THE MAGIC GIFT
The first snowfall was always a magic time for Noelle. Sun-bathed summer blues, greens, and yellows had drifted into the oranges and reds of autumn that ultimately faded to the drab canvas of grays and browns of early winter. She waited with eager anticipation for that wonderland of white that would erase the drabness and fulfill the joyous anticipation of Christmas.
Each day when she awoke, she went to the window hoping to be greeted by snow. It was late this year and Noelle was disappointed. At seven years old, she was beginning to understand disappointment and had not quite developed patience. This would be the second holiday season that her father, Sgt. Michael Browning, had been stationed in Iraq and she remembered how lonely she was the year before. Christmas tradition had been interrupted by Uncle Sam. There was no being carried down the stairs on her father’s shoulders to see what Santa had delivered. There was no multitude of holiday lights strewn across the front of their house. There was no kiss on the cheek after all the presents had been unwrapped. There was no “I love you” to follow.
Noelle woke up with a yawn, stretched, gave her doll Emma a kiss, put on her Elmo slippers to keep her feet warm and trudged to the window. It was the last day before school recess for the holidays and she was not optimistic that today would be the first snow although it had been cold enough during the night that their dog Jarhead cuddled next to her on the bed. She dutifully went to the window and parted the drapes.
“Yes! Yes!” she shrieked excitedly. There it was – the wonderland of white! Let the celebration begin!
Her mother had heard and expected the commotion. Having already entered the room while Noelle placed her hands against the cold windowpane, Laura Browning walked over and put her arms around her daughter's shoulders.
“See, I told you to have patience.” she smiled. “Now let’s get ready for school.”
The regular pattern ensued. Wash up, brush teeth, put on clothes, eat breakfast, take lunch from the refrigerator, and bundle up for the trip to H.L. Wilson Elementary School - only today she would add “boots” to the list of items to put on. Her Mom kissed her good-bye and Noelle was on her way.
Since school was nearby, Noelle walked there. Along the way, she would pick up her best friend Amie (it was pronounced “Amy” but Amie’s mother liked it spelled that way since she said it meant “friend” in French). They would also be joined now and again by a younger boy, Raymond, and often by a neighborhood dog, Nero, a black Labrador who, in their minds, served as protection. Not so much could be said for Raymond.
“Isn’t this wonderful!” Noelle exalted when Amie joined her. Amie, too, was ecstatic.
“It seemed to take so long this year and, voila, here it is! Now we just have to avoid the boys throwing snowballs and Nero climbing all over us with his wet paws.”
They both giggled and picked up a handful of snow to lick, not really checking to see if Nero was around or had wandered about to cause any discolored snow.
Once at school, Miss Barletta called class to order. She went through the daily items that would be part of that school day. After lunch, each student would tell what they planned for Christmas.
The morning went by quickly with Math and English filling the time. Lunch for Noelle that day was the old staple, peanut butter and jelly. She sat with Amie and offered one of her two sandwiches which Amie reluctantly ate. They talked about what they would be doing over the Christmas holiday. Noelle was going to complain about her father being gone for another Christmas but hesitated. Amie’s father had died in a car accident only months before so Noelle did not want to resurrect emotions that might still be fragile. Instead, she said that her grandparents were planning to come by later in the day and spend time with her and her Mom. When Noelle asked Amie, silence followed.
“What’s wrong?” Noelle asked with concern.
“Nothing. There’s nothing wrong,” Amie responded and bowed her head.
“Hey, we’re best friends. I can tell something is bad. Let me know and maybe I can help,” Noelle offered.
When she raised her head, tears were visible on Amie’s cheeks and moist in her eyes. “My Mom lost her job two weeks ago and we aren’t having Christmas,” Amie sobbed. Noelle hugged her.
“Don’t worry, Amie. Something good will happen. You’ll see. Even on the worst Christmas, there is always something good.” She smiled a reassuring smile and hugged Amie again.
Lunch had finished and Miss Barletta began the Christmas discussion. “You all know about Christmas and its meaning. It is about the birth of a child in Bethlehem and is celebrated all over the world. Many believe the child was the savior and pursue that belief. Others may not. Whatever the case, it is a story of love and hope. Love for the baby born that day and hope for the future. Those same things are present for every child born. On that day, every parent wants their child to be happy, lead a good life, share love, and be loved. Christmas is a time of love and hope and sharing the joy we have with others. Now, let’s talk about how each of you will spend this special time.”
