A young man is inspired to start a new holiday tradition.
A Little Drummer Boy
“...I have no gift to bring, bah-rum-ba-bum-bum…” Despite himself, Jason sang along to the radio as he slowly pulled into the narrow driveway flanked on either side by ice-crusted mounds of snow. He’d given up searching for a station that played anything else but holiday tunes this close to Christmas. He despised the obvious conspiracy to force everyone into the spirit of the season. The shopping malls were the worst; retailers had been piping Christmas carols through their sound systems since Halloween. Jason was an adult by the smallest of margins, having just turned eighteen a month before, but the commercialism disgusted him. He had taken a personal vow to stay out of the stores until well after New Years.
Even though he couldn’t appreciate the pervading attitude at this time of year, he was captivated by the natural beauty of winter. Turning off the ignition, he sat in the ensuing silence and marveled at the giant snowflakes tumbling out of the steel grey sky. Within moments, the sub-freezing temperature seeped in, eliminating the cozy warmth of the car and ruining his revelry. Quickly, he exited the car and, pulling his coat tighter at the collar, followed the snow-packed path to the front porch.
“Come in!” his grandmother’s voice came from deep in the house. Jason closed the door behind him, shutting out the cold. “It’s me, Nona!” he called out. Removing his coat, he looked through the archway to the old kitchen he loved so much. The craftsman style house had seen several remodels over the years, but the color on the walls or the style of the flooring had never been more than backdrop scenery. The resident charm on center stage was owed to the delicate dishes displayed in every curio cabinet and on every shelf. Gold-rimmed China, tiny English teacups and saucers, bowls of iridescent carnival glass, and white, dotted milk glass vases were only a partial list of the dishware inventory. Symptomatic of the pre-World War II generation, his grandmother was chronically fearful that her family wasn’t eating well, and over the years she’d amassed a collection of tableware to mollify her qualms. And she made sure they were put to use.
Entering the kitchen, she said, “Jason!” in the melodic way she always sang his name. She hugged him around the waist which was the best she could do considering the discrepancies in their heights. “It’s so good to see you! You want to eat something?”
“No thanks, Nona. I’m not hungry.”
She stood there a moment with one hip jutting out slightly, then said, “Well, you gotta eat something.” And with that she turned around and walked back to the kitchen. Over her shoulder she asked, “So, how’s college?”
Jason sat down at the counter that extended at a right angle into the center of the room and started swiveling his barstool from side to side. “School's great. I’m joining a fraternity next semester, Omicron Pi.”
She put an ornately painted cup full of steaming coffee on the counter in front of him, and next to it placed a small plate with a romantic scene in toile etched on the center. “That’s good. They nice boys?” she asked as she pulled a box of white powder sugar donuts out of the cupboard. While they ate, he told her more about school. Then he asked her what she had been doing.
“Actually, I was in the middle of wrapping a gift.” He followed her into the living room. He smiled at her Christmas tree set in the corner, an artificial spruce covered with pink and silver ornaments. Five years earlier his grandfather had passed away. Harold had always brought home a live tree for them to decorate, and the first Christmas without him Nona had declared she wasn’t going to have a tree. Jason’s parents had convinced her she should have one, and begrudgingly she had acquiesced. At the local discount store she’d pointed to a display tree and told the clerk she wanted that one. When the clerk told her he would fetch a boxed tree from the storeroom, she’d stopped him. No, she wanted that tree. Leave the decorations on it. And put it in the car, please.
Nona was sitting on the powder blue settee. Before her on the glossy, mahogany coffee table was the square box she had been covering with shiny foil wrapping paper. Next to it were rolls of colorful curling ribbon, scissors and tape. Jason settled into a wing-backed armchair.
“Who's that for?” he asked.
“A little girl,” she replied. When he looked questioningly at her, she went on. “I picked an angel from the tree at church. See?” She handed him a paper angel that had been colored in with crayons, with a loop of red yarn running through a hole punched near the top. “I pick one every year.”
“Really? I never knew that.”
She measured out a length of silver curling ribbon and reached for the scissors. “When I was a little girl, my parents were poor. I didn’t know it. We didn’t talk about such things. My mother worked all the time. We had a big garden, and she grew the most beautiful vegetables. Every fall she canned her vegetables and that’s what we ate in the winter. She made all our clothes, too. She’d cut down her own clothes and sew the material into dresses and pants for us. I didn’t know we didn’t have money. Hand me that bag of bows, would you, hon?"
“Christmastime, each of us would hang a stocking and get an apple, and an orange, and some nuts and ribbon candy. But, my sister and I would get a doll or something, and I was always sad because my brothers didn’t get anything. And I got so I hated Christmas. I hated Santa Claus because he didn’t bring my brothers anything.”
“Well, every year the church had a Christmas party for all the children. Beforehand, the parents were supposed to buy a present, wrap it up and put their child’s name on it. Mine couldn’t afford to, but I never knew that. At the party, the children would see the beautiful Christmas tree with all those pretty packages under it. We would be so excited! Finally, Santa would come in and begin to read the tags. Each child would come up one at a time and receive the present they believed was from Santa. I’d wait and wait for him to read my name. Year after year…”
Jason shook his head, “Nona, that’s so sad! You never got a present?”
“Well, the church did have extra presents for the poor kids who didn’t get a gift. When all the gift wrapped packages had been given out, Santa would invite the rest of us to come up and get a present, which was always wrapped in a brown paper bag.” She sighed. “I wanted something wrapped with ribbon so bad and every year we’d go to that party and I’d think about getting a gift all beautifully wrapped, and it’d be the same thing again.”
Punctuating the story by adding one last bit of ribbon to the present, Nona sat back and surveyed her handiwork. Jason smiled at her. “It’s beautiful,” he said.
“Yes. But not quite done.” She picked out a gift tag and wrote simply Love, Santa. Taping down a corner under the bow, she smiled. “There.”
- - -
Jason hugged her tight as he was leaving. Walking back to his car, he dialed his mother on the cell phone and said he was heading home, but would be making a quick stop on the way.
Ten minutes later he was standing in front of the Angel Tree in St. James Church. He reached up and gently pulled a paper angel off the branch. Turning it over, he read what was written on the back: Little Boy. Would like a Drum.
Overall Winner for the December 2007 round of the Newbie Drop-Off Box Contest