From the Relief Society Magazine, December 1940 –
Dreams Are for Christmas
By Beatrice Rordame Parsons
Jon Wayne came into the kitchen, a frown hovering between his dark brows. He didn’t like the buzz and excitement of the last few days. Everybody in the house was upset. his wife seemed a stranger, distraught, impatient, forever rushing about with great bundles in her arms. The children had been unusually trying. At this moment, Deck was speaking in a loud, excited tone.
Deck was thirteen, a lanky kid with a stub nose and freckles. His hands and feet were too big, and as he took his seat at the breakfast table, his shoes made dark scars against the newly-waxed linoleum. It seemed to Jon that Deck’s voice was louder than usual.
“Thank goodness today’s the last day of school. Hope Ole Martin doesn’t give us an English assignment for the Christmas holidays. I’ve got a lot o’ things to do.”
His father frowned. A lot of things! He could imagine. Deck always had a lot of things to do – so many things that he could not chop a little kindling or take out the ashes on ash day. Jon hated to admit it, even to himself, but his son was a trifler. His frown darkened as he thought of it, then disappeared a little as Madge came into the kitchen.
“Hi, Maggie,” cried Deck, and the smile that had decorated Madge’s pretty face disappeared, and she appealed to her mother.
“Make him quit saying that. He knows I hate it!” She touched her newly-done hair with cool little fingers and tried to look aloof and grown up.
Jon had a smile behind his morning paper. Madge was eighteen, and still his baby. He couldn’t imagine her grownup. But eying her from behind the paper, he had to admit that he didn’t like what he saw – too much lipstick, too many curls, a petulant, impatient look about her small, red mouth.
Suddenly, Jon dropped his paper and stared at his children. What had happened to them? Where were the smiling, happy babies he had once known, the babies who had climbed on his knees and begged for candy with kisses? He wondered if he hadn’t dreamed it. These children weren’t the same. They were hard, selfish little people, disrespectful to each other, and – he had to admit it – to their elders. Even as he thought, Madge leaned across the table and poured herself a glass of milk, entirely ignoring her father’s glass. Jon’s voice was crisp, disapproving.
“In my day, Madge, children were taught to help their parents first. It was very rude of you …” He stopped. Madge wasn’t listening. She had turned to her mother and was speaking eagerly.
“Don’t forget my Christmas present.” She’d been harping on that same subject for weeks. She wanted a party frock, a pink one. She reiterated the fact loudly: “Pink, Mother!”
Her mother, busy at the stove, nodded a little absent-mindedly, and said: “I must remember cranberries and yams. The turkey is ready in the refrigerator, and…”
Deck interrupted rudely. “I get that bike, remember. You said I could have it.” He turned to Madge, and added: “I get my bike even if you don’t get that silly dress.”
Like a small child, Madge put out her tongue. Deck guffawed rudely. Jon spoke indignantly.
“In my day, Deck, children didn’t interrupt their mother. And they didn’t put out their tongues, Madge, when they were young ladies.”
His last words were drowned out by the spattering of the eggs, as Mrs. Wayne lifted them from the frying pan onto the hot platter. Jon found himself wondering, impatiently, if either of his offspring would have paid any attention, anyway. Eleanor sat down and poured herself a glass of milk, reaching across Deck’s plate for the pitcher. Jon was loudly indignant.
“If Christmas is going to change this house into a …”
Eleanor smiled and put an egg and a crisp slice of bacon on his plate.
“Christmas is exciting, isn’t it, Jon?” she asked, and her eyes were shining. “Christmas is in the heart, Jon. That’s what makes it so wonderful.”
He looked at her in astonishment. Was this what she called the Christmas Spirit – Madge and Deck squabbling all through breakfast, forgetting to pass the milk, growling at each other over their presents? Bah! If this were Christmas, he’d take the Fourth of July!
Eleanor didn’t pay any attention to his surprised look. She was speaking again, still smilingly, but there was a worried little frown on her forehead.
“I think we can manage Madge’s dress, Jon, and the bike. My permanent…”
Jon knew she had been wanting a permanent for Christmas, and now she was giving it up so that the children … He burst into hot words: “I don’t think…”
She patted his hand. “Everything’s going to work out just right,” she said eagerly, and looked at Madge. The girls’ young eyes were shining.
“Oh, Mother!” she cried. “I’m sure Ken will like it!”
Jon listened, stupefied. Not a word about being sorry that her mother couldn’t have a new permanent; just her own selfish desire that Ken might like her!
