From the Relief Society Magazine, 1957 –
The Christmas Cards
By Dorothy Boys Kilian
Mrs. Alice Colts, rocking idly in the deep-cushioned platform rocker, stared out the front window into the early December twilight. Nowadays she put off lighting the lamps as long as possible; in the deep shadows it was easier to pretend that Harry’s chair was not empty. He had been gone over a year, and she knew she ought not to brood and knew that Harry would say she was much too young to waste her time this way.
But she did allow herself this half hour or so at the close of each lonesome day. Besides, she rationalized, it saved electricity, and goodness knows she had to use her funds carefully now.
She stopped rocking as she saw a small boy skid his bicycle to a stop on the snowy walk out front. Like a young colt he vaulted over the low gate and hurried up the path towards the porch.
A newsboy? Mrs. Colts wondered. As she started for the front door, she could hear him whistling bits of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” She smiled wistfully. The holidays were a wonderful time for the youngsters!
“Good evening, Ma’am,” the ruddy-cheeked boy said cheerfully. “I’m selling Christmas cards. I have just this one box left, and I thought maybe you’d …”
Mrs. Colts couldn’t bear to have him go on. “I’m sorry,” she interrupted gently. ‘I’m not sending out any cards this year.”
The boy’s eyes widened, “Why, I thought everybody sent Christmas cards!”
She could see he was genuinely surprised.
“Well, maybe someday again,” she said. “Right now, I’m just not in the mood.”
“What will your friends think?” the boy asked, and somehow he managed not to sound fresh.
“Oh, I think they’ll understand,” she answered lightly. “Now, if you will excuse me, it’s pretty cold standing here with the door open.”
“Please, if you could only take this one box!” The boy apparently didn’t realized he had been dismissed. “You see,” he went on eagerly, “if I sell a dozen boxes I get a bonus and that will give me enough to buy those ice skates for my brother. This is the twelfth box.” He held it out toward her.
“Well, you haven’t even shown me the cards,” Mrs. Colts said, smiling. Just like her little grandson back in Cleveland, getting so excited over something he’d leave out half the story.
“Oh, yes, sure,” the boy laughed sheepishly. He snatched off the lid of the box. “See?’ he said proudly. “The newest kind – these long, thin ones with modern pictures.”
Mrs. Colts, whose tastes ran to old-fashioned snow scenes with green fir trees and red barns, gazed down at a tan deer with an elongated head and pointed ears who stared fixedly at her from a funereal black background. Stifling a groan, she glanced back up at the boy. He was smiling at her, obviously with complete confidence in her good judgment.
“How much?” Mrs. Colts quavered.
“Only a dollar for the box.”
“I’ll take it.”
Even from the coat closet where she had gone to get her purse, she could hear the youngster breathing out a long happy sigh.
She put the box of cards away in the desk, thinking that possibly next year she would use them. That is, if she somehow managed to survive this present lonely holiday season. Maybe she should have accepted her son Fred’s invitation to come out to Cleveland after all. But he and his wife were living in a tiny apartment and were crowded enough with young Freddy. No, she had made the right decision, painful as it was.
As she started sadly for the kitchen to cook herself a bite of supper, the doorbell rang. Startled, Mrs. Colts turned back to the front of the house.
On the porch stood a little old woman, shoulders bent, with a huge black handbag on her arm. “I don’t suppose,” the woman said hesitantly, drawing a box from the bag, “that you’d be interested in buying a few cards?”
Mrs. Colts stared at her unbelievingly.
“I know it’s pretty late,” the woman went on in a tired, thin tone, “but I thought maybe you’d need a few extra at the last minute.”
Mrs. Colts found her voice at last. “Why, I bought some from a young boy just a few minutes ago,” she said kindly.
The woman didn’t seem surprised. She nodded her head sadly. “Yes, your neighbors said somebody else had just been through this street,” she said. “Well, thank you anyway.” She put the box back in her bag and stepped carefully down the first step of the porch.
Why, she isn’t half trying, Mrs. Colts thought. Somehow she felt as irritated as if she were the one who was missing out on a sale.
“Just a minute,” she said briskly. “What kind of cards do you have?”
The woman turned back. “Oh, just the usual,” she said dispiritedly. “The village church, the skating pond and such.”
“That’s just the type most of us older people like,” Mrs. Colts said firmly. “Come in for a minute, and we’ll have a look at them together.” She felt a warm glow as she saw a shadow of hope creep into the faded gray eyes confronting her.
Fifteen minutes later she said goodbye and Merry Christmas to a smiling old Mrs. Ames and sat down at the desk to re-examine her two new boxes of greeting cards. The old-fashioned scenes brought back a flood of happy memories, and it wasn’t long until she had decided that it would be kind of nice to send a few cards this year, at least to her dearest friends.
