From the Relief Society Magazine, December 1941 –
As Little Children
By Olive W. Burt
Sally forgot breakfast, forgot Hugh sitting across from her, forgot everything but the snow, falling in soft, thick flakes. It was perfect Christmas weather. Tears glistened on her lashes.
Hugh saw the tears and patted her hand comfortingly. Then he rescued the smouldering toast, buttered it thoughtfully, and began carefully:
“I’ve been thinking, Sally. Why can’t we …” he stumbled over the words, then went on desperately, “why can’t we borrow a kid for Christmas? Or two? It’s a shame to waste all our work – all our plans.”
Sally’s tears dropped slowly.
“They are already wasted, Hugh,” she said bitterly.
“I know how you feel, sweetheart,” he said, “but think it over. It’s the only way that I can figure out for us to get past Christmas with even a little happiness. And there must be kids, plenty of them, at the orphans’ home, or someplace.”
He got up from the table, kissed Sally good-by, grabbed his hat and dashed for the bus. Sally didn’t bother to go to the door with him. She was too unhappy.
She was thinking of the June day when they had moved into this adorable little house, filled with plans and hopes. They had decorated the nursery in anticipation of an expected occupant. They had planted two tall evergreens by the door on purpose to trim this Christmas so that baby eyes would glow with wonder. They had even – Sally thought her heart would break – purchased toys from time to time – dolls and cuddly bears with her extra money; funny mechanical toys, boxing gloves so tiny that they made you laugh, and even an elaborate train were Hugh’s contributions. Yes, their time and work had been wasted, for there had come a day when Sally had gone to the hospital, and when she returned there was no downy bundle in her arms – only an aching void in her heart.
She laid her head on her arms and cried softly for a few minutes. Then she raised her bright head defiantly.
Hugh was right. There was only one way to get past this holiday, and that was to face it, gaily and confidently, with little children around them.
She walked slowly to the telephone in the hall, looked up a number, dialed, and waited.
When a voice answered, Sally began eagerly, almost breathlessly, explaining what she wanted. But a few moments later she hung up the receiver, a slightly baffled look on her face. There were no children in the city orphanage – not one – left for Christmas.
Hastily she found another number and repeated her request, to receive the same answer. She tried again and again.
At last she sat back completely at a loss as to what to do. No children anywhere that she could help! She was suddenly afraid. How could she tell Hugh this? How could she disappoint him again?
Then she remembered Grandma Allen, her stand-by ever since she had moved into the new little house. Grandma Allen knew everything and everybody. She had been midwife and nurse. She called upon the poor everywhere. She would know of some child, perhaps some children.
Throwing a coat over her shoulders, she ran through the soft snow, cross-lots, to Grandma Allen’s. When she came back home an hour later, the sun was shining on the snow, but the new flakes did not glisten a whit more brightly than Sally’s eyes.
This time she dialed with assurance, repeated her request while her lips quivered between pathos and merriment, and hung up the receiver assured that she would have her Christmas guests.
“But could you take more than two, Mrs. Barnard?’ the voice had pleaded over the phone. “We have several here who will be so lonesome Christmas day. It would be a really generous act to take as many as you can.”
So Sally had ended by promising to provide Christmas cheer for seven. She didn’t know what Hugh would think of that. After all …
And Hugh was amazed.
“Darling!” he expostulated, aghast. “Seven! They’ll wreck the place! And we haven’t toys enough …”
“I got a list of the things they want most … We can get these and add them to what we already have. Oh, Hugh! It means shopping and excitement and trimming the tree. And we must have popcorn to pop over the fire …”
Hugh was so glad to see Sally interested and happy again that he shrugged his misgivings aside. If Sally wanted seven youngsters for Christmas, he thought grimly, he’d stand by.
It was fun shopping. Sally and Hugh pushed through the Christmas crowds with their crumpled list. Poor kids, Hugh thought, they didn’t ask for expensive things – tiddly-winks, a spool knitting set, a good pocketknife, a box of bright silk pieces, games, Chinese checkers, candy. Hugh, on his own, added grotesque mechanical clowns, bright beads, odds and ends that he thought the children would love.
The plans called for a full day.
The guests would be delivered at the Barnards’ door at 9 a.m. on Christmas day. There would be the tree first of all, then breakfast, games and a sleigh ride; dinner, corn popping and more games would follow, and the party would end at seven or eight o’clock that evening.
Both Sally and Hugh worked desperately all the day before Christmas. They trimmed the tree in the living room and set the toys around it. Each gift was labeled with a name – Mary, Jim, Bob, Annie – simple enough little designations to distinguish these poor Christmas waifs.
Hugh marveled at Sally’s gaiety. His simple little plan was succeeding better than he had dared to hope. She seemed sparkling with inner merriment and laughter. Even on Christmas morning, when Hugh’s anticipation was tinged with a slight dread at the thought of seven untamed youngsters, Sally kept running to the window, eager, watching.
Then the cars were out in front, and Hugh and Sally ran out to help them unload. Hugh stood absolutely still, his mouth dropping open as he saw his guests. Tiny, frail old women, wrinkled old men … Sally shouted, “Come on, Hugh, let’s help them in!”
There was no time to ask questions. The old people were hurried into the house.
They took off their wraps in a flurry of excitement, dim eyes darting here and there, looking, Hugh suspected, for the tree. Sally flung back the living room door, and Jim and Mary, Bob and Annie and the rest were on their knees, scrambling for their gifts, exclaiming with delight.
Hugh, watching them, said, “I don’t get it, Sally.”
Sally smiled up at him. “There weren’t any lonely children, honey,” she whispered, “but Grandma Allen said there were always lots of lonely old folks. She reminded me that the Savior had said, ‘Except ye become as little children’ – and these are nearly ready for the kingdom of heaven, Hugh, so …”
“I do get it, sweetheart,” Hugh whispered, his lips against her hair. Then he let her go suddenly.
“Hey, Bob, let me help you with that train!”
Sally smiled as Hugh got down on his knees with Bob and Jim and Tom, oblivious of all the rest, a quartet of boys with an electric train.