Story by Janie Orman
“He’s coming, Mama? I hear him!” five-year-old Madi squealed.
Mama glanced at the sweater that she was mending. Holes in the clothes, holes in the britches, holes in the bank account. Was Santa going to come this year? She turned and smiled at the little one at her feet.
Carefully, Mama worded her answer.
“Yes, he’s coming! You don’t think that he’d forget a sweet little thing like you, do you?” Mama was rewarded with an exuberant hug from her five-year-old. Would hugs be all there was for Christmas this year? Would it be enough?
Madi tugged her mama’s sleeve. “Let’s just be real quiet so Santa will think that we are asleep.” After a moment, she whispered, “Tell me about when you were a little girl.” Mama studied her daughter for a moment before answering. “Well, things were different back then. But I do remember when my papa would come home late from work on Christmas Eve, he’d come bringing surprises.”
“Tell me about them, Mama.”
Mama held the little one’s eyes that were round with excitement. She’d always tried to guard them from hurt. But could she accomplish that on this Christmas Eve?
“I’d climb up onto his lap, all the while he’d pretend that nothing was going on. I’d slip my hands into his pockets and soon I’d find just what I was waiting for.”
“What? What was it?” Madi whispered, barely breathing in anticipation. “Long sticks of red-and-white candy canes.” Mama went back in time as the bittersweet memories paraded across her mind.
“What about toys, Mama?”
“Oh, child, there were no toys.”
“No toys! Christmas would be no fun without toys!” cried the little one. Mama searched through her heart for just the right answer. She stared at the basket that had been slipped conspicuously underneath the scarred coffee table. She stared at the few items within its weaving. They were long, red-and-white with a thin clear wrapper protecting them from the world.
“My mama was gone by then. It was just me and my daddy.” “Like it’s just me and you now,” came the wisdom of the child. “Yes. I loved those times with my daddy. They were special and so far in between. He was a hardworking man, but times were difficult, and there was no extra for toys. But when I’d find those sweet precious sticks of peppermint, my heart would nearly burst. You see, my daddy told me that they were wrapped in his love.”
“What did you give him for Christmas?” came the curiosity of the child. “Hugs. I only had hugs for him.” “Ohhhh,”
“My daddy would tell me a story. He would tell me about a baby named Jesus that came into the world that night. He came to bring love to all the people. After he’d grown and grown he gave that love to us in a special way. He is coming one day soon and again will bring that special gift of love.”
The old clock chimed the midnight hour. Christmas morn had arrived. Mama and Madi sat snuggled together by the oil heater and waited to see what the day would bring. As Madi began to squirm, Mama reached underneath the coffee table and pulled out the long striped candy. “Oh, you got me some love! Thank you Mama! But I didn’t get you anything!” Madi thought for a moment and then came close to her mama and hugged her with all the love of an innocent five-year-old. Mama held her daughter and knew that she was blessed. Love the best gift of all!
Years later, on Christmas Eve the two sat much in the same position. Except this time, Madi held her ailing Mama. Much had happened in their lives since that Christmas. Madi had her own children and many Christmases filled with gifts beyond the imagination. But none ever surpassed that one so long ago.
The old clock chimed the midnight hour. Christmas morn had arrived. Madi leaned closer as Mama tried to speak. “He’s coming, daughter. I hear Him”
Madi glanced at the mended sweater that Mama insisted on wearing. She glanced at the holes in the tattered rugs on which they sat. She glanced at Mama. Madi’s heart swelled with love for her dear mother. Then answered, “Yes! He’s coming! You don’t think He’d forget a sweet thing like you, do you?” Madi felt her mama reaching beneath the worn out blanket. “Let me help, you Mama.”
Tears flooded Madi’s eyes as the long, striped candy cane fell into her hand. “Thank you, Mama. But all I have for you is a hug,” Madi hugged her mama and felt her drift from this life. Mama smiled as she ran through the gates of Heaven, and into the outstretched arms.
Christmas this year was the most wonderful one ever! Christmas filled with the most precious gifts. Candy canes, love, and her Father’s hug.