In spite of himself, looking at his daughter’s lovely, flushed face, Jon had to admit that she was beautiful. She was exactly like her mother. He remembered their first Christmas together. Eleanor had worn a pink dress. She had looked like a Christmas angel in it. It had been that dress that had given him the courage to ask her to marry him.
He felt a curious little shock as he thought about Madge and Ken. Would Ken be wanting to marry Madge – Ken who didn’t even have a job?
Jon didn’t quite approve of Ken. He was a tall young man with a rather loud voice and a pair of long legs that stuck out so that people tripped over them. He had just finished college, but he hadn’t found anything to do. He didn’t seem to worry about it. He lived at home, and often said:
“The Old Man is looking after me until I get what I want.’ That was kids nowadays – choosy, hanging on to their father’s coattails. What if Ken married Madge and came to live with them? The thought made him wince. Why, when he and Eleanor had married, he’d started the little jewelry business on Elm Street.
He remembered how proud he was when he opened the door and showed Eleanor the scanty store of watches, rings and diamonds that went to make up his stock. He had said with all the eagerness, the ambition of a young businessman:
“You’ll see, darling, we’re going to be wealthy. Someday I’m going to give you a diamond as big as a pea.” He had kissed the slim hand with the quarter-carat diamond on the fourth finger, and had resolved, then and there, that Eleanor Wayne should wear the finest jewelry in all Millville.
But that had been a dream. Of course, they had lived. He had managed to keep the business through thick and thin, through Depression and Recovery. But they had never grown wealthy. Since the children came, there had been so many places to put the money. He’d done everything he could, but still his children weren’t satisfied. Listen, for instance, to Deck!
“Wish there was a real Santa – ole fellow to bring everything a guy wants …”
Yes, that’s all children thought of nowadays – getting everything they wanted. Jon got quite a jolt to hear Deck add:
“But Christmas is pretty swell most any way you look at it. I’m going to trim the tree as soon as I get back…”
Madge’s eyes were bright. “Right before dinner, Deck? Then I can help before Ken gets here.”
Jon felt as though his eardrums had played him false. Could it really be that those were his children speaking to each other?
A loud tooting of an automobile horn blasted through the clear, frosty air of the garden into the kitchen. Madge jumped to her feet, almost upsetting her chair. Her face was as bright as a Christmas candle, and her arms were eager as they slipped into her coat. She tossed a kiss to her mother and one to Jon, and her voice was filled with excitement.
“Well, darling, be sure to bring home the bacon tonight!”
Then she was gone, her lithe, slender figure flying out of the door and down the snowy, garden path. She smiled as she climbed in at Ken’s side, and Jon watched the car disappear with a queer expression in his gray eyes.
“Bring home the bacon!” That’s what she had said. There had been nothing like: “I love you, Daddy,” or “Good luck!” It was just “bring home the bacon!” He turned the phrase over in his mind. Was that really the way Madge thought of him, the man who worked to earn the money to buy pink frocks for Ken to admire?
He almost groaned. There was the younger generation for you – callous, selfish, parasitical! Great guns, didn’t Madge realize that he was her father – not just a machine for turning out dollars! Why hadn’t her mother made the girl understand?
He looked at Eleanor. Her pretty face was flushed and rosy. She was making a list of groceries, biting the end of her pencil as she thought. Jon watched the list grow and mentally contemplated the bill. Eleanor was being ridiculous. Surely, no family of four needed all the things that were going on that paper. He watched her smile and write: “Oranges.” “Well,” he thought, “she’ll be worried enough when the bill comes in at the end of the month. Then she’ll be sorry.”
But he had a strange thought. Somehow Eleanor seemed to enjoy all this – the scheming, the going without. She looked up at him now, and her eyes were glistening with unshed tears.
“I’m making up a basket for Mrs. Hazelton, and one for poor, old Mr. Hansen. I do hope you don’t mind, Jon.”
Jon felt a queer, breathless pain in his heart as he looked at her. Somehow he felt a little jealous. Yes, Eleanor did get a great deal of pleasure out of her scheming and cutting corners. Giving, she had always said, was the best part of Christmas. He felt a great surge of happiness and leaned across the table to touch her hand. But his moment was spoiled. Deck spoke impatiently.
“Dad, I’ve been talking to you for half an hour. I need a dollar.”
Jon felt almost angry. He glanced out of the window at the queer, jagged little holes Madge’s galoshes had made down the garden walk, and said loudly: “Didn’t I ask you to clean the walks?”
Deck’s grin was sheepish. “I forgot …” He looked slightly contrite, and finished with a rush: “I’ll do ‘em after I come home.” He looked out of the window and saw a group of boys waiting for him. He snatched his jacket from the back of his chair, where he had had it handy, and rushed away. But he came back to ask: “Do I get that dollar, Dad? I’ve got t’ have it to buy your present.”
Jon watched him rush down the walk waving the dollar at the eager boys, and again he felt a grave bit of wonder rushing over him. That was the way with children nowadays – taking everything, giving nothing. His eyes sought the great piles of snow against the garage doors, and he groaned, remembering he would have to shovel them away before he could get out the car.
He was almost through when Eleanor came out, a coat hanging loosely over her neat, brown hair, her face still glowing as though someone had lighted candles behind it.
“Be sure to remember the mistletoe, Jon,” she said. “It will seem more like Christmas with mistletoe.”
Mistletoe! Jon felt his heart stir. He had kissed her first under a tiny sprig of mistletoe that had hung in her father’s home. He could remember, even now, the sweetness of her cool, eager lips. He bent his head as though to feel that same sweet eagerness, but she kissed him absent-mindedly, and he let her go with a sigh.
Somehow they seemed so far apart. Somehow the children had formed a wedge between them. He had wanted to talk to Eleanor about the children. He had wanted to ask her if there wasn’t something they could do to make them more human, more understanding. But she was so excited about the mistletoe that he couldn’t talk to her now. He got into the car and raised a gloved hand in a little wave. Then he glided through the snow of the driveway out into the street.
The store seemed unusually dusty and unattractive as he opened the door. His stock was so small. Everything had been picked over. Just a few cheap watches were left, a gold ring or two, and that two-carat diamond he had been idiotic enough to buy because it had seemed such a bargain.
He brought the diamond from the safe and put it on a velvet cushion. It was so lovely, so clear, so sparkling, so bright. All at once he had an idea. It was like the star that had shone over Bethlehem. It should shine alone in his window this day. It might bring him luck. Something nice might happen because of that shining star. He felt almost cheerful as he dusted and put the store to rights. Now he was ready for that unexpected customer.
But it was old Mrs. Carter who opened the door. She had come, for the hundredth time, to look at that cheap wristwatch for her grandson, Hal Carter.
Jon smiled his disapproval. There, if anywhere, was an utterly selfish, thoughtless boy. Mrs. Carter couldn’t really afford the watch, even though it was cheap. But she was holding it tenderly, almost reverently, in her worn, old hand.
“Hal would love it,” she said wistfully.
Jon hadn’t meant to, but he said: “You’re lucky, Mrs. Carter. I’m cutting the price on everything twenty-five percent today, as a Christmas cleanup. That’ll make the watch just three dollars.” Twenty-five percent! he thought, sardonically. He hoped Mrs. Carter wouldn’t realize that for some ridiculous reason he had cut the price almost fifty percent. But Mrs. Carter wasn’t thinking about percents. She was eagerly scratching together the dimes and pennies in her worn, old pocketbook.
Trembling, she put them into his hand. “Hal has wanted a watch so long,” she said, and her voice was a tiny bit shaky. “All the other fellows have one…”
“That’s just it,” interrupted Jon, “the kids nowadays take so much for granted.”
“Oh, I don’t think so, Jon,” said Mrs. Carter gently. Somehow, she reminded him of Eleanor as she said: “It’s only that there is so much nowadays for children to want – so many nice things.” Her old eyes grew thoughtful. “I always wanted a chatelaine watch when I was a girl, but Father and Mother never seemed able to spare the money.” She held out her hand and accepted the package almost anxiously. Then she tucked it into her purse, and said: “Merry Christmas, Jon, and thank you.”
Jon stared after her bent, old figure as she went up the street. So she had known about the fifty percent! He smiled a little, and thought: “Her father might have bought her a watch. It’s such a little thing, and he was well off.” He turned back to the store, and added gruffly: “Bunk! I must be getting soft! Christmas isn’t what it used to be!”
His heart yearned suddenly for the Christmases he had known when he was a child – the homemade candy, the popcorn balls, the tree that must be cut and brought in from the hills.
“We kids appreciated Christmas,” whispered Jon to himself. “We didn’t expect the world with a string on it.” Anger burned in his heart. He remembered the stories his mother had told him about her first Christmas in Utah. “Christmas was really Christmas then,” thought Jon, “it was love and sacrifice – something to be remembered.”
Jon shivered as a great blast of cold air came upon him, and he turned to see Madge and Ken coming through the door. Something shone in their young eyes that made Jon’s suddenly wet. He put the memory of those other Christmases behind him, and greeted them with a quick, glad smile.
