From the Relief Society Magazine, December, 1957 –
By Hazel K. Todd
Upon the ridge I could see all the pine trees where my dad and I had always cut the Christmas tree and dragged it home through the snow. My heart beat in big jumps when I thought of the excitement that was always mixed up with the Christmas tree. Then I remembered that we weren’t going to have a tree this year, or anything else, I guessed. Because my dad had told me I was too big to be thinking about Christmas trees. And all the time I knew that wasn’t the real reason, for I could think of lots of people that were older than nine and they still had Christmas trees. The only ones I knew who didn’t always have a Christmas tree were the Durphys who lived in the shack on the river road.
I knew that the reason for our not having a Christmas tree was that ever since Susan, my little sister, had died last spring, nothing had ever been the same. I would come home from school and mother would be sitting by the window, and she wouldn’t even know I was there. And when I would ask my dad to wrestle with me like he had always done, he would put me aside and say, “Some other time, Son.” And that was the end because I had learned by now that there would never be some other time.
Things were so different when Susan was alive. Mother didn’t cry then. But now I would see her in Susan’s room that was right across the hall from mine. She would have Susan’s doll or dress or something, and she would be crying over it. It used to be fun to find daddy kissing mother, because Susan and I would run and get mixed up in the pie, and then they would have to kiss us, too.
I loved Susan very much, too. She had such shiny curls and soft dimples, and she was so warm and cuddly.
But there was only a week left before Christmas, and it was plain as the nose on your face that there wouldn’t be any Christmas unless something happened. I thought once that maybe when Aunt Jane came she could make things right. She was daddy’s sister who always came a week before Christmas. She would put on big boots and would go with dad and me to drag the Christmas tree down, and she would say so much funny things that I would have to laugh until I fell over in the snow. But when I asked mother one day, when was Aunt Jane coming, she looked at me funny and said Aunt Jane wasn’t coming this year.
“But,” I said to dad, “couldn’t we just find a little tree? We could drag it down.”
Dad just looked away somewhere. “No, Jerry,” he said. “We didn’t ask her to come.” Then he put his hand on my head.”Don’t you think you could forget about Christmas this year?”
I guess grownups can forget things easier than smaller ones, because no matter how hard I tried to forget I couldn’t.
One night when I woke up after I had been dreaming about Christmas, I thought I couldn’t bear it. I could hear the wind blowing down the canyon and I knew the Christmas tree ridge would be all covered with fresh snow. While I was thinking about how much fun it would be in the new snow, suddenly I realized the light was on in Susan’s room. I wondered if mother had gone to sleep in there. I waited a while, but I couldn’t hear a sound so I tiptoed to the door. I had a strange, fearful feeling, because I didn’t ever go in Susan’s room anymore. It made me feel too bad to see all her things around. Anyway, Susan’s room had come to seem like it all belonged to mother. I knocked softly on the door and called, “Mother,” but there was no answer, so I opened it and looked in. She was not there. I could see Susan’s pink ruffled dress. And then I thought of something. If we just had another little girl like Susan to wear her things, may e mother would feel better and daddy would get the tree, and we could have Christmas as we had always done.
Back in my own bed, I went over in my mind all the little girls I could think of. I decided Priscilla Jackson would be the best, she was so pretty. She was the only child the Jacksons had, but Mrs. Jackson wouldn’t mind letting us take her just one Christmas, when she had her all the rest of the time.
So I went to sleep feeling better than I had for so long, while the wind whooped it up outside.
Sure enough, in the morning there was snow all over the ground. When I looked out my window I could see the Christmas tree ridge shining in the sun like a sea of silver nickels. And it made me so glad I had thought of a plan.
At breakfast daddy said, “It really snowed last night. Jerry, don’t forget to wear your boots.”
Mother was looking out of the window. She wasn’t eating anything. She turned and looked at Susan’s coat and boots that were still in the hall. “Yes, Jerry,” she said, without looking at me, “wear your warm wraps.”
Priscilla Jackson sat right behind me, so when the teacher stepped out for a minute I turned and asked her quickly, “Priscilla, would your mother let you come and have Christmas with us, because my mother and daddy feel so bad that Susan is gone?”
Priscilla looked at me as if I was a toad or something. She flipped her curls in the air as though she was a princess. “Indeed, Jerry Morris, my mother will not let me spend Christmas with you! Why, don’t you know, I’m going to have a Toni doll, and a writing desk and a beautiful new doll buggy and a hundred other things; and the biggest tree there is in town! I don’t want to spend Christmas with you, so there!”
