From the Relief Society Magazine, November 1956 –
One Bright Star
By Myrtle M. Dean
Joe realized with a start that he had lingered too long, and he had made a promise. He had promised Benjy and Maria, his little brother and sister, that he would hurry home after delivering his papers to help finish the Christmas decorations. They would be disappointed if he were late, for tonight was the last night for the Christmas decoration contest.
It was all this brightness and beauty of the Christmasy things in the town that had made him forget; forget to go back to the dim little valley where he lived. It was all the glittering lights and shiny tinsel, the holly wreaths, and the loveliness of the carolers’ voices on the streets, and the sight of the wonderful toys in the wide windows of the big stores. All these things had made him forget about Benjy and Maria, but now he suddenly remembered his promise about the star.
“Oh, Joey, if we could only have just one really, shiny decoration from the store,” Maria had said.
“Just one – what would you choose, Maria?” Joey had asked.
After a thoughtful moment, Maria had spoken, and her eyes had been wide and luminous. “One bright, silver star, Joey; one that we could put on the top of our tree.”
“No, we would place it high above our stable door, just like the star of Bethlehem,” Benjy had said solemnly.
Joe had promised then that he would save enough money for a star. They would fix the stable, where they had kept a cow when their father was alive, to look like the stable at Bethlehem where the little Christ Child was born.
All afternoon before Joey had gone to town for his papers, he and Benjy and Maria had scrubbed and brushed the cement floor until it was as clean as their mother’s shining kitchen floor. Old Mr. Shelby had let them have fresh, golden straw to fill the manger and scatter like a carpet over the floor. They had made a shade of pretty blue crepe paper to go over the old lantern, and hung it to the rafters in the stable to cast a soft glow all around. In the manger they had placed a clean, soft blanket, and Maria had suggested that she wrap her big, old doll in her little quilt and place it on the soft straw in the manger. It would seem as if the Baby were there.
Tonight was Christmas Eve, and they were going to play that they were really shepherds. Their mother had fashioned shepherd’s robes from old bath robes of their father, and had found three bright scarves that she had worn when she was young, to wind about their heads like turbans. The boys had carved tall staffs from long oak sticks.
“But I’m not a shepherd, I’m only a little girl,” Maria had said, with a troubled face.
“You can be a little shepherdess,” her mother told her, smiling.
“Six lambs don’t make a very big flock of sheep for three shepherds to tend,” Benjy had mused.
“Well, we couldn’t expect anyone to give us a whole herd of sheep. We were lucky that six orphan lambs strayed from the herd near our place, and the herder let us keep them to raise for our own,” Joey declared.
At home when they had been planning all this together, Joey had thought what fun it would be and had helped plan with enthusiasm, but now all the loveliness and sparkle, all the eager, bustling crowds in the town carrying gaily wrapped parcels, made a hollow emptiness inside him. He felt a drabness about the little house in the valley that was his home, the valley that was so dim and quiet compared to this bright town.
Joe forced himself to turn away from the lovely window and hurried inside to buy the silver star. He had carefully kept a quarter to pay for it. He chose a large star and turned it over and over to catch the light upon it. It looked shiny and beautiful.
As he hurried down the street homeward, he held the thin parcel tightly in his hand, thinking of Maria’s shining eyes when she had asked for the star. At the edge of town he paused briefly to look back. The lights had all been turned on now and the town looked like a Christmas fairyland.
Outside the town many of the homes were beautifully decorated. One large place now held him spellbound. Myriads of lights were strung over the house and flooded the evergreens and colored shrubs about the grounds. There were groupings of figures about the lawn; shepherds watching their sheep, three camels carrying Wise Men, who were richly robed. On one side of the walk was a manger scene. In the background soft music was playing recordings of sacred Christmas songs. Joe’s spine tingled as he saw it all. He inched closer and stood close to the house with solemn eyes.
“Don’t come bothering here,” he heard a stern voice speaking.
“Oh, I didn’t mean to bother, Sir, I only wanted to look. It is so pretty.”
The man leveled an unkind gaze upon him.
“You had better be on your way. It’s time you were home on Christmas Eve. I don’t want anyone standing around. The contest judges should be here any minute now.”
