Sunday, September 30, 2007
The Special Gift of Christmas
This is a short story about a very special Christmas. The most amazing thing is that although it sounds like fiction, it is actually a true story. One of the most memorable Christmas events of my life. Another lesson from my mom about the gift of giving. This house is located on Lee Avenue, in South Hampton Long Island New York. I call it Our Dear Little House and I painted this on a rainy day sitting in my car in the driveway. Such a dear little house, rather like the three bears house inside, over two hundred years old.
South Hampton, Long Island was absolutely charming during Christmas. Karen could not wait to arrive at her mother's house for the holidays. The drive was a long drive from Princeton, New Jersey and it had started to snow.
The house on Lee Avenue in South Hampton was over two hundred years old. As you entered the back door you walked into a breezeway which led to a charming kitchen and a rather large room which was used as the dining room. A black wrought iron chandelier lit the room with a golden light. The living room was filled with built in bookcases lined with fabulous old books. A beautiful fireplace graced the room only adding to its' charm.
Doris was leasing the house during the winter months. She had lived in this part of Long Island for five years now. In previous years she had successfully sold real estate. The market was experiencing a depression, leaving Doris no alternative but to create another income. She designed her own house cleaning and house sitting business. It was a brilliant idea, because most residents in this affluent community owned several homes and only arrived on weekends. Consequently she could clean numerous houses each week.
Karen, her oldest daughter lived in Princeton, and worked in Manhattan. Lynne was nineteen and still lived at home. Susan was twenty six, and lived in Vermont. The holidays always brought the family back together.
During the month of December Doris and Lynne helped make gift baskets for the poor at the local church. Sister Bernadette was heading up the project and when they had finished making enough baskets, they delivered them.
One of their deliveries was to a young woman living in a motel. Maria and her husband had four small children. Maria's husband, Alan was ill in the hospital. Doris introduced herself and Lynne to the woman. Doris asked the mother what the children's names were. Maria spoke softly, "Samantha is nine months old, Peter is seven and my oldest. Billy is four and Dan is just turning three." When she finished speaking she glanced down at her feet, clearly self-conscious of her circumstances. Doris tried to make the young woman more comfortable because hard times were no stranger, and she knew all about trying to hold onto your pride. "How is your husband, Sister Bernadette said that he was in the hospital." Maria looked sad and replied "Yes, he has been there for several weeks now, we don't think that he'll be home for Christmas."
A tear slid down her cheek and she brushed it away as she turned toward her son, Billy. "Billy, you can go out and play now, Peter is home." Billy had to wait until Peter came home from school to play. He had no coat of his own, and shared one with his brother Peter.
Her heart was clearly burdened as she got back into the car with Lynne and Sister Bernadette. She asked if there was something more that they could do for the family. Sister Bernadette thought they might be able to get some funding from another organization in town. By the end of the week, they had received a check in the amount of sixty dollars. She knew that the amount of money she had would never afford her to buy each child a coat and shoes.
As she sat at the counter of the local coffee shop, she started to chat with the owner. She told him about Maria's family and how she wished that she could do more. The store was small and other people sitting nearby could overhear the conversation. One by one, each person came over and handed Doris some money for the family. Even the owner of the coffee shop contributed to the collection.
When she arrived at her first customer's house, she told her story with such joy. The woman of the house disappeared upstairs, while Doris busied herself in the kitchen. She returned with money in an envelope for Doris to give to the family. Customer after customer gave to Maria and her family. By the end of the week she had collected a total of seven hundred and twenty dollars.
The Christmas shopping spree was done with excitement as coats, hats, gloves and some toys were purchased for each child. Kaye a good friend, offered to take the children shopping so she could buy each one a pair of new shoes. Afterwards they had stopped by to see Maria to make arrangements for Christmas Eve. Doris said, "I have a surprise for you how would your family like a Christmas tree?"
The next day Lynne and Doris purchased some Christmas ornaments and a tree stand. They went to a nearby Christmas tree farm to pick out a tree. The starting price was forty dollars and they only had thirty dollars left in the envelope.