Supper forgotten, she found her address book and set to work. Fortunately, the majority of her friends knew of Harry’s passing, so she didn’t have to write that. In fact, in most cases she merely wrote on the card “Love, Alice” and popped it into its envelope.
By seven o’clock she had gone through the usual list of folks that she and Harry had sent to in recent years. She still had several cards left though, and she sat turning them over on the desk. Staring at a picture of a group of carolers under a street lamp, she thought back to the old high school crowd who used to go out singing together on Christmas Eve. And then John would take her home afterwards.
John Roberts was her first beau. She hadn’t really thought of him in years. When she’d left Stevenstown to take a job in a city office, they had just drifted apart. She had met and married Harry, and she had heard that John had married Vera Higgins, a home girl, a couple of years afterwards.
I’ll just send them a card, she thought, light-heartedly. No harm done after all these years, and they certainly will be surprised. She addressed a card to Mr. and Mrs. John Roberts, Stevenstown, Ohio, but of course, they might have moved away years ago.
Three days later Mrs. Colts arrived home from the post office in the cold dusk of late afternoon and let herself in the front door. All day she had been working against time, finishing the homemade gifts for her son’s family. This was the last possible day she could mail the package and be sure of its getting to Cleveland on time. No reason why she couldn’t have got those mittens for Freddy knitted long ago, or the white party stole for Lucille, or the argyle socks for big Fred. Certainly, she thought ruefully, she’d had plenty of time on her hands this fall.
She took off her wraps and was about to sit down in the chair by the window as usual. Suddenly, perhaps because of the memory of the bustling crowds, the laughing faces, and the festive decorations downtown, she rebelled. “Is this all I’m going to do with the rest of my life?” she asked herself.
Determinedly, she strode over to the table lamp in the front window. As she bent to switch it on, the corner of her eye caught a shadow out by the front gate. A man was standing there, a long box under his arm, one hand on the latch, staring in at the unlighted house. He half opened the gate, then allowed it to swing shut again.
Instantly, Mrs. Colts recognized the symptoms of a reluctant salesman. She took her hand away from the light switch. I can’t go through all that again, she thought wildly. Anyway, doesn’t the poor fellow realize it’s too late to be selling cards?
Then, as she watched, the man slowly took his hand off the gate, pulled up his coat collar, and began to turn away.
“Oh, well,” Mrs. Colts sighed resignedly as she switched on the light. “I guess it won’t kill me to buy a dollar box for next year.”
As the cheerful patch of light fell on the snow-covered front lawn, the man turned back, opened the gate and started up the path. Before Mrs. Colts left the window, she had time to note, with a vague disquietude, that there was something oddly familiar about his stride.
She snapped on the porch light and opened the door. The man was just reaching out to press the bell, but when he saw her he put his hand up to his hat instead, swept it off and stood there, silver haired and smiling. “Alice!” he said quietly.
Mrs. Colts stared at him. “John, John Roberts!” she exclaimed at last. “Why, I thought you were …” She laughed hysterically and pointed to the box in his hand. “I thought you were another Christmas card salesman. I was just about to be soft-hearted again and buy some more that I couldn’t possibly use.”
John Roberts chuckled. “I’m glad, though, you bought those you did, Alice. Otherwise I wouldn’t have learned your whereabouts again after all these years. I gathered from the way you signed the card that Harry is …”
“Yes,” Mrs. Colts said softly, “over a year ago. “It was hard.”
“I know,” John said gently. “My Vera, too, three years ago.”
They looked at each other with warm compassion.
Then John Roberts squared his shoulders. “If you’ll allow me to come in,” after thirty-five years his eyes had the same twinkle, “you can find out what’s really in that box.”
“Of course, John,” Mrs. Colts stepped back apologetically. “My goodness, I’m so surprised I’m completely forgetting my manners. Come in and take your coat off.”
“This is a pleasant room!” John exclaimed, looking around him at the book-lined shelves, the easy chairs, the open hearth, the warm lamplight.
“Yes, it is,” Mrs. Colts found herself agreeing heartily. It did seem to have a glow about it that she hadn’t been aware of for a long time. “Now, perhaps we could build a little fire in the fireplace – the wood’s right here in the basket,” she told him gaily.
“An excellent idea. That was a cold walk up from the depot,” John said, smiling.
“By the way,” Mrs. Colts paused in the door, on her way to the kitchen, “you said you’d tell me what was in that box.”
John, already on his knees before the fireplace, looked back at her over his shoulder. “Peanut brittle,” he said, grinning. “Remember when I was courting you, I used to bring you pounds of the stuff – couldn’t afford chocolates.”
Mrs. Colts smiled mistily. “Yes, I remember,” she said softly, and started down the hall with a lighter step than had been heard in that house for many a day.