Joe turned away and thought bitterly, why did we think that we could make a decoration for a contest? It takes lots of money to make a beautiful decoration like this one. Maybe the judges won’t even come out to the valley. There are so many lovely places to see here. Joe hated to have Benjy and maria disappointed, but now he was hoping that no one would know about their decoration, the old stable, the orphan lambs. Now it seemed silly to call that a decoration.
As he neared the sidewalk he almost bumped into three men. He hoped it wasn’t someone else who would chide him. He started to hurry on.
“Is this your house, Sonny?” one of the men asked. “This is a very nice decoration you have here.”
“No. Oh, no. This is not my home.” The thought of this nice place being his home left him almost speechless. “But I think it is real elegant,” he said, stammering over the unfamiliar superlative.
“We like it, too. You are a good judge. Have you an elegant decoration at your house? Where do you live?” The man who spoke smiled down at Joe and laid his hand gently upon his shoulder.
“I live about a mile down the valley south of here. We couldn’t fix a fancy store-bought decoration. Ours is just a stable.” Joe’s voice was hesitant and slow, as though he were ashamed to tell it.
“Just a stable, huh,” the man said. There was a significance in his voice that the boy did not grasp.
“What is your name, lad?” one of the men asked.
“Joey Adams, and my brother and sister are Benjy and Maria Adams. Then there is my mother, but my father has been dead now six years.”
Joe turned away and moved hurriedly, for the red sun was dimming in the sky, and dusk was gathering over the valley. Soon he turned from the main highway, down the winding road that led to his home. The way seemed lonely and silent, and night was hurrying in over the bare, brown hills, leaving them shadowy. The trees stood tall and bare along the roadway, their leaves banked beside the road against the bushes. The only sound was the crunching of the dry leaves under Joey’s scuffed, round-toed shoes.
A queer, twisting ache stirred in him as he thought of their little house in the lonely valley. He thought of the brave way his mother tried to make Christmas a happy time for all of them. There had been only the bare necessities since their father had gone. Mother works too hard, and sometimes she looks very pale, Joey thought. Out here in the dusk he felt very unhappy and helpless and young.
As he neared the house he saw the shining, white Christmas angel. It was the one decoration they had had for all the years that he could remember. His mother always placed it near the window, and the light shining down upon it made it look almost heavenly. Now it was there, all lovely with its stiff, white dress, edged with shiny tinsel hands.
Benjy and Maria stood in the doorway anxiously watching for Joey to come. His mother stood close behind them. She was tall and beautiful, with her blue eyes and raven hair.
“Oh, Joey, we thought you would never come. It is almost dark. Did you get the star?” Maria called, then, seeing the parcel, she reached to take it. A look of joy and eagerness was in her eyes.
They all watched anxiously as Maria tore away the wrappings and held it before them. Their bright laughter caroled through the room as they caught sight of it.
“It came from the big store in the town, didn’t it? Now we won’t have to cut one from pasteboard and have it uneven at the points. This one is so pretty, Joey,” Benjy said.
Joey watched their delight and thought how dim this star would look to them, if they had seen all the big, brighter stars and all the shining colored lights and the glittering beauty of the town.
He started to speak, his words a swift burst of emotion. “The town is so pretty, and there are so many wonderful toys in the store …” The sight of his mother’s face checked his words. In her eyes was the hurt of not being able to give her children the joy and satisfaction of all the fine things. A troubled look clouded Joey’s eyes for a moment, but his mother placed her arm about his shoulder. She gave him a smile of tenderness and understanding.
“Come, we must hurry and place the star above the stable,” Benjy said.
“But Joey must be hungry, and there is warm stew waiting.” His mother hurried to the stove to set him something to eat.
“No, Mother, it is getting late. I will go with them to place the star,” Joe told her.
They fastened the star to a tall, thin willow and nailed the willow stick to the roof of the stable, but in the twilight dimness it did not shine nor sparkle. For a moment, disappointment showed in their faces.
“It doesn’t shine at all like the star of Bethlehem. It is supposed to be brighter than any other star,” Benjy spoke dejectedly.
“But we know the star is there,” Maria tried to cheer them.
“Now, if we put on the shepherds’ robes and drive the lambs out, we will look like real shepherds, anyway,” Joey told them.
Their mother helped them don the robes, and when she had wound the scarf turbans about their heads, their bright laughter filled the room, as they paraded before the mirror.
The lambs scampered back, startled by the strange figures that came to open the gate of their pen.
The children spoke to them, calling them by name. “Come on, lambkins; don’t be afraid.”
The lambs soon quieted and came slowly to the gate, as they heard the friendly, familiar voices. The boys drove them out, and they began nibbling on the dry grass near their pen. Suddenly, a bright moon peeked over the hill to the east of them. A white light spread all around, and the sheep looked snowy white and clean.
“Oh, see our star, how brightly it shines,” Maria cried.
“The valley is so beautiful and the lambs are so white,” Joey said. He felt happiness and peace creeping into his body. He breathed deeply, and said, “This is almost like the real shepherds of Bethlehem; the light shining down so brightly and everything so peaceful.” Then Joey began to repeat very softly, the words his mother read to them from Luke every year.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Joey’s voice was very solemn, and Benjy and Maria stood silently with lighted faces, their hands clasped tightly together.
“Out here it sounds even more beautiful than when Mother reads it to us in the house each Christmas,” Benjy said.
“It is like Bethlehem, only there aren’t the angels and the singing,” Maria told them.
Then they all heard the sound of the music. Softly the strains came to them on the night air. For a moment their eyes turned heavenward, as though they expected to see heavenly angels singing. The tune was very familiar. They had sung it many times around the fire at Christmas time. it was “Silent Night,” and the words were being sung softly, “Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright …”
“It is Mother,” they all chorused with awed voices. “She is playing the organ and singing. It sounds as sweet as an angel.”
They looked toward the house where the door was open, and the music coming out to them. “That is Mother’s part. We had forgotten Mother would be helping us. Hers is the best part of all.”
“I feel it all, deep in here,” Joey said, as he pressed his hand to his heart. “It’s like maybe the angels can really see us, and can hear Mother playing the ‘Holy Night’ song.
Even the lambs stopped browsing the grass and stood quietly listening. The children had been so engrossed in their own pageantry that they had not noticed three men who had left their car and now stood near the house. They had taken off their hats and were silently watching the scene.
“Maybe they are the three wise Men,” Maria whispered.
No one moved until their mother had finished the song. Then Joey started to move toward the strangers. One of them held up his hand and spoke, “Please don’t move. Let us look longer at this beautiful scene.”
They all turned toward the stable, and it seemed that the star shone even more brightly, now with the moon full upon it. The men came toward the stable and the little shepherds with the sheep.
“Are you the really Wise Men?” Maria asked in an awed voice.
“No, child, not the really wise Men, but we hope we are wise enough to recognize the real spirit of Christmas.” The man who spoke smiled down at Maria and touched her golden curls that fell below the blue turban that she wore.
“Come and see our stable and our star,” Benjy invited. “But there is no Christ Child here,” he said innocently.
They all stood at the stable door. The look on their faces was almost expectant.
“No, the Christ Child may not be here, my dears, but his spirit is surely here. We can all feel it in our hearts.” It was the oldest of the men who spoke, but the other two nodded their heads in silent.
“Why, you are the three men that I saw at the pretty house on the edge of town,” Joey exclaimed. Now, close to the light, he could see their features plainly.
“And you are Joey Adams, the boy who told us about his decoration. ‘It is just a stable,’ you said. But it is more than that, Joey. We are the judges, you know.”
Joey looked at them for a moment before he could speak. “I’m glad you took the trouble to come way out here to our place,” he said seriously. “I’m sure the lovely place where I saw you got the prize. Is it the one that got it?”
“That place was very beautiful, all that art and money could make it, but money cannot buy what we have found here – love and peace and good will.” It was the kind, older man who spoke again, and the others nodded their heads once more.
Joey’s eyes were as shining as the lights suddenly turned on a Christmas tree. Now he forgot the brightness of the town and all the toys and gifts. He looked at Benjy and Maria, and the silver star over the stable. He remembered only the words of the angels who sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”