Every student had a turn. Most related their expectations and what they had asked Santa Claus to bring them. Several added how they would be spending time with family, including
Noelle who said she wished her father could be here to share Christmas with her. Amie said quickly that they had no plans at the time but was glad it had at least snowed so there would be a white Christmas.
“Class dismissed,” Miss Barletta announced after the end of the Christmas stories. “I hope you all have a merry and blessed Christmas and New Year. And remember to bring your brains back with you when you return in January!” The last few words were lost among the bustle of children racing toward the coat room to procure their belongings and begin the days off.
It wasn’t long before Christmas Eve arrived. Only four days had passed since Miss Barletta had released them. As long as it took for the snow to come, it felt like a nano-second until it was Christmas Eve. Noelle had gone with her mother shopping two days, one day for gifts and the other day for food they’d be having for Christmas dinner. She saw that her mother had gotten a box of taffy and it reminded her of her father since that was his favorite.
All the commotion and trappings were compressed into these four days. It was time to go to bed and await Santa’s arrival.
Before going to bed, Noelle went to the window to be sure the snow had not gone away. She said a prayer that Jesus would keep her Daddy safe. Then of course she added Mommy, her Grandmas and Grandpas and, yes, Amie, Emma, and Jarhead. They were all important in her life. She went to her bed and settled in. Her Mom came to put the covers over her and kiss her good night.
“Mommy, I miss Daddy,” Noelle said starting to tear up as she squeezed Emma
“I do too, sweetie,” her mother echoed. “Maybe if we wish hard enough, it won’t be long before he comes home. Remember when we talked about patience? There’s an old saying ‘Good things come to those who wait.’ That’s a virtue, understanding that whatever happens, there will be something good on the way.”
Noelle smiled. “That’s what I said to Amie the other day. She can’t have Christmas because her Mom lost her job.” She stopped and gathered her thoughts. “I hope something good happens for her this Christmas.”
It was Noelle’s mother’s turn to smile. “Let’s wish for that too. Now, go to sleep otherwise Santa will see your light and come back later if he decides to come at all. Sweet dreams.” She tucked in Noelle, kissed her on the forehead, and closed the light before leaving the room.
As usual, Noelle could not sleep. Thoughts of Christmas morning raced in her mind. She thought about her father and how he would come during the night and crack open the door to be sure she was sleeping. Sleep always comes even to the most dedicated children who want to avoid it so they can hear the sound of Santa’s sleigh on the rooftop. She smiled as she closed her eyes, just after the door opened slightly.
Noelle awoke early but still waited until her mother came to get her to go downstairs for Christmas morning. She lay in bed, eyes wide open, for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, her Mom came in and tousled her hair. “Are you ready, Missy?” she asked without expecting an answer, seeing Noelle’s eyes already open and eager to proceed.
Noelle jumped from her bed, nestled into the Elmo slippers and took her mother’s hand as they took each step down the stairway toward the family room. As they turned the corner from the front hall, Noelle gasped in surprise. There in the chair by the fireplace sat Santa Claus, asleep in the rocking chair. A bit dumbfounded, she went over and tugged at his sleeve.
“Santa.” She tugged again until his eyes opened wearily. “Santa!” she then exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
Santa laughed his Santa laugh and put his arm around her shoulder. “Pretty, pretty Noelle,” he said in a jolly voice. “I was lucky enough to get some extra help this year so I finished early and knew I wanted to come to your house last since I had a very special present to deliver.”
Noelle did not see anything and wondered what Santa was up to. For some reason, he seemed familiar but she could not put her finger on it. Besides, it would only be normal that Santa relates well with kids. They’re the major part of his business!
Santa stumbled a bit as he got out of the rocker, put his hand up toward Noelle and said he would be right back. “I had to leave this present upstairs – much too large for an elderly gentleman like me to carry down the chimney. Be patient, Noelle, and close your eyes when I call down.”
As bizarre as this whole thing was, she nodded her head and then looked to her Mom who hunched her shoulders and had a quizzical look on her face as Santa made his way upstairs. Not long after, she heard his voice. “OK, close your eyes and count to ten SLOWLY before you open them.”