I didn’t think I would ever try to borrow a little girl again.
The days kept passing until there was only one day left until it would be Christmas Eve. I felt so miserable I went outside and sat on the garden bench in the snow, and wished I’d freeze into ice, so I wouldn’t have to think of it any more. Pretty soon Dad came along. He stopped a minute when he saw me, and then he came over. “Isn’t it pretty cold here?” he asked.
“No,” I said without looking at him.
He stood there a while, then he said, “You’re a big boy now, Jerry, and know all about Santa Claus. Would you like to have your presents now?”
That did it. I burst out crying, even if I was a big boy and knew all about Santa Claus. “No,” I said. “I don’t want any Christmas presents!” I didn’t want daddy to see me crying, so I turned and ran down the path to the river road.
I had a hard time to quit crying, but pretty soon the sobs quit jerking me so much and I looked up and found that I was clear down by the river and I could see the Durphy shack. I could see by the window that they didn’t have any Christmas tree this year. I began to wonder what so many of them did in such a little house, and all of a sudden an idea hit me with such a jolt that I sat down in the snow to think. Mrs. Durphy had so many children that she wouldn’t even miss one, and with Mr. Durphy gone so much, nobody knew where, I’m sure they wouldn’t be getting Toni dolls and desks and everything else. The ideas began racing up and down me so fast like pins sticking in me.
I was so excited I scrambled to my feet without even shaking the snow from my pants. There was a bit of noise inside the house, and I could hear a baby crying. But I went up and knocked on the door.
There was a hush inside for a while, then the door opened, not too wide. Mrs. Durphy had the crying baby in her arms. It was barefoot, and she tried to wrap the ragged blanket around its little feet. She looked so tired and worried that I thought she must have been working awful hard.
“Yes?” she said, holding the door from coming clear open. “What do you want?”
“Mrs. Durphy,” I said, “I want to borrow something.”
She hesitated a minute like she didn’t know what to do, then she opened the door wider. “Come in.”
I walked in. There were children all over the floor, and they stared at me with big eyes. Over in the corner I could see the little one. Two little girls were sitting by a piece of paper and some broken crayons. The little one must have been the same size as Susan. Her hair was all tangled up, and her face was very dirty.
“Mrs. Durphy,” I said, “I want to borrow a little girl for Christmas.”
Mrs. Durphy looked at me as if she didn’t understand what I said. And all the kids opened their mouths like they could hear with them, too.
“What did you say?” Mrs. Durphy asked, still looking as if she hadn’t heard.
“I want to borrow a little girl for Christmas,” I repeated from the words still stuck in my throat.
She must have been very tired because she sat down on the old chair there. “A– a little girl?”
I nodded my head solemnly.
“I – I don’t understand.” And then she seemed to suddenly make up her mind. “You’d better run along home,” she said.
But I couldn’t go home. I thought desperately and remembered something. “Please, Mrs. Durphy,” I said, “if you will lend us a little girl my dad will buy her a Toni doll and a writing desk and a lot of other things, and we will have the biggest tree in town!”
She started talking to herself then about one child having Christmas anyway or something, and then she said, “Well – I –I guess it would be all right. Which one did you want?”
“That one,” I said, pointing to the little one with tangled hair.
“Rosalie?” Mrs. Durphy said. “Rosalie – Rosalie gets so frightened.”
But one of the bigger girls said, “You want a dolly, don’t you, Rosalie? You won’t get scared, will you?”
“No get scared, no get scared!” the little girl chirped, dropping a handful of crayons and coming forward.
“We – well, I guess I’d better be going,” I said, with all the children looking at me. The other little girl had gone whimpering to her mother, something about wanting a dolly, too, and I thought I’d better be going before they all wanted to come.
Mrs. Durphy brought a ragged coat. Then she looked at Rosalie’s old shoes. “She has no boots,” she said hesitantly. “Her feet will be wet.”
I could see she was about to change her mind. “I will carry her piggy-back,” I said quickly. “I used to carry Susan all the time.”
With her ragged shoes tucked securely into my pockets, I turned to Mrs. Durphy. “Thank you, Mrs. Durphy,” I said. “Thank you very much for the loan.”
Rosalie looked so pretty when I put the pink ruffly dress and the pink ribbons on her, that I squeezed her to see if she was as cuddly as Susan. But I think she was too bony. Anyway, she pushed me away. She was crying a little so I showed her in the mirror how pretty she looked, and she felt better.