“Mr. Wayne,” said Ken, manfully, “I want to buy a ring, a diamond ring.” His young face was suddenly flushed, and he added: “Madge and I are going to be married in June.” He lifted his red head and looked proudly into Jon’s eyes.”I’ve found a job – not a grand one, but a job. It’s going to be better later on when I’ve had experience. I’m going to build a little house, and…”
Jon didn’t hear the rest. He was remembering with a queer, little shock that just that morning he had expected Madge and Ken to move in on him. And here they were – the two young love-birds – facing him eagerly, explaining how they were going to fend for themselves. Jon felt his legs go a little weak and grasped the counter for support.
Ken was pointing into the case where the rings were displayed. “I want a small diamond,” he said defiantly. “I can’t expect to start where my father is now. Madge won’t mind a small stone when she knows that someday I’ll buy her a bigger one.”
Jon’s hands trembled as he took out the rings and put them on the counter. Faintly, from a distance, he heard Ken and Madge selecting the ring. Faintly, and from a distance, he heard his own voice saying:
“Someday, Eleanor, I’ll bring you a diamond that’s worthy of your loveliness.”
Good grief! He’d never bought her another one. She still wore the tiny stone they had selected when they were married. She had always been so proud of that tiny stone. His eyes traveled quickly to the shining gem in the window. Why hadn’t he thought of it before! That was the present for Eleanor. It belonged to her. It had belonged to her the moment he had bought it. He’d take it home to her tonight, and in the morning he’d put it on her finger. It would always be a token of his love –always the shining token of all Christmases to come, all Christmases that had ever come. He left so exhilarated, so happy, so gay that he found himself saying loudly:
“You’re in luck, young man! I’m having a fifty percent sale today.” At the startled, denying look that flashed into Madge’s eyes, he cried: “Just gave Mrs. Carter fifty percent off on Hal’s watch. I aim to do the same for you.”
Ken’s face was a study in astonishment and joy. He picked up the ring and slipped it on Madge’s white finger. She turned her hand this way and that, watching the facets gleam, and trying not to look too proud and overjoyed. Her grin was flippant, as were her words.
“Sure it’s genuine at that price, Daddy? I’d hate, after a while,” her eyes teased Ken, “to have to pawn it and find it was paste.”
“I’m guaranteeing it, baby,” he said, and felt his heart glow. He hadn’t called her “baby” for years, but all at once she seemed the same close, sweet baby she had been so long ago. He put his arm about her and kissed her gently. Then he asked: “Does Mother…?”
“We told her first,”cried Madge eagerly.” She said it was all right.” Her eyes met his with a straight, fearless look, and she added: “About Mother’s permanent, Dad. You needn’t worry, she’s going to get it. I’ve been walking to work and saving on lunches. I wanted to give her something of my very own.”
“I’m glad,” said Jon simply, and kissed her again. As he watched her going up the street on Ken’s arm, his heart was a mixture of pain and gladness. Madge would come through all right!
It was late afternoon when Deck came into the store. He opened the door with his usual rush, and shouted: “Say, Dad, if you and Mom can’t manage that dress for Madge, I’ve got some money. I sold my stamp collection, and…” He broke off excitedly and held out a few lean bills.
Jon stared at them. Deck’s beloved stamp collection! He felt a lump coming into his throat, and he heard the boy say: “I sold my baseball bat and mitt, too, and got a present for Mom.” He searched about in his pocket and dug out a silver dollar. It made a tinkling silver sound as he put it on the counter. “Don’t need that, Dad, got your present out of something else I sold.”
Jon’s voice was gruff, because if it hadn’t been it would have been tender. He looked at the dollar, and said: “That’s all right, fellow, keep it. I don’t need it, and there might be something you’d like to have.”
For a moment their eyes met, man to man; and for some unaccountable reason, Jon’s hand went out. Deck’s grubby little fist tightened about his father’s fingers, and Jon felt a great happiness surge into his heart. Deck was all right, too!
They shook hands, and Jon said: “I’m thinking of closing early tonight. Want to close the shutters while I wrap up a last minute gift? Then we’ll walk home together.”
Deck rushed clatteringly away to close the shutters, and Jon wrapped the ring in a bit of bright paper. The two men were smiling broadly as they left the store. Jon looked down at the top of his son’s battered cap, and his voice was eager.
“Christmas isn’t Christmas without mistletoe, Deck. We’ll have to buy an armload!”