From the Relief Society Magazine, November 1960 –
Home for Christmas
Myrtle M. Dean
Anne placed the two letters side by side on the desk. One letter was from her mother. The envelope was addressed in a hurried, sweeping hand. The letter inside was full of loving, newsy words galloping across the pages. “How glad we will be to have you home again. We can hardly wait to see the baby. It is wonderful that you will be back in America for Christmas,” Anne’s mother wrote. The second letter was from Bob’s mother. It lay unopened, for Anne always left Bob’s mail for him to read first, even though it was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Andrews. Anne knew that this letter would be as methodical and prim as the woman who wrote it. Bob’s mother wrote with a meticulously neat and even hand. Anne smiled as she compared the two envelopes and looked over at her little son.
“Only ten more days and we will be back home in America, Jamie darling. Home for Christmas, with Grandpa and Grandma. We will fly over the ocean in a big, big plane. Just like birds flying home to their nests.” Anne waved her arms up and down like a bird flying, as she talked to baby Jamie.
Jamie laughed and waved his arms.
“Home to you is right here in Germany, where you were born, baby darling, but now you are going to learn about another country, a wonderful country, America that will be your home.
“Your daddy has gone right now to get your papers all fixed, so you can be a real citizen of our United States, little Jamie.”
For more than two years Bob Andrews had been in foreign service in Germany. Bob and Anne had been married only two months when they arrived. At first they had kept busy and happy, but when Anne was to have her baby, she became homesick and felt a great need for her own mother. It was almost Christmas time then, too. That was just one year ago. Anne remembered still how lonely and frightened she was then.
“I think when we trust him, God has a way of taking care of mothers and their babies so they won’t be too afraid,” Bob had comforted her.
Anne smiled now at her baby. Bob was right, she thought. Heavenly Father has been very kind to us.
Suddenly an awful thought crept into Anne’s mind. What if … Oh, no, Bob’s mother just couldn’t expect them to come to her home for Christmas. Anne thought of the big dreary house with its many rooms with everything so somber and untouchable. She had often wondered how a warm, live person like Bob could have grown up in such a place. Anne had never known Bob’s father, for he had died several years before her marriage to Bob. Mrs. Andrews lived alone now, and she seemed as solemn and quiet as the old house.
Anne lifted the letter from Mother Andrews. Bob had always said, “You should open Mother’s letters, Anne. They are to both of us. Mom would like you to feel like a daughter.” For a moment Anne thought she would read this letter to quiet her fears, but she laid it back on the desk unread.
“Don’t be silly,” Anne told herself. “Of course Bob’s mother will realize that I will want to be with my family for Christmas.” She pushed her anxiety aside and began her work again.
Almost every day, Anne told Jamie about her family, about her younger sisters and brothers who would love to play with him. She was determined that he should learn a few words to show off to the family. Bob laughed at her, and told her that Jamie didn’t understand a bit of the foolishness she tried to tell him.
Only this morning she was rewarded for her efforts. Jamie said Gram-ma, Gram-ma. Over and over she had repeated the words to him. Now he laughed and haltingly spoke the syllables. Anne could hardly wait for Bob to come to hear him. She could picture her mother’s delight at her first little grandchild speaking those words.
Soon Bob came in flourishing a large envelope. “Now we are all set to leave.”
“Three cheers for the Red, White and Blue,” Anne called out happily. “Oh, and there are letters from our mothers. Mom says they can hardly wait to see us. Won’t it be fun showing off our son? And home for Christmas, just think!”
Bob clasped her about the waist and swung her around happily. “Mother is going to like having a grandson around. And you know, Anne, I believe the little guy looks a lot like Dad,” Bob spoke thoughtfully.
Again, that anxious feeling crept over Anne, and her hand trembled as she handed Bob his letter. She waited tensely for him to open it.
“You should have read Mother’s letter, too,” Bob said once more. Anne saw that he looked a trifle hurt.
“I’ll go on packing while you read the letter to me,” she said.
Anne’s face was stricken and her arms fell listlessly to her sides as she heard the words of the letter. “I am planning a fine Christmas this year, Bob, with a tree in the corner of the living room just as we used to have when you were a little fellow. You were married just a little while before you went away, so Anne and I hardly know each other. We need to get acquainted, and now you have a little son; how wonderful. I will count on all of you for Christmas.”
Bob raised his eyes to Anne’s. The bright happiness was gone from her face. She turned away to hide her tears.
“Anne, dear, of course you expected to go to your family for Christmas. Don’t feel bad, Anne, that is where we will go.” Bob spoke reassuringly.
“But you heard it – in the letter – you heard your mother say she expects us for Christmas. She is counting on us,” Anne replied brokenly.
“There won’t be time to write now, but when we get to your home we can phone Mother. We’ll tell her we had planned to be with your folks, but will go on after Christmas week.” Bob’s voice was troubled.
“But we didn’t plan. I just supposed she would know that I would want to be with my family for Christmas.” Anne’s voice held reproach. She wanted to say, “Your mother is selfish. She should understand that a girl wants to be with her family. That she wants to show off her baby to her folks. She should know how I’d hate the big, lonely house where she lives.”
