Jill heard the gentle clinking of ice cubes. She and Jennifer were snuggled, each in their twin bed, reading. Jennifer, in kindergarten, was only ‘pretend’ reading her favorite book, ‘Papa Small.’
Dad appeared in the doorway, balancing three Flintstone glasses of Coke in his hands.
“I brought you a little drinkie,” Dad offered the first glass to Jennifer. She dropped her book onto the covers and reached for the evening treat.
Mother peeked in the door. “Lights out soon. We’re going to Woolworths to do our family Christmas shopping tomorrow.”
“Good!” Jill said, reaching for her glass from Dad.
“I can’t wait to see what you’ll get me!” Dad said in his joking voice. He left to bring Wendy the remaining Coke.
Jill finished her drink and scooted farther under the green corduroy covers.
“Lights out,” Dad leaned in their door.
” I know what I want for Christmas…,” Jill whispered to Jennifer, reaching towards the switch on her lamp.
“You want that baby doll,” Jennifer whispered back. Jill always talked about dolls. “I wanna get Mother something really good. It’s so hard to think of something.”
“It is,” Jill agreed. They both fell asleep.
Saturday morning, Jill, Jennifer and Wendy ran down the front steps to the car. They wore their matching winter jackets to keep out the brisk December weather.
“I call the front seat!” Wendy yelled.
“I need to run a quick errand, ” Mother said as she climbed into the car. “I’ll only be a minute. Then we’ll go to Woolworths.”
When they arrived at Lord & Taylor, Wendy said, “”We’ll just wait in the car.”
“I want to go in,” Jill said. In August, she had fallen in love with a doll in their toy department. A pink suited Madame Alexander baby doll. Small tufts of fine blond hair peeked out from her pink silk bonnet. Sweet lips and blue eyes lit up her chubby face. Every time Jill visited that store she held her baby in her arms.
“No, I’ll just be a minute,” Mother said, getting out of the car and hurrying toward the door.
When Mother returned, Jill asked anxiously, “Is my doll still there?”
“I didn’t even go upstairs!” Mother answered. “I was picking up a pair of shoes. You girls have so many dolls. Now on to Woolworths!”
The wind blew them inside Woolworth’s door.
Jill looked around at the wooden aisles filled with needs and wants that she and her sisters shopped through most Saturdays. Each week Dad would give them an assortment of change to spend before they walked there with their friend Nancy, from across the street.
Today, Mother oversaw the Christmas expedition. She lifted a maroon shopping basket on her arm, ready to hide the gifts they would find. They each had two dollars to spend. That two dollars must pay for four gifts.
“Do you have some ideas for each other?” Mother asked. Jill had one present settled. Dad’s. She would get him a comb. He had mentioned at dinner the night before that he needed a new comb.
“You have fifty cents for each gift,” Mother reminded. “Wendy, you start on this aisle. Jennifer, you go to the next row. Jill, start here.”
Jill began searching in the art section, her favorite. “Maybe Jennifer would like something here.”
“This might be handy for Jennifer’s desk,” she thought, picking up a pair of scissors. Then she looked at the price: 99 cents. Too much for one gift. “What else could Jennifer use for her desk?” She spotted a jar of paste, and picked it up to look at the tag.
“Only 49 cents. Perfect, ” she headed towards Mother. She found her in the next aisle, trying to keep Jennifer from seeing what Wendy was picking out. “Here, Mother, this goes in your basket.”
Then she headed towards the hair care aisle for Dad. She bumped into Jennifer, running from the jewelry section.
“I’ve found the most beautiful present for Mother!” Jennifer panted. She held a small box in her hand.
“What?” Jill asked. Jennifer didn’t stop.
“I found you the most wonderful present, Mother!” Jennifer exclaimed, when she found Mother by the dishes.
“Good,” Mother smiled.
“It cost a dollar,” Jennifer whispered.
“That’s too much!” Mother protested. “How will you have enough for your other presents?”
“I don’t care,” Jennifer insisted, her eyes still bright. “I know you’re really gonna love this.”
Mother hesitated. She wanted Jennifer put it back. But Jennifer was so excited.
“Alright,” Mother relented.
Jennifer dropped the box into Mother’s basket, her gift nestled beside the other Christmas treasures.
That afternoon Dad squeezed through the front door with The Tree smashed around his body.
“Mother! Girls!” he called. He leaned the tree against the wall and called again. The sisters were watching “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol’ downstairs. “Our Christmas tree has arrived!”
The scent of fresh pine greeted Jill when she walked into the living room. Fir needles littered the green carpet as Dad carried it to the front picture window.
“It’s so tall!” Wendy exclaimed, right behind her.
Mother appeared from the kitchen where she was making her mother’s roll out Christmas shortbread cookies. “It doesn’t look very …full,” she remarked, examining the tree.
“It smells so good!” Jennifer said. “Can we decorate it?”
“After dinner,” said Mother.
“Help me, girls,” Dad directed as as he got down on his knees to fasten the tree in the stand. “… while I fiddle with this bloomin’ thing.”
“It doesn’t have any branches on this side,” Jennifer observed.
“There!” he announced, standing up to see his purchase.
“It’s empty on that one side,” Wendy agreed with Jennifer.
“It will look fine once we get the doodads on it,” Dad believed in his choice. “The empty spots will help with conversation. See, a person sitting on this side of the tree can talk to the person sitting on the other side, right through it!”
“Can’t we decorate it now?” Jill begged.
“After dinner,” Dad agreed with Mother.
The girls slept under the tree that night, now dripping with lights, ornaments and tinsel. Their heads rested on their soft pillows, heads tucked under the lowest branches.
“Look at the ceiling! I see designs of the pine branches,” Jill pointed.
“I can’t wait til Christmas morning to give Mother her present!” Jennifer talked about Mother’s present every day.
“Is that all you’re thinking about?” asked Wendy, propping herself up on her elbow.
“Well…” Jennifer added, “It’s the best gift I’ve ever found.”
“You haven’t given that many gifts,” Wendy said, laying back down. “You’re only five.”
“Five and a half,” Jennifer said. “And it’s the best present.”
“I hope I get my doll,” Jill said. “She’s the most beautiful baby doll ever.”
“Oh you and your dolls,” Wendy frowned. She had never played with baby dolls, like Jill and Jennifer.
In the pine scented, twinkling lit room they soon stopped talking. Their eyes closed. Dