Christine is a child that dioesn't have a lot materially but she has a huge heart.
|It was Christmas Day and the Hunter family had just finished eating their only remaining hen. It didn’t have a lot of meat but the taste was grand. Whipped potatoes with gravy, homegrown beans, baked apples and pumpkin pie, all sprinkled with love made a festive meal.
The children had been up since before daybreak, peeping under the tree. It was a rule they had to wait till five. They spread themselves under the branches looking up through the twinkling glitter. It was like stars that must have been in the sky the night baby Jesus was born. This was the best Christmas tree ever; brightly decorated with colored paper chains, sparkling handmade angels, pine cones with glitter, and strings of cranberries and popcorn.
Exchanging handmade gifts, they truly felt blessed, for some of their neighbors had less. Christmas usually meant handmade clothes and fruits. Ma always made the clothes extra special with secret pockets filled with candy and pennies, and initials on collars and hand painted buttons.
It was the best day of the year because family was together. Presents were wrapped in whatever each person could find but it was fun to pick them up, shake and guess what each was.
Ma did the best she could with four kids. Pa was a natural artist with wood work and carving. One year Christine and Kitty had been given a doll house with carved dolls and pieces of furniture. Ma had made curtains, painted faces on the dolls and made clothes for the family. She did it all in secret and they could never figure out when she had the time and energy. She had even been pregnant. It was their best Christmas and they still played with it.
Kitty was so excited she had kept Christine awake all night. She was seven.
"Pa's gonna make me a stove like Ma's."
Christine hated to see her let down.
"Kitty, Pa's been feelin' poorly."
"But it's Christmas!"
"We'll see, baby." She hugged Kitty.
Unfortunately, Pa had just lost another mining job due to his quick temper towards his boss. There probably wouldn't be carved toys. The younger ones didn't understand but they sure saw Pa's temper.
Christine, being the oldest daughter and working at a local store, had the chance to get things. She had knitted a scarf for Ma and mittens for Kitty. She found a dented tin soldier for Michael. She had bought some peppermint sticks for Timmy and a tiny bit of tobacco for Pa.
Now, with full bellies and contentment they were listening to Pa play the mouth organ. Suddenly, there was a loud knock on the door.
Pa Hunter opened the door to a very upset Sheriff Hatley. A number of thoughts ran through Dusty Hunter’s mind as a reason for the call, none of them good. Dusty had stolen some moonshine from Ben Parker. Since making it was illegal, Ben always kept his mouth shut.
Sheriff Hatley was no fool, he knew what went on and as long as no one got hurt, he let things pass.
Chelsea, the kids’ puppy was barking and Dusty took his foot and kicked the dog. It landed by the children all huddled near the wood stove.
Sheriff Hatley said, “Fraid I have some bad news. Ray Moore‘s body was found on the other side of the bridge. Ya know, the one that crosses the stream between this property and Preacher Russell’s land.”
Christine shivered and felt the tears threatening to gush. She ran into the girls’ room and shut the door. She didn’t want to hear anymore. It couldn’t be true.
Just yesterday, she had been helping Ray at the store in town. She went there after school to earn some money to help with their grocery bill. At age ten, she swept, cleaned counters and stocked merchandise.
Theresa Moore was an invalid, confined to a wheelchair, and her Daddy had opened the store called “Rosie’s Priced to Please Pantry.” It was named after her mother and was left to her when both parents died.
Theresa was an angry woman. Most imagined it was because of her circumstances.
She treated Ray, her good-hearted husband, like a servant. She never extended anyone credit, no matter how poorly they were doing or how well the store was doing. She ran the cash register with an ironclad fist. No one else got near it.
Theresa looked like a bulldog. She was quite plump and angry looking. Her eyes squinted when she became upset. She'd shake her head so her cheeks would jiggle, moving back and forth. Christine got in trouble at home for doing an imitation of her. Ma would make her pray afterwards for making fun of an invalid but the whole family would laugh.
The townspeople would probably shop somewhere else but they liked Ray.
Christine wanted something very much for Christmas. Although she knew it would never happen, she dreamed of a miracle. Her eyes sparkled when she looked up at the shelf with toys and “Ashley” looked back at her. Ray watched the child’s bright eager eyes.
"If it was up to me, child," Ray would start.
"I know, Mr.Moore, thank you for letting me work here."
How he had wanted children and his wife couldn’t have them. He enjoyed having Christine working there so much. He had stood up to his wife and insisted they hire her. She was a harder worker that was wonderful with customers. Occasionally, he would hand Christine penny candy and reach out to gently touch her soft curly chestnut colored hair.
The doll, Ashley, was quality merchandise and had cost quite a bit. Theresa wanted to make at least two or three dollars on her. With blond curly ringlets, her hair glistened like tiny stars. Her clothes were sapphire blue velvet with white fur caressing her face and wrists. The life like eyes were the same color of blue with a hint of violet. The eye lashes were long and black, a perky nose with pink cheeks and lips made her a little girl’s dream.
Christine didn’t know the price but it didn’t matter.
'Poor Ray, what could have happened to him?' Christine's throat felt like it was closing up.
The Sheriff accepted a cup of coffee and sat down with a sigh.
He then said,“Ray was a good man. I sure hate to tell people bad news. You know where the bridge is, I found his body and horse close by. '
The Sheriff stopped a minute to clear his throat and wiped a tear from his eye.
"The coroner said it looked like he’d been thrown. Something musta spooked that horse. He doesn’t think Ray suffered none, broke his neck like snapping a stick. Praise God. He was a good Christian man.”
He took another drink, “Anyway, there was this bag full of packages next to him. Most of them weren’t broken, a little wet. They'll dry out. Guess he was gonna play Santa Claus.”
He walked out to his car and brought back some packages.
“Bet Theresa didn’t know bout this,” he smiled with a twinkle.
”There’s a package for each of you children.”
Christine could see her doll, “Ashley” was still in the package.
That night, as Christine hugged her doll, she dreamed of a place where crippled and sick people were young and happy. She saw Mr. Ray there putting ornaments on a tree and the life-like angel on top.
The next day Christine knew there was something she had to do. She slipped out of the house and walked the five miles to the Miller home. Their house was old boards and a dirt floor that housed eight children and their Granny. The parents had died from a fever last year.
Earlier in the morning, Christine had tearfully laid Ashley back in the box and wrapped it up.
Now she knocked on the door to the Millers. Granny answered the door. Ethel Miller was a tiny lady with so many wrinkles you couldn't count them.
Christine asked about their holiday and greeted teach child as they gathered around.
Then she handed the box with Ashley in it to Granny.
“I want to help your family. Please take this doll to Theresa at the store. Tell her you will trade her for groceries. I know she is worth about six months of meals. Don’t take less, she's worth a lot of money and Mr. Ray was gonna give her to me when he died.”
Granny's face looked like a heavenly light was shining on it.
“God bless you child!”
In doing this, she could see the act of giving would help Theresa also and that would have made Mr. Ray happy.
Christine walked home with a smile. She felt peace and happiness from head to toe. Giving to others was the true meaning of Christmas. She made herself a promise to teach her own children to carry on the tradition.
By Kathie Stehr