Noelle covered her eyes with her hands and began, “1…2…3…4…” When she finally got to ten, she dropped her hands and opened her eyes.
“Daddy!” she shouted with joy, and then again “Daddy, you’re here! She raced to him and jumped into his arms hugging him tight so he could not escape. “I wished so hard and my wish came true. This is the best Christmas ever!” she exclaimed as she hugged harder and kissed his cheek.
Her Dad put her down then squatted and framed her face in his hands. “I have been wishing too, Princess, and Santa must have heard me,” he smiled. “I know he did because he came to get me personally and he had the gift I asked him to bring to you and I see it there under the tree.” He pointed to the small, rectangular object, about the size of a tissue box, with a red and green bow on top. “Go ahead and get it so we can all open it together,” he said excitedly.
Her Mom came over and they all sat in front of the tree, each with their legs crossed over like Indians at a powwow. Noelle opened the box and took out a beautiful case inlaid with various colored stones and white marble chips formatted in a typical mid-east design. “I love it, Daddy!” she lilted.
“Now, you know, it’s a magic box, too, Princess,” he boasted. “Whenever you open it, from today to forever, you will see a beautiful face and the picture will change, day to day, year to year, like magic!” Noelle’s Mom and Dad both smiled as Noelle lifted the cover to the box.
“It’s a mirror, Daddy. That’s not magic,” she sighed.
“Oh, yes, the magic is that the box holds the most precious gift your Mom and I have ever gotten for any Christmas in our lives, and that gift is you.” They shared a family hug and Noelle could see both Mom and Dad’s eyes glistening.
The rest of the gifts were unwrapped and then they each had a cup of hot chocolate. Noelle sat by Jarhead who chewed on his rawhide present and stroked his ears as she thought of what a wonderful Christmas it had been. Then, she thought about Amie and felt sad, wishing there was something she could do to make her Christmas just as happy. Suddenly, a thought came to mind. She went upstairs and whispered in her mother’s ear who then said “Why don’t you ask him?” Noelle turned to her Dad. “Daddy, could I give the magic gift to Amie? You see, she couldn’t have a Christmas because her Mom lost her job and her Dad just died and I thought maybe it would make her happy.”
Her Dad sat at the end of the bed pondering the proposal, seeing the sense of purpose in his daughter’s eyes and turned to his wife with a smile. “Well, it is hers to do with what she wants,” he reasoned. Laura nodded in agreement. “OK by me,” her father replied.
“Let’s go to Amie’s house and give it to her,” Noelle stated.
“Maybe they are busy, and…” her mother began.
“I already called,” Noelle interrupted.
After getting dressed, the family minus Jarhead went to Amie’s house. They went in and exchanged holiday greetings and saw a small Christmas tree in the living area with few presents surrounding it. Noelle went over to Amie with the box behind her back, then brought it forward and said to Amie, “Merry Christmas, Amie!”
Amie’s eyes lit up like the thousands of glittering lights that had decorated the many trees all over and a smile filled her face from ear to ear. Her lips quivered as she tried to speak although the tears in her eyes kept her from responding.
Noelle came to her rescue. “This is a magic box,” Noelle recited looking toward her Dad. “Whenever you open it, from today to forever, you will see a beautiful face and the picture will change like magic! The magic is that the box holds the most precious gift of all – you!”
Amie lifted the lid and saw her face in the mirror. Almost immediately she closed it, gazed at Noelle, and put her arms around her. “You are the best friend anyone can have!” Amie sobbed.
“Well, we better go now,” Michael Browning announced. “We don’t want to leave Jarhead alone in the house too long.” They again bid holiday wishes and left.
It had started to snow and Noelle heard the fresh crunch of newly fallen snow as she walked along. Her Dad held her hand on one side, her Mom on the other and Noelle could not think of being more content. She turned to her father to apologize. “Daddy, I’m sorry that I gave away the magic box,” she said as she tried to search for the right words.
Her father squeezed her hand tighter and looked directly into her eyes. “Princess, you never have to apologize for caring about other people and sharing what you have. That is the joy of Christmas. That is a special gift and the true meaning of what the Christ Child brought to the world – caring more about others than you do yourself.”
Noelle smiled as the family walked along. As they neared their house, she stared ahead and the smile returned. A string of lights illuminated the front of their house! It had been a magic Christmas and the Magic Gift had brought joy to all.