Doris knew that she had already experienced so many giving hearts she decided to approach the owner. She explained to him her predicament and he cordially responded "Lady, go pick out whatever tree you would like." Doris didn't want to take advantage of his generosity. "I would feel more comfortable if you would select one for us," she said. He walked over and glanced at his lot of trees. He picked out one of the most beautiful tree he could find and put it in the trunk of their car.
Lynne helped put the tree in the stand and placed the ornaments and lights next to the tree. Although Billy, Dan and Peter were all jumping up and down, the baby remained asleep in her cot. Even Maria could hardly contain her own child-like joy.
"Oh Lynne and Doris how can I every repay you?" Lynne replied "You already have, just seeing you all so happy is thanks enough." They left the family to decorate their tree, tomorrow was Christmas Eve.
When Karen drove up the driveway, there were numerous other cars belonging to friends and family. The snow was still falling and her arms were full of gifts as she walked into the house. Her mother and sister had clearly outdone themselves the table was filled with all kinds of goodies to eat. Susan had just arrived from Vermont and was admiring the Christmas tree decorated in an abundance of ornaments and lights.
After all the guests had gone home they all helped to clean up. Annie, an old friend of Lynne's was also spending the night. Karen noticed that her mother didn't look well, as she said, "Mom, are you running a fever, you look flushed." Her mother said "Yes, I think I am coming down with a bug of some kind." Karen thought a moment and said, "It's no wonder Mom, with all the hard work you do and the Christmas preparation for us and Maria. What if Lynne and I deliver the gifts with Susan and Annie?" Doris was quiet in her thoughts and then said "Okay, I think you're right." She knew how sick she felt, as she walked into her bedroom and closed the door. Doris rather enjoyed the thought of them sharing in the thrill of giving to the less fortunate. She climbed into bed and turned out the light and thought about how proud she was of her daughters and she knew that they would do a good job.
They all piled into the car each carrying some presents for Maria and her family. Once the car was packed, they giggled at how they looked like they were riding in Santa's sleigh. The snow had accumulated and the driveway to the motel was almost invisible. As Karen drove up the hill leading to the motel she saw a manger and nativity scene in the distance. A bright light shone on the brown wooden frame protecting Mary and the baby Jesus from the snow. However, as she got closer to the sign, she realized that her eyes had played a trick on her. What was thought to be a nativity was actually just the motel sign.
Lynne knocked three times, as planned. Maria had told them the children would surely be asleep by 9 o'clock. She stood looking at all the gifts stacked on the covered porch. Maria peeked out the door. "Merry Christmas" Lynne said. "Merry Christmas to you Lynne and your mother" Maria replied. The joyful task of placing the children's presents under the tree would surely be the special gift for Maria.
They all got back into the car and were warmed by the event on this frosty Christmas Eve. Karen drove back past the motel sign and was reminded of what she thought she had seen earlier. As she drove down the long driveway she told the girls the story. All of a sudden, Annie's eyes grew as big as saucers. She squealed, "I saw it too, the nativity scene, I saw it as we drove up the driveway!"
Karen walked into her mother's bedroom. The room was aglow with pink light reflected from a nearby lamp. She gently covered her mother with another blanket. She whispered, "Mommy we delivered the packages, and by the way thank you for giving me the best Christmas I have ever had".
Early Christmas morning Susan put the coffee on, and Lynne stacked each person's gifts near their seat. As Karen made a fire, she thought that the living room looked just like a Christmas card. There were lots of hand-made gifts created with love waiting to be opened. They were wrapped with the finest detail and they hated to disturb how lovely they had looked under the tree.
Doris was feeling a little better because of the excitement of Christmas morning. Just as they were all about to start unwrapping their gifts, the telephone rang. Susan answered the telephone it was Peter calling to say Merry Christmas. Susan handed the telephone to her mother.
The voice on the other end said "Doris?" Doris answered "Yes, Peter, Merry Christmas." On the other end Doris could hear the excitement in Peter's voice. Then he said, "Doris, I know that you told me that you are Santa's helper, but I just wanted you to know that I will never forget you." As she hung up the telephone her eyes were filled with tears of joy. The room was silent as they each embraced the moment.
The treasure wasn't found in any of the beautifully wrapped presents underneath the tree that year. It was found through experiencing the special gift of Christmas.