by lillian Morpork
She sighed as she kicked off her slippers and climbed into bed. Three o’clock on Christmas morning, and she was so tired. ‘I’ll be lucky to get three hours’ sleep,’ she thought. The children had been up late, too excited with expectations of what that special day would bring. Young Susie and John, in particular had been hard to get settled. It had taken three stories and two lullabies before they finally drifted off.
Now, at last, all was quiet, lights off, Santa gifts arrayed under the tree in the parlour. Light shone through the window, and she realized that she had neglected to turn the outdoor lights off. She shook her head - let them go. It was the last time they would glow outside this dear old home.
Tears filled her eyes at the thought. They had been so happy here, in the house built by Andrew’s great grandfather. And now he was gone, suddenly, horribly, killed by a drunk driver. And his insurance was barely enough to pay funeral costs. Now she would have to go back to work, teaching in an inner city parish school. She was losing her safe home. Before the new year she and the children would be adrift in a strange neighbourhood. Not one like this, with lovely well kept old homes and friendly people. But where everything was run-down, dirty, and frightening.
She turned on her side, burying her face in the pillow as the tears flowed. For a long time she cried, but gradually the tears stopped and her breathing became slow and soft as she sank into restful slumber. Slowly, a soft, pearly light appeared beside the bed, and in her sleep, she smiled. She felt a gentle hand wipe away the tears, and stroke her hair, as a soft, sweet voice spoke.
“Fear not, my beloved daughter, for I am with you. My love and strength will uphold you, and you and your children will be safe. Remember, I am with you always, and my love encompasses and embraces all of you.” Her smile deepened and her body relaxed as the light faded. She slept peacefully.
The sound of the children’s whispers and soft footsteps as they slipped from room to room roused her. The soft touch of that hand, and the echo of that sweet voice stayed with her, even as she came fully awake. Quickly, she climbed out of bed, slipped on a robe and stepped into her slippers. She stepped out into the hall.
“Come, children, downstairs to the kitchen!” she called.
They came, eager and smiling. “Merry Christmas, Mama!” the chorused.
Once gathered around the table in the kitchen, she set out the special Christmas breakfast and sat down.
“Lord, bless this food, and bless us. Thank you for all the blessings of this day, and for our lives. May you be with us, always.” There was a ragged chorus of “amens”, and the children started to eat.
“When can we go and see the tree and the presents, Mama?” little Susie asked.
“Not until after Mass, love.” she answered. “You all have new clothes to wear today. They are in boxes under your beds.”
“We have to wait? wailed John.
“Of course, John. First, we go to God’s house to praise and thank him, and wish Jesus a Happy Birthday. We must greet Him on His special day, and give him our gifts and love.” She looked around at their beautiful faces and smiled.
“Oh, you’re right, Mama!” John exclaimed. “I forgot. I’m sorry.” He gazed at her, his eyes wide, wearing his most angelic smile.
She reached over and ruffled his hair, laughing. “All right, son.”
“I miss Daddy” sighed Beth.
“Yes, love, we all miss him. But we know that he is with Jesus now, and he is watching us. And he will always be with us, in our hearts.” She had to swallow, and turned away. “Now we’d best hurry and clear this up.” She stood up.
It wasn’t long before the kitchen was spotless, and everyone was dressed for Mass. She looked at her family, and felt proud of what she had accomplished, using old dresses and suits. She’s spent hours taking them apart and turning the fabric to make the suits for the boys and the dresses for the girls. The boys looked handsome in their dark blue suits and the girls pretty in the dusky rose.
After Mass they changed into play clothes and gathered around the tree in the parlour. She watched, remembering other Christmases. How little James glowed as he mounted the re-furbished rocking horse that had been his father’s and grandfather’s. She had found it covered in dust and cobwebs in the attic. Now it shone with new paint, sporting new mane and tail, and with a bright red bridle. And seeing John prancing around on the hobby horse she had made from an old broom handle and a stuffed, darned sock, brought a smile to her face.
‘I think I’ve made this last Christmas here a good one, they’ll have happy memories of it.’ she thought. ‘Even though there’s little money, the children are happy with their gifts.’ Her eyes settled on Hannah, the eldest, curled up in an armchair, intent on her embroidery. She had found it complete with embroidery cotton, needle and scissors, in a fancy wooden box in the drawer of an old dresser. It was left from when their grandmother was alive, and was obviously one that she had never got around to starting. Hannah looked at her mother and smiled. She was thrilled, too, to get the four books, old, but in excellent condition. They had been her father’s, when he was in college.
She got up and went to the kitchen. The aroma of roasting turkey drifted through the house. ‘I’m glad this is turning out to be a good Christmas, after all,’ she thought. As she moved around the kitchen getting the feast ready, each of her children came out to give her a hug and tell her thanks. Her heart swelled with their love. It was the best gift she could ever receive.
Oh, my dearest Andrew, she whispered. We have done well with our children, and I know you are as proud of them as I am. She finished getting the vegetables on to cook, and then stood gazing at the stove.
“Thank you, Lord, for Father Clancy and the good folk at St. Timothy’s. Without their generous love, we would not have this feast, or the apples, oranges and treats for the children. Kraft dinner would have been all we had. Grant that the new parish will be as wonderful.” Her prayer was from the heart. She sighed and left the kitchen.
As she moved back to the parlour, she paused, listening to the happy voices of her children. Yes, this was the last Christmas in this wonderful old house, so full of memories. But it wouldn’t be their last Christmas together, not for a long, long time, God willing. This last Christmas was filled with love and blessings. In her mind she heard that sweet voice again -‘I am with you, my love and strength will uphold you...’ She straightened her shoulders and entered the parlour. “Come, children, let’s sing some carols!”