Anne almost wished that Bob would argue about the situation, that he would say, “Mother is lonely and needs us. I have as much right to go to my mother for Christmas as you to yours.” But Bob didn’t say anything. He was leaving it for Anne to decide. Anne remembered now that her mother’s letter had not mentioned their coming to her home for Christmas. Of course she expects us, and will be very disappointed if we don’t. She just doesn’t want to be selfish, Anne thought.
After Bob left the room, Anne let the tears flow freely. Little Jamie looked on silently, as though he sensed her changed mood.
“We can’t go home for Christmas, honey. We’ve got another grandma. She wants her boy, and you, too, Jamie. We must go to her. We’ve just got to.” Anne’s voice was muffled by her crying.
Jamie’s eyes looked big and solemn. Then he waved his arms and began saying, “Gram-ma, gram-ma.”
Time passed quickly now. Soon they were on their way, and the wide expanse of gray-blue ocean lay below them. Then there was the Statue of Liberty welcoming them.
“This is America, Jamie darling. This is our own country,” Anne spoke breathless with emotion and homesickness.
Bob pointed out the Empire State Building and the United Nations Building of New York. Anne saw how happy he was to be back in America, too. They skimmed over the cities, Chicago, Kansas City, and all the others as they flew westward. Soon they would be coming to the outskirts of the town that was Bob’s home.
“See how beautiful everything looks so far below us,” Bob said, and Anne saw the happiness in his eyes. She saw the dark green of the trees on the foothills, and the town nestled down in a valley like a babe wrapped in a soft, white blanket. The lights from the houses twinkled out dimly, and Anne knew one of those houses below them would be Bob’s boyhood home. Yet her heart sank as she thought of the hundred miles that still lay between them and her own parents’ home.
“We will be there soon, Bob. To your mother’s, I mean,” Anne said. Her voice was low, but she tried to smile.
“Oh, Anne, I can’t let you do this. I know how you feel,” Bob protested.
“We can’t disappoint your mother. You know she expects us. We’ll have to do it, and go on in a few days to my family.” Anne tried to keep her voice even as she told him.
“You are so sweet to do this, Anne.”
Anne thought to herself, I don’t feel at all sweet or generous. I feel mean, and still think Bob’s mother is selfish and unthoughtful. I still want to cry and I still want to hurry on home, and hear little Jamie say “Gram-ma, Gram-ma” to Mother. She was thinking that right now there would be a tree waiting to be trimmed in her mother’s living room.
It was now dusk dark, and very beautiful with soft pink color in the sky. The winter moon was pale and cold. Little snow crystals fell and frosted Anne’s hair as they left the cab and came up the walk to the Andrews’ house. Bob walked ahead with his son in his arms.
On the door a light shone from the large holly wreath. A soft glow came form the windows, out to the evergreens in the yard. Bob rang the doorbell, and as they waited, Anne took hold of Bob’s arm. They heard hurried footsteps in the hall. Anne saw the happiness light the woman’s face as she embraced her son and her little grandchild. Anne stood back silently, allowing them time to greet each other. Then Mrs. Andrews came to Anne. She seemed a bit awkward and shy. She kissed Anne on the cheek, but still Anne could not feel a great warmth toward this prim, unfamiliar woman.
As they went into the living room, little Jamie clung tightly to his father’s neck.
“He isn’t used to strangers much yet,” Anne said.
“But he soon gets acquainted, then he is almost too sociable,” Bob told his mother.
They saw the lovely, decorated tree in the corner of the room. It was much more imposing than any Anne had ever had at her home.
Jamie held out his arms to the tree, reaching toward the pretty lights. Mrs. Andrews reached to take him, but he pulled back. He was still not ready to make friends.
“I’ll show you the pretty tree,” Mrs. Andrews said.
“He is learning to say a few words, Mother,” Bob said. “He can say Grand-ma. Here, Anne, he will say it for you. Have him say Gram-ma for Mother.”
Anne felt sick with disappointment. She had labored so hard to see that Jamie would say these words for her own dear mother. She had never once thought of Bob’s mother being the one to hear him first. She took Jamie in her arms and pointed to Mrs. Andrews. “Say Gram-ma, Jamie. Say Gram-ma,” Anne repeated.
Jamie looked strangely at this woman smiling at him, then began to say over and over, “Gram-ma – Gram-ma, Gram-ma.” He was delighted by so much attention.
Bob and his mother laughed together and were very pleased, not noting that Anne stood without even a smile.
“He is starting to walk, too,” Bob said. “Put him down, Anne, and let him walk to me.” Bob held out his arms, and stooped low for Jamie to come. “Walk to Daddy,” he said.
Jamie wobbled unsteadily toward his father, then spying the bright tree, he turned and waddled across the room with his arms outstretched. Squealing with delight, he clasped a pretty bauble from a low limb.
Anne rushed to take him. “He will play havoc with everything, and probably eat the glass ornaments. He is tired and excited and should be in bed,” Anne said a bit too abruptly.
