A true short story, written by Mary Ann Johnson years ago when her children were young and she was remembering
The heater made a steady hum as it singed the small bits of pine I had placed on top. I’d never seen one like it until we moved into the new house. It was brown, shiny, and huge. It wasn’t as homey as Grandma’s Ben Franklin, but it was warm and didn’t create clinkers, for which I was grateful. The pine was mother’s idea. She liked the smell the needles gave off as they slowly turned brown.
I was five years old and Idaho Falls was cold and windy. Inside it was warm and cozy. There were six of us and the house was small. I saw it years later and small was a generous word for it. At the time it seemed perfect.
Christmas was coming and as it always did during that season, the sewing machine was humming away. Pieces of black velvet and red taffeta littered the floor. I noticed the buttons first; the most beautiful buttons in the world, shiny white with rhinestone centers. Those buttons were a treasure sewn on a cardboard square. I would have paid at least a quarter for them, a vast sum hidden away in my bank.
But the buttons weren’t for sale. They were going onto elegant dresses that my sisters and I watched take shape until I could hold back my curiosity no longer. “Mom, are the dresses for us? Can we wear them?” “No”, she replied. Who else would they be for?
With patience, she explained that there was a family who needed help making Christmas special. We had so much she said. She ticked our blessings off on her fingers. I remember the empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had never had a beautiful dress like that, never a dress with buttons that shone like stars.
As the days passed, the emptiness in my stomach was being filled, for as my mother sewed, she poured into me a feeling of gratitude for blessings received and a spirit of giving. She made me a co-conspirator. I cared for the baby, played quietly and picked up those lovely scraps so she could continue to sew.
Soon the dresses were finished and gone. The gifts of love had been delivered. Then my mother began pouring charity into the empty place that the actual departure of the dresses left. “Now girls, when we go to church, you’ll see those dresses on three other little girls. Don’t say a word. We want them to feel happy and proud. This is our special Christmas secret. Remember that it’s important for people to have dignity and be happy.”
We three, Cindy, Shirley and I turned our young faces to her and beamed. We trusted the words of our mother. We knew we could keep the secret. I had a feeling of joy in my stomach. Emptiness no longer lingered there.
Christmas night was torture. Every child has felt the pangs of anxiety; will the doll be there, the train, the blocks? Every child has felt the excitement; how can I wait; how can I sleep? Sleep stayed away for a long time.
It was still dark when we raced to mom and dad’s room. They arose slowly – too slowly! finding slippers and waking the baby. Then there was the interminable wait as dad lit the tree and turned up the heat. Finally, we were free to run pell-mell into an ecstasy that would last all day.
What? I stopped short. There they were those buttons attached to a black velvet and red taffeta dress. What a surprise and joy.
As I sailed into church later that day, I was wearing a prized gift but the most precious Christmas gift I received that season was carried in my heart; gratitude for what I had, the love of sharing and charity for others. This gift, given to me by my mother so many Christmases ago has made all the difference in the quality of my life. Thanks, mom!!
Also, a thank you to my dad who is now gone. He made wonderful toys with his own two hands. We had them for many, many, years and they delighted all nine of us children.