From the Relief Society Magazine, November 1959 –
The Shining Gift
Rosa Lee Lloyd
Mary McMillen put the bowl of stew and dumplings on the table in front of her husband Fred and handed him the silver ladle.
Ten-year-old Judy smacked her lips. “I’m hungry, Daddy. I’ve pushed Mrs. Gladstone in her wheelchair all afternoon. She buys bushels of Christmas presents. Where does she get all her money, I’d like to know?”
“So would I,” Bill said, gloomily. “I’ll bet she has it in that purse she carries. No wonder she likes Christmas. She doesn’t have to worry about presents.”
Mary winced. Bill was such a good-looking boy, with broad shoulders and bright dark eyes like his father. She wished she had extra money so she could buy that old wreck of a car he had been saving for since September. He worked at Grizwald’s after school and took odd jobs at night.
“Bill is right,” Peg agreed, her pretty mouth pouting. “Christmas makes us wish for things we can’t have.”
“Children!” Mary’s gentle brown eyes scolded them. “Christmas is the most precious day of the year, and it means more than just presents.”
She knew that Peg was unhappy because the living room carpet was so shabby she was ashamed to ask her friends in for a holiday party. Her heart reached out to Peg, just seventeen, blue-eyed and sweet as a rosebud, with her blond hair in a flowing pony-tail. She had been baby-sitting the past year and had bought her own clothes and most of Judy’s.
But the children could be so thoughtless at times. Mary sighed, looking at Fred’s worried face. he had a good job at Hammond’s Appliance Company and had been top salesman for years, but household expenses were so high there wasn’t any money left for extra things. So she had rented their front bedroom to Mollett Gladstone who had come back to Lakeview for the Christmas season because she loved the wintertime here. The town was a white fairyland when it snowed and everyone went down to the lake to skate. Mrs. Gladstone had stayed in her room tonight because she had been out all day and was too tired to sit at the table.
“Mrs. Gladstone’s got weak knees,” Judy said.
“Judy!” Mary scolded. “Mrs. Gladstone has arthritis, so don’t speak of it jokingly. She is a very wonderful lady.”
“Oh, she is, Mama!” Judy nodded her head until her pigtail waggled.
“I’ll bet she’s rich,” Bill chimed in. “Squalie Bradshaw says she’s got money somewhere.”
Fred’s brows puckered in a dark frown. “Son,” he said, “I’ve told you that I don’t want you running around with Squalie Bradshaw. He’s a wild one and has some wrong ideas. He’s even quit school.”
“But he lives next door!” Bill protested. “And he drives a truck for Grizwald’s. When the boss says to work with him, what shall I do?”
“You can be pleasant to him,” Fred conceded. “But you don’t need to chum with him.”
“He’s not so bad,” Bill said, stubbornly.
Fred didn’t answer. He ate his dinner silently so Mary tried to smile and changed the subject.
The telephone rang and peg hurried to answer.
“It’s for you, Mama,” she called, so Mary went to the hallway. It was Annie Ebermyer, who was trying to get the old group of college girls together. Could Mary let them come to her house for the Christmas party?
Mary felt her heart thud. Imagine her friends in her living room with the worn-out carpet and the bumpy old sofa. She loved every one of them, but she just couldn’t invite them here until she had a new carpet.
“I’m so rushed,” she said, weakly.
“I know,” Annie Ebermyer agreed. “And my house is full of guests. We’ll just wait until we hear from you, Mary.”
Mary’s hand trembled as she put the receiver back in its cradle. Peg touched her shoulder, and Mary knew she had heard everything. She forced a smile. She had always tried to be an example of cheer and courage to her children.
“I will have the group here,” she decided aloud. “Peg, how will it look if we take up the carpet and wax the old pine floor? And we’ll put Grandmother McMillen’s paisley shawl over the lounge. If we hurry, we can tint the curtains tonight.”
Peg’s arm went around her mother tenderly, and Mary felt her fresh young cheek against her own.
“Mama,” she said, “you’re an awful dope to do it. But I love you for it. I wish I had your spirit.”
“You have, dear,” Mary said, trying not to show what an effort she was making.
Peg shook her head. “I don’t think I could have my friends here on a bare floor,” she said, doubtfully.
“Nonsense!” Mary scoffed. “We’ll have everything else so pretty no one will even notice!”
At that moment Judy came out of Mrs. Gladstone’s room ready to cry.
“Judy!” Mary stooped to gather her in her arms. “What is it, dear?”
“It’s the weatherman! Oh, Mama, Mrs. Gladstone’s television says we’re not going to have a white Christmas in Lakeview!”
“He might be wrong,” Mary soothed her. “Anyway, let’s not worry until it really happens.”
She turned to Pat and Bill who wanted to ski. “We’ll have a shining, white Christmas,” she reassured them, as she hurried into the living room to take down the curtains.
It was a busy evening and by the time she was ready for bed she was very tired.
“You work too hard, honey,” Fred said kindly as he looked at her over the top of the evening paper.
“I don’t mind the work,” Mary answered, “but sometimes – well, I do worry about the children. They’re planning on going up to Twin Peaks to ski and that’s thirty miles away!”
“They can’t go!” he said firmly.
“But how can we keep our children home if all their friends go?” she demanded.
“We’ll have to interest them, Mary. if we had a new carpet we’d give a party.”
His eyes searched hers. “Peg told me you’re having your group in spite of everything.”
“Why, certainly!” Her dark eyes flashed. “Do you think I’d let our children think of those things as barriers to happiness? I’ll see that they have more fun here than anywhere else.”
Fred suddenly smiled. “You are a trooper!” he beamed. “Any man can feel rich with a wife like you, Mary.” he touched her hand. “I’ve been thinking, honey. We can get a carpet and a sofa on credit.”
She sighed, achingly. She wanted them so much, but Fred must have peace of mind, and debts worried him, especially because he worked on commission and business slowed up after Christmas. if they were going to spend money, she wanted most of all to help Bill get that old car. A boy needed something like that to work on in his own back yard.
“Fred …” She took a deep breath, “I’d rather buy that old car for Bill.”
“So would I!” he laughed. “How did you know I would, Mary?”
“Oh, I always know,’ she said. ‘We feel the same way about the children.”
“Well, then, let’s wait about the carpet,” he agreed. “The company might give the bonus checks on Christmas Eve.”
“But Christmas Eve is day after tomorrow,” she told him.
He opened his wallet and took out five ten-dollar bills.
“Wrap this as a gift for Bill,” he told her. “I’ve been saving a dollar at a time.”
Mary couldn’t speak as she took the money. This fifty dollars meant Fred had been skimping on his lunches and Saturday golf and he hadn’t had his hair cut so often. But he has a son, she thought, as pride flowed through her, and that makes up for any sacrifice.
It was nearly noon the next day when she finished hanging the clean, tinted curtains in the living room. she stood near the window to admire them. then she saw Squalie Bradshaw drive the truck beside the curb, and there were Judy and Mrs. Gladstone in the seat with him.
Mary rushed out the front door.
“Look, Mama!” Judy called. “Squalie drove us home!”
“The wheel came off my chair,” Mrs. Gladstone explained. “Then this nice boy came along and brought me home. It’s been a real pleasure up here in the front seat.”
Mrs. Gladstone’s usually pale face was pink and smiling, and her eyes had a gay twinkle.
Squalie grinned as he turned to her. “I’ll carry you,” he said.
“My! I do appreciate all this,” she laughed. “What is your name, young man?”
“Charlie Bradshaw,” he answered.
“We call him Squalie,” Judy interrupted.
Mrs. Gladstone frowned.
“That sounds like baby-talk, Judy. I think it’s high time we call him Charlie.”
