on the couch. Karen went back to sleep.
The next morning was Christmas Eve. The family got dressed and went to church with Grandma. As they sung the traditional Christmas Carrols, Karen suddenly looked up and watched the choir. It dawned on her then and there. Her father was in heaven singing with the angels just as she was singing in that church. He was happy. Plus, he had left her his faith. She had something to be thankful for.
Somehow, she would write about it. Karen had figured out where her father was and that he too was enjoying Christmas. She had also found out that there is one Father who will never die. Her heavenly Father would always be with her. Thanks to the love of her biological Dad, Karen could quickly adapt to her heavenly Dad. After all, she was His child.
The next morning Fay got up and made her mother a cup of coffee. The smell of cinnamon buns filled the air. It was the tradition in their family to have cinnamon buns for Christmas breakfast. Karen poured milk for Mattie and herself. “What are you drinking Fay?” Her sister was busy pulling plates out and turned around. “Oh, I think I’ll have milk.” Soon, the girls and Jill had their breakfast all laid out. A knock on the door told them Grandma was there. Karen and Mattie were shocked to find that their mother had hidden some things. Grandma’s gifts were under Jill’s bed.
Mattie turned on the radio and the sound of Christmas music filled their ears as they ate. When it came time to open the presents, everyone was excited. Though their income was next to nothing, the tree was loaded with presents. Everyone was excited to see what the other would think of their present. It dawned on Karen that she was more excited to give her presents away, than to get them.
Mattie beamed as everyone loved the colors she had used in her potholders. Karen said, “Now, I have my very own potholder to go on that hook in the kitchen.” Fay was very surprised at the beige satin pillows. “Wow, we should keep these in the front room! They match the sofa perfectly!” It was agreed that they would remain in the living room. Karen laughed when she saw the pin cushion that Fay had made for her. “I think I will keep it always! I’ll never forget all those pin pricks!” Next Mattie, Karen and Fay opened the barrets that their mother hhad bought.
Mattie smiled. "I think I do these by myself Mom!" Jill smiled as she knew Karen struggled with Mattie's long thick hair.
Grandma opened her gifts as well. Fay had taken a few photo’s and made an old picture frame into a collage. The photo’s were of Grandma and the family. Mattie had made her 2 pot holders of green and yellow to match her kitchen, Karen’s scarf was a complete surprise to everyone. Jill smiled, “I thought that was scrap…I almost threw it out! It turned out so pretty though!” When Jill opened her gift and saw one just like it, she smiled all the more. “Why you made two of them? How clever!”
The popcorn balls looked wonderful and Mattie told them she would teach them how to make them next year! Fay had found some glass dishes in the cellar and used them to put Christmas cookies on. Four huge dishes of pretty sugar cookies were Fay’s gift. Even though they had eaten, everyone sampled a cookie. Next, the hats and mittens were unwrapped. Grandma had taken care to use angora to line the edge of each hat. They were soft and matched their coats. Jill opened her rug and hugged her mother. The presents were piled neatly under the tree. Mattie and Karen picked up the scraps of paper and then retreated to their rooms to dress for the day.
As Jill and her mother sat over a leisurely cup of coffee, Fay picked up the table. Soon, the three girls pitched in to wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen. Fay’s voice could be heard as she doled out the chores in preparation for the Christmas dinner.
Jill spoke to her mother. "I can't begin to tell you how thankful I am for you Mom. I can't seem to think well all of the time. The therapy is helping with walking and my hands don't go as numb as before though. But, the girls were looking so sad until you spoke to them. What did you say?"
Jill's mother held her hand. "Well my dear. I was remembering what you once told me about your dear husband. He was a man of courage in hard times. I simply reminded the girls to use what he left them to live for today. Plus, I had been watching some preachers on the televsion and used what I had heard about a Father who never leaves us." Jill's eyes filled with tears as she took in her mother's words. A loud scream was heard from Fay and Jill jumped. Her mother patted her arm. "Rest for today, it's my gift to you."
Grandma smiled as she shooed the younger girls into the living room to watch the Christmas parade with their mother. “How about just you and me Fay! I haven’t made a big dinner in years but I think we can do this together. Plus, it will give us together time.”
Fay hugged her grandmother. “Thank you Gram, it’s a little overwhelming even though it’s all arranged and planned.” Soon, the smell of dinner filled the air and Karen listened to the laughter in the kitchen. Grandma had dropped a spoon into the potato pot. “Best to shut it off while I go get a pair of pliers to fish it out.” Mattie and Karen looked at each other and made a face. Their mother just winked.
One of the biscuits rolled off of the pan and rolled right out of the kitchen towards the living room. “Oh look Mom…room service!” Karen giggled.
Fay used the pot holders that Mattie made. The pillows that Karen sewed were placed on the couch. The popcorn balls were put into a big glass bowl on the coffee table. The dinner lasted through out the day with pies served at seven p.m. that night. Grandma spent the night though as another northeastern storm flew up the coast and dropped 21 inches of snow as they ate.
Karen’s family enjoyed Fay’s first Christmas dinner. Fay fussed over the biscuits, but they were perfect. Mattie set and reset the table three times. She had seen how it was set in a magazine and wanted it to look glamorous. Jill had uncovered some of her old doilies and napkins from the buffet. The white linen tablecloth was striking against the red napkins. The old family silverware had been polished by Mattie until it gleamed on the dining room table.
Karen watched as the sweet potatoes came out with brown sugar glaze in a white bowl. Next, the mashed potatoes and a gravy bowl with a spoon. Karen had not seen it since a year before. Cranberry sauce and pickles and olives were on another clear glass dish. Green candles were put into the favorite holiday candle holders and Karen added them to each end of the table. Finally, Fay brought in the turkey platter that held the stuffed chicken. Everything smelled wonderful.
The family held hands and asked the Lord’s blessing. Karen looked out the dining room window and noticed the snow falling once again
It was a Christmas to remember. It was definitely something to be thankful for.