From the Relief Society Magazine, 1957 –
A Grandma for Christmas
Myrtle M. Dean
Nancy knew afterward that she would never be able to forget the slender, dark-eyed boy who came to her door that morning. She knew she would never forget him, any more than she had forgotten her only child Michael, who had been struck down in the snow while riding his new sled the day after Christmas. That had happened many years ago, but Michael was the only child she had ever had. Now another boy had suddenly come into her life.
Nancy saw the boy as he came up the sidewalk alone two days before Christmas. He seemed not to notice the other children who were playing in the snow along the street. Children in bright jackets and warm caps and mittens were tossing balls of whiteness at each other. Some fell in the deep softness making figures in the snow. Nancy could hear the gay shouts and happy laughter of the others, while the lone boy hurried along as though bent upon some important errand.
“Why, he is coming in here,” she said to herself. Then she asked her husband, “Please, go to the door, David, there is a boy there. See what he wants here.”
As David moved slowly to the front door, Nancy thought, it must be something important, or the boy wouldn’t be out in this weather without better wraps. A pang of hurt went through her as she noted the seriousness of the boy’s dark eyes and the thinness of his body. His jeans were faded and were much too short for his lanky legs. His coat was not warm, and his arms protruded from the too-short sleeves. He can’t be more than twelve, Nancy thought.
As David answered the timid knock, she could hear a shy voice speaking, but could not hear the boy’s words. Then she watched the boy move slowly away as David came back to her.
“Wanted me to hire him to shovel away the snow, but he isn’t big enough to handle a snow shovel. Besides, the snow is still falling and it would do no good.”
“Oh, but David, you can see very well that the boy needs money. Perhaps his mother has sent him out to earn a little for Christmas.” Nancy’s voice was full of anxiety.
“Well, he’d probably spend the money on some foolishness anyway. You know how kids are nowadays. Besides, he’d likely get pneumonia for Christmas, if he stayed out shoveling in this wet weather,” David argued.
“He’ll likely get it anyway, if he has to go on and on, trying to get a job, with his clothes wet to the skin.” Nancy’s face was troubled as she watched the boy go from one house to another, only to come out, dejectedly moving on along the street.
For a brief moment she lingered near the window, then turned away. She turned away from the sight of the boy walking along with the hopelessness showing in his slight body. She turned away, too, from the sight of the happy children playing in the street. For deep inside her was creeping back the same deep hurt that always came when she saw happy children playing, just as her little Michael had been playing when he was killed.
“It was so long ago, Nancy – such a long time, and we can’t forget,” David said tenderly, as he saw Nancy’s face as she turned from the window.
“But Christmas always comes – again and again it comes, and with it for us comes always only the hurt, when Christmas should be such a happy time.” David took her arm and led her to a chair. For a moment they were silent, then suddenly Nancy raised her eyes to David and spoke very firmly, “I want to go to town and do a little Christmas shopping, David.”
David looked surprised, but waited for an explanation. Nancy never waited this late to do Christmas shopping. She always shopped early and missed the rush and bustle of last minute shoppers.
“I think I’d like to go alone today, David,” Nancy added. “I’ll take the car if you don’t mind.” There was a new light in her eyes that pleased him.
Nancy had forgotten the streets could be so crowded. She was almost carried along by the people as they pushed along the sidewalk. She was breathless as she moved to the inside of the walk and paused to get her bearings. There were so many children in the crowd. Children with bright, hopeful eyes, as they looked at the gaily decorated windows, and the many toys. Again came the deep hurt inside her chest. She could hear their little Michael saying, “I want that pretty new sled.” She was remembering his sparkling eyes when they brought him to see the Christmas things. Now the years seemed to melt away, and it seemed but yesterday.
As Nancy moved on, she noted many child faces gazing hungrily at toys, and the many pretty things which she knew they could not afford. She watched a young girl looking at a lovely dress in Merrill’s store window, and she knew that the longing for this dress would not be satisfied. This girl could only dream of pretty clothes. All about her she saw so many who really needed things. She saw unhappy and worried faces, as well as those who could well afford luxurious spending.
“I did not realize that there were so many in need, and people whom one might help,” she said to herself. Again her mind turned to the young boy who had come to their door this morning, and she wondered what he was doing. She wondered if his family would have a happy Christmas.
Merrill’s Department Store was a good place to buy everything she would want, but Nancy almost turned back as she reached the store door, for she could still feel the pressure of her little Michael’s hand in her own, as she had always brought him to Merrills. He had danced with excitement when they reached the door which was an entrance to a Christmas fairyland.
Nancy knew that she must push away that old feeling that had enveloped her for so long, and had kept her isolated from all the brightness of the holiday season. Without any ordered plan, she began her purchasing. First she went to the glove counter, and bought several pairs. The soft woolly mittens were so warm looking. “I’ll take bright red ones and blue ones for little girls, and the gray and brown for boys, in several sizes,” she told the clerk.