Charlie straightened his shoulders, and he seemed even taller than his six-feet-two as he went up the steps carrying Mrs. Gladstone.
Judy ran off to play but Mary followed them inside.
“Well!” Mrs. Gladstone sighed happily. “Thank you, Charlie. Will you come to see me real soon?”
He was looking at her television set.
“We could watch television,” she offered. “I quite enjoy the football and the bowling.”
“Yes,” he said eagerly. “And the basketball?”
“Do you play basketball at school?” she questioned.
“I don’t go to school.” His voice was suddenly sulky.
She sat bolt upright. “You don’t go to school! Now tell me why a boy your age isn’t going to school?”
He shoved his hands in his pockets. “I have to work,” he said. “Anyway, school is the bunk.”
He shut the door behind him and a minute later the truck roared down the street.
“Tell me about that boy,” Mrs. Gladstone demanded. “I must know, Mary.”
Mary sat down beside her and explained about Charlie. he lived with his father in the rooming house next door; but his father was gone for months at a time. So Charlie had sort of grown up all alone, and people in the neighborhood didn’t invite him in because he seemed rather wild and mean.
“We should all be ashamed,” Mary said, bending her head. “I thought today how kind he was when he carried you in.”
Mrs. Gladstone’s blue eyes had little sparks in them.
“I’d be mean, too, if a whole neighborhood treated me that way,” she snapped. “Something should be done about that boy!”
Yes, something should be done about him, Mary thought as she went back to the kitchen to polish the silver, but Fred seemed determined to ignore him.
She had just sat down at the table and opened the chest when Mrs. Gladstone came to the doorway.
“Mary …” Her voice trembled and her hand was unsteady on her cane. “My – my purse – is gone!”
Mary wet her lips as she sat there staring at Mrs. Gladstone.
“There was a lot of money in it, Mary,” she went on. “And my diamonds were tucked down inside.”
“Now tell me,” Mary began, “where do you remember seeing it last?”
Mrs. Gladstone explained she had it that morning when she and Judy went to visit the rest home, but after she was in the truck she wasn’t sure whether she had it or not.
“Let’s call Charlie,” Mary suggested. “We can get him at Grizwald’s!”
Mrs. Gladstone shook her head.
“No,” she said, “that would cast suspicion on a boy like Charlie. No, I’ll just wait awhile.”
She went back to her room, determinedly.
The day dragged by. Every time the telephone rang, Mary hoped it would be news about Mrs. Gladstone’s purse.
When Fred came home she told him about it, and they went together to her room to suggest that she call the police.
“I won’t do it,” she said. “Everyone will blame Charlie. I like that boy. I want to help him. He has good eyes and a kind mouth when he isn’t hurt about things, and this would hurt him. It might be the end of his job and send him off alone somewhere without a friend. No, a boy’s soul is worth more than money or diamonds.”
“But the police …” Fred argued.
“No!” she said. “I can afford to take a chance on a boy like Charlie. I’m going to wait and trust the Lord. And I’ll be obliged if you won’t tell the children or anyone else about it.”
The next day was the sunniest December twenty-fourth in Lakeview’s history. Mary stood at the kitchen window watching Judy sitting on the porch steps.
It doesn’t look like a white Christmas, Mary thought with a sigh, and in more ways than the weather. Fred had been told he wouldn’t get his bonus check, and Bill hadn’t come home until midnight. Peg had been baby-sitting until even later. Fred had spoken so gruffly that Bill had gone straight up to bed.
She and Fred were heartsick with worry over Peg and Bill. They were at the age when the world outside their home seemed a very fascinating place. Children should appreciate their homes and their parents more, she thought fiercely, biting back the tears.
It was time for Mrs. Gladstone’s ten o’clock glass of milk, so she took it to her room.
The place was cluttered with bits of wrapping paper and gay ribbons, but Mrs. Gladstone was not there.
“She took a taxi,” Judy explained when Mary stepped out on the porch and looked up and down the street. “She wanted to go alone, Mama, to visit her friends. She was all dressed up in her rose taffeta dress and her fur cape.”