“Of course he is. I will show you when he will sleep.” Bob’s mother led the way to the stairs.
Anne, looking at the lovely, mahogany stairway, thought, did a mischievous boy named Bob Andrews ever have fun sliding down this polished banister from his room?
Mrs. Andrews stood back watching as they opened the bedroom door.
“Why, Mother, you have fixed my old room with all my baby things, just as it was when I was a toddler like Jamie.” Bob laughed, delightedly. “Would you think that my six-feet-two could have ever been little enough to fit into that crib?”
“This battered up old Teddy bear always went to bed with Bob. He said he had to have company until he got a little brother, but we could never get a little brother for him.” Mrs. Andrews eyes were serious as she told them.
Bob reached down and poked the little brown bear in the tummy. “You were surely my pal,” he said.
“You two will have the room across the hall, I hope you rest well,” Bob’s mother said, then she moved slowly down the stairs.
“That was Father’s and Mother’s room as long as I can remember, until he went. Now mother takes a little room downstairs,” Bob said solemnly. He reached for Anne’s hand and they entered the lovely room together.
Early the next morning they heard Mother Andrews moving about the kitchen. “We will have our big dinner on Christmas Eve,” she had told them.
All day Anne offered to help, but there didn’t seem to be much that Mrs. Andrews hadn’t prepared already.
“It looks as though there will be turkey left over for weeks and plum pudding, too, for we are not staying on here to help eat it up,” Anne said to Bob.
“I’d better get down town and see about our reservations to go on after Christmas. Things may be crowded through the holidays,” Bob said.
While Bob was gone, Anne offered to set the table for the dinner. She thought of the hustle and bustle there would be at home now. Her father would call all of the family into the living room where they would gather about the piano and sing all the Christmas carols, and afterward her father would read the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke.
Later, Anne took Jamie out for a stroll to rest him so that he wouldn’t be too tired before dinner was over. She wanted him to be awake for the opening of the gifts.
When Anne returned with Jamie, Mother Andrews told her she had already set the table. Anne felt resentful that she was not allowed to help more. Everything seemed to be ready and Anne wondered why they did not eat.
“It’s always been an iron-clad rule that we ate dinner at six. I see mother still hasn’t forgotten it,” Bob said to Anne.
“I hope there will be no iron-clad rules at our house,” Anne said.
“The turkey smells so good,” Bob hinted. “I speak to do the carving.”
Mrs. Andrews seemed a bit restless and kept glancing at the clock.
She is nervous, not being used to company, Anne thought.
The time slipped by, and it was six fifteen, and still they did not eat.
“What is wrong with Mom? She is always so prompt,” Bob asked.
Just then they heard the doorbell ring sharply. Bob’s mother hurried to the door.
“Surprise – surprise!” Big and little voices called out happily as Anne’s family entered the hall.
“Mother – Daddy – all of you. How did you get here?” Tears of happiness ran down Anne’s cheeks. After she had greeted her family, she walked quickly to Mother Andrews and kissed her on the cheek. “How wonderful of you,” she said.
“I thought it would be nice to be all together,” Bob’s mother spoke softly.
Anne chided herself. All the time I was thinking her so selfish, but I was the selfish one. I would have left her here all alone for Christmas, thinking only of myself.
“Bob, did you know this all the time?” Anne asked.
“I’m as surprised as you.”
“Anne has been wonderful,” Mrs. Andrews declared. “I was a bit worried at first that she might think me quite mean to bring her here.”
“I was afraid to tell you, Anne, there were no reservations for train, plane, or bus for at least two weeks,” Bob announced.
“Don’t worry,” Anne’s father declared. “We brought the station wagon along. There will be plenty of room for everyone going home.”
Mother Andrews stood back smiling, as though she felt real proud of the results of all her maneuvering. She opened the door to the dining room to show the table all set for a large family.
“I wondered this afternoon, why Mother Andrews wouldn’t let me set the table, but I see it was part of the surprise.” Anne laced her arm lovingly around Bob’s mother’s waist as she spoke.
They all bowed their heads gratefully over the table spread with delicious, steaming food, as Mrs. Andrews asked Anne’s father to offer the blessing. Even baby Jamie folded his tiny hands and bowed his head.
The candle light flickered over the crystal and silver, casting a soft glow all about them. Anne reached for Bob’s hand. There is something so warm and close and precious about this new togetherness of our two families, she thought. Then her eyes turned to a picture of Bob’s father that hung on the wall. As Anne looked up, all eyes turned toward the picture. It seemed that he was smiling down at them.
Suddenly, Anne’s father spoke. “See little Jamie. He looks like his Grandfather Andrews.”
As they all looked, Mrs. Andrews brushed a tear from her cheek as she said, “Wouldn’t Grandpa Andrews be proud of the little boy?”
Now Anne spoke. There was a sweet earnestness in her voice. “I think he knows that we are all here together tonight, and he is very near. Don’t you think that Christmas extends into eternity, too?”