Nancy looked in astonishment at the many toys that a child might choose these days. There was miniature farm machinery that looked so real that one wanted to set it to work on a farm. The electric trains that ran around on long tracks, and the fire engines that blew shrill sirens as you pressed a lever were enchanting. Nancy selected some of these exciting things for boys, before she moved to the section where the dolls of every description held little girls enthralled by their naturalness and beauty. Nancy chose a sweet, rosy-cheeked dolly. She loved to touch the softness of its skin. Like a real, live baby, Nancy thought.
“I’ll take this one,” she told the saleslady. Then she saw the tiny baby doll and asked for it, too. “There are little girls who would like them, I am sure,” she said to herself.
While Nancy waited for her parcels to be wrapped, she noticed a boy standing nearby at the costume jewelry counter. The jewelry looked so inviting, all set out on purple velvet; the sparkly sets winking up so bright. Some of it was placed on trays on top of the cases, so one might take it up and view it closely.
Nancy thought it unusual that a boy so young should be so interested in jewelry. he was perhaps eleven or twelve. He was poorly dressed, and was tall and thin. His legs were too long fort the rest of him. his face was away from Nancy, but she watched him pick up a pair of earrings, and slowly put them back. They had lovely red sets in them.
“They would match the necklace that David gave me for my birthday years ago,” she said to herself.
Nancy moved quickly to the boy, and started to take hold of his arm. “Why do you like the earrings?” Nancy spoke softly.
He moved away from her, his eyes averted and his head bent low. It was the same boy who had called to shovel snow.
“I wanted them for my mother. It was for her I wanted them,” he said slowly. “I wanted her to have something pretty, like other women do.”
The salesgirl was coming over to them now, and the boy tried to leave, but Nancy held to his arm. “Wait, boy, please don’t go yet. I must talk to you,” Nancy said.
“May I help you?” the girl asked Nancy.
“Yes, please, the earrings, the red sets are so pretty in these.” Nancy pointed to the pair.
“Three dollars,” the girl said.
Nancy counted out the money, while the girl wrapped them in a dainty parcel.
“I can’t give these to you, lad,” Nancy said, as she and the boy left the counter. “But perhaps you can earn the money for them.”
The boy spoke tempestuously. “She works so hard for all of us. Since my father died we can have only the things like clothes and food. There is never anything pretty or anything like jewelry for mother to wear. I do all I can to help, but I go to school.” For a moment a flicker of a smile came to his lips as he said, “I bought a tiny red fire engine for my little brother. He will like that. And I got a ten-cent storybook for my two sisters.” The boy hesitated and his eyes fell, then, “I did want something for my mother for Christmas.” The boy’s voice broke as he raised his eyes to meet Nancy’s.
“What is your name, Son?” Nancy’s lips trembled as she spoke the word, Son.
“My name is Joe … Joe Carlson,” he spoke softly.
“I would like very much for your mother to have these earrings, Joe. Maybe you can come and work to pay for them. The snow has stopped falling now. Would you like to shovel it away? There would be the walks and the roof, too, I think. There is so much snow. Too much for David, my husband, to manage.” Nancy watched the boy’s eyes lighted up, and the sullen, despondent look fall away.
‘Oh, I would … I would like ever so much to pay for them that way, so I’d have them for my mother.” Joe’s lips relaxed into a timid smile.
“Then, Joe, come to 620 Maple Street. David and Nancy Brooks live there.”
“Why, I live just a few blocks from Maple, down on Elm.” He started to hurry away, then turned and smiled. “Thanks … thanks a lot.”
Nancy knew she must hurry home, and be there when the boy arrived to shovel snow.
David met her at the door. “What in tunket is all this?” he asked, as the parcels spilled over the dining table as she put them from her arms.
Nancy evaded his question for the moment, and spoke with censure in her voice, “You’ve cleared the snow from the front walk, David.”
“What is so wrong about that? It stopped snowing, and I had to have something to do. It’s lonesome with you out of the house, you know.”
It pleased Nancy that David missed her. She gave him a little smile, then she said, “The roof should be cleared, and you shouldn’t be climbing a roof.”
“Well, I didn’t know I was so old and decrepit. Just last week when it snowed you said that I’d better clear the roof.” David spoke with an injured tone.
“I have asked a boy to come and shovel the snow, David. This boy needs money. He is the boy who came here this morning and we sent him away. I didn’t know there were so many worried and unhappy people all around us, until today, David.”
“That reminds me; I haven’t sent our usual charity check for gifts for the needy,” David said.
“Don’t, this year, David. We have been doing things the wrong way. We haven’t been part of our giving at all. Today, I have seen so many who need more than gifts that money can buy. I want us to give something more.” Nancy’s eyes shone with an interest that David had not seen for a long time.