Mary sat down on the steps beside her and gazed up at the sun. Neither spoke for a moment, then Judy pressed her head against her shoulder.
“Mama,” she said, “you told me the McMillens will have a shining white Christmas even if it doesn’t snow. Remember?”
“Yes, dear,” Mary answered, carefully. “What I really meant was that being grateful for the Lord’s blessings makes us shine inside. We have so much to be grateful for, Judy. We have each other and Daddy and Peg and Bill …”
Judy jumped to her feet.
“Mama, let’s dress up pretty, the way Mrs. Gladstone did. She says we owe it to each other to look our prettiest. May I wear my pink dress with the ruffles?”
Mary’s laugh was like a bell.
“All right! We’ll do it. Peg can wear her blue silk, and I’ll wear my green lace.”
“Goodie!” Judy bubbled over. “Let’s be all dressed when they come home. We’ll make everything shine, Mama!”
Mary had called Fred earlier, asking him to pick up Bill and Peg and call at the rest home for Mrs. Gladstone who had been gone all day.
It was almost seven when they came in, Peg, rosy-cheeked with stars in her eyes. Bill with a big grin, and Fred smiling in his big, easy way.
“Mama!” Judy pulled her down to whisper in her ear. “Look how they’re smiling. I’ll bet they’re shining inside because they’re grateful for us!”
“Of course they are,” Mary whispered back.
“I couldn’t find Mrs. Gladstone,” Fred explained.
Bill swung around.
“Mrs. Gladstone! Why didn’t you ask me, Dad? She took Charlie to buy him a new suit. He and I found her purse today. I guess you knew she lost it?”
Fred and Mary looked at each other, but neither spoke.
“Anyway,” Bill hurried on, “it had been pushed back under a heap of packages in the truck. Charlie found it. We were on our way here with it when we saw her on the street. She insisted on this new suit for Charlie and one for me, too. Says we’re both old enough for a real suit. I don’t think Charlie would have accepted it, but I could see how much she wanted to dress him up, so I told him I was all for it. Hey! There’s the truck now!”
Mary opened the door and Charlie carried Mrs. Gladstone inside and put her in a chair. She was holding her purse, and she looked at Mary with a significant twinkle in her eyes.
Charlie turned to go, but she caught his hand and held it in both her own.
“Mary,” her voice had chimes in it.”There’s plenty to eat, isn’t there? For all of us, I mean?”
Mary looked at Fred, and her heart lifted and sang as he nodded his head.
“Of course there is!” she answered gaily. “Charlie, please stay for dinner. We’d love to have you.”
“We sure would,” Fred joined in.
Charlie bent his head, but not before Mary had seen his lip tremble.
“I … can’t …” he began.
“He’ll stay!” Bill said heartily and slapped him on the back.
Soon everyone was busy unwrapping packages, but Mary and Fred were both watching Bill when he opened the box with the fifty dollars and the note that told him it was to help pay for his car.
“What d’ya know!” he gasped. Then he swallowed hard. “thanks, Mom – and Dad,” he murmured.
At last it was time for Mary and Fred to open their present, which was an envelope addressed: “to the dearest parents in the world from Bill, Peg, and Judy.”
Mary could hardly breathe as she unfolded the paper inside. It was a gift certificate form the Lakeview Furniture Company, giving them their choice of new carpet and a sofa!
Silently she smiled at them. Tears were glistening in her eyes, but they made everything more shiny bright. While she and Fred had been struggling to give their children a happy Christmas, their children had been working overtime to get something for them. Their love was the perfect, shining gift.
She looked around at the happy faces. how wonderful, she thought, to have a family and to share our blessings with Charlie and Mrs. Gladstone.
She met Fred’s eyes, and his smile was young again and confident.
“It’s a beautiful world, Mary,” he whispered gently, “a very beautiful world!”