But on the stairs before mother and daddy I thought something awful was going to happen. Mother turned as white as the Christmas tree ridge when she looked at Rosalie. I thought she was going to say something, but she just sat there staring. Dad stood up and then he said, “Jerry, what have you been doing? Who is this child?”
“It’s Rosalie,” I said, “one of the Durphy children. I borrowed her! I …”
Rosalie must have known that something was wrong, because she slid down on the stairs and grabbed my leg and burst into tears. I tried to pat her head, but she only clutched my leg tighter. “I want my mommy!” she cried.
Mother just sat there staring at the dress and ribbons. And dad had the most peculiar look on his face. Rosalie was screaming by now so loud I couldn’t explain anything, and no matter how I tried I couldn’t pry her away from my leg.
Just when I thought the whole world was going to tumble in, the door opened and there stood Aunt Jane.
I was so glad to see her I would have run and hugged her with all my might if I could have got loose.
Aunt Jane stood there a minute looking as if she wanted to fight somebody, and then she said, “Well, aren’t you even going to ask me to take off my hat?”
Then dad said, “Take it off,” as though he was too tired to care whether she took it off or not.
“Seems to me somebody’s got some explaining to do,” she said, taking off her hat and clutching it in her hand. “Here it is only one day left to get that tree down and all the other things, and not a word said to me about coming.”
Mother was holding on to the arms of her chair very hard.
Finally dad said, “Well, Jane, without Susan …”
Aunt Jane pursed her lips into a straight line. “James Morris,” she said, “it’s about time somebody told you two a thing or two.” She pulled the feather off her hat without even looking what she was doing, and twisted it around her finger. And then I guess she told them the thing or two, something about Christmas being the time to think of others and to be happy for what Jesus did for us. She looked squarely at me. “What about Jerry?” Doesn’t he want any Christmas either? If he doesn’t, he’s different from all the other kids I know.”
I couldn’t look at mother and daddy. My throat was so full of lumps I couldn’t swallow them all.
And then Rosalie started in again louder than ever. She hung on to my leg like a leech. “I want my mommy! I want my mommy!” she wailed, while the tears ran all over the pink ruffles.
“Jerry, who is this child?”Aunt Jane asked.
But I couldn’t stand it any longer. All the miserable, lonely feelings I had saved up since Susan died seemed to break and run down my face in tears.
Aunt Jane came over and unfastened Rosalie somehow from my leg and sat down with her in the rocking chair.
“Now, Jerry,” she said, “You go ahead and cry for a while, and then you tell me what this is all about.”
So pretty soon I could talk. “She’s one of the Durphy children. I borrowed her because there wasn’t going to be any Christmas ‘cause Susan is dead. So I thought if I could get a little girl to take Susan’s place we could have Christmas, and get a tree and do all the things we’ve done…”
And then I turned to run upstairs, because I felt so ashamed that I had cried so much when I was a big boy nine years old. But there was mother in front of me. Her eyes were full of shining tears.
“Jerry,” she said, and pulled me down onto her lap on the stairs.
She held my head against her dress, and it felt so good because it was the first time since Susan’s funeral, and I cried a little bit more. Then I felt her lips on my forehead, and it was wonderful.
“Jerry, will you please forgive me?” she said, and all I could do was put my arms around her neck and hug her tight.
Rosalie was fussing again. “I want my mommy,” she whimpered.
“It seems this child wants her mother,” Aunt Jane said. “Somebody’d better take her home.”
Then I remembered. I slid off mother’s lap and stood on the stairs. “But I promised Mrs. Durphy we would buy her a Toni doll and a writing desk and a lot of other things,” I said.
Daddy came over and put one hand on my shoulder and the other around mother. “I guess at least part of that can be arranged, Son,” he said.
Aunt Jane winked at me.
“I don’t want a dolly. I want my mommy,” wept Rosalie.
“Jerry,” Aunt Jane asked, “is this one of those children who live down by the river?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Aren’t there a lot of other children down there?”
“The whole house is full of them,” I said.
“I think there are eight,” mother said. “We shall bring them all up for Christmas.”
“Jerry,” Aunt Jennie said, “it looks as though you and I had better take Rosalie home tonight and tell Mrs. Durphy to get ready for Christmas.”
I looked at the ruffly dress and ribbons. “I’d better go take these off,” I said.
“No, Jerry,” mother said quickly. “Tell Mrs. Durphy that Rosalie may have them. And I’ll fix a box tomorrow with some more of Susan’s things. She could probably use them.”
As I closed the door I could see daddy’s arms around mother, and I guess he was going to kiss her, but there wasn’t time for me to get mixed up in the pie now.