“But, all this you brought home today, Nancy?” David motioned to the bundles piled upon the table.
“There are many who need them,” she said.
They heard the door bell then, and Nancy went to answer it. Joe stood there wiping his shoes on the mat.
“This is the boy, David. He is here to clear the snow,” Nancy explained.
“My wife thinks that I am too decrepit to shovel snow. Do you think that you can do it?” David asked with a sly grin.
“Yes, yes, I can, I’m sure.” The boy scuffed his feet nervously as David eyed him critically.
Nancy wondered, too, if the boy should do it, as she saw closely how thin and pinched he really was. “Get him a pair of your gloves, David. His hands will freeze in the cold,” she said.
David brought the gloves from the hall closet. “There is a ladder out back so you can start with the roof. The shovel is by the back porch,” David told the boy.
“His legs are so spindly and long, he may get them tangled up and trip himself,” David said mischievously. “But you hired him.”
Nancy looked worried as she heard the boy on the roof. “It would be terrible if he should get hurt for Christmas,” she said.
Nancy slipped away to her room, and took from her jewel case the old ruby necklace that David had given her. She fastened it about her throat; her eyes soft with happy remembrance. Then she placed it with the earrings she had bought at Merrill’s today. She carefully wrapped them together in a box with white tissue, and tied it with blue ribbon. She took it with her to the kitchen, where she hurried to make hot chocolate.
“Come in and warm up a bit,” Nancy said, as she met Joe at the door as he finished clearing the snow.
Nancy led the way to the living room and placed a chair before the fireplace for Joe. She carried the chocolate in a bright pottery pitcher, and poured it into pretty pottery cups. Beside it was a plate heaped with golden doughnuts. A tenderness for the boy filled her as he held out his thin, cold hands to the fire to warm, while he sat in the big cushioned chair before the hearth. She saw the sweetness of his face and felt his gratefulness as he tasted the food she gave him. There are things that a boy needs, even more than food and drink, she thought soberly.
“What most of all would you like for Christmas, Joe?” Nancy asked, hardly realizing what she was asking the child.
“I think … I think most of anything in the world …” Joe hesitated again briefly, “I think I would rather have a grandma,” he said solemnly.
Surprised and sobered by the boy’s unusual wish, Nancy questioned, “Don’t you have a grandma?”
“Not anymore,”: Joe said. “I remember, though, how my Grandma Brown used to help us children make popcorn balls and taffy candy at Christmas time, and she would knit warm mittens for us every winter.”
I will never be a grandma, never, Nancy thought, now. I am not too young to be a grandma, though, and David could be a grandpa. I really think he would like it very much. I wonder if a substitute grandma would do for Joe? I’ll have to talk the matter over with David. I can’t make him a grandpa without his consent, Nancy said to herself, but she thought from the serious way he was looking at the boy now that he would not be hard to convince.
David took out his purse to pay the boy for his work. He looked puzzled when Nancy said, “I’m paying Joe, David.” then she slipped a tissue-wrapped parcel into the lad’s hand. “I put an extra trinket in that I think your mother will like, Joe.” In Nancy’s smile was the love of a real grandma.
“What in tunket kind of pay are you giving a boy – a tissue-wrapped box, tied with a ribbon bow?”
Joe’s bright smile left a warmth and glow in the room even after he had gone.
“I thought you said that the boy needed money,” David said abruptly.
“He needs some things even more than money. Did you hear him, David? The boy said, ‘more than anything,’ he wants a grandma.”
“Might be you could take on the job. Seems to me, you would make a real fine grandma. But then, then I’d be a grandpa for sure, wouldn’t I?”
“Would you mind, David?” From the pleased expression he wore, Nancy was sure he would not. Now she told him about the boy in the store, and why she had brought him to shovel the snow.
“You’re a trump, Nancy.” David’s eyes crinkled in a tender smile.
“We could have a real Christmas Eve party, with Joe’s mother and the children. There are three of them, besides Joe. There are others, too, whom we could invite.” Nancy was surprising herself, her ideas were cropping up so fast.
“And I will find the finest Christmas tree in town.” David was as enthusiastic as a boy.
Nancy’s eyes lowered, and for a moment she could not speak. She was seeing again their little Michael as he gazed happily at the bright tree in the corner of the room. Nancy had said, after Michael had gone, “We will never have another tree.” All these years there had been none, but now Nancy raised her head high, and spoke firmly, “Yes, David, get the finest tree in town.”
Nancy and David looked at each other. There was a shining look in their eyes, and an awareness of two people who are very close. Nancy began to hum a tune very softly now. It was just a bit of the song that came to her, “All is calm, all is bright … Sleep in heavenly peace.” She knew that at last a heavenly peace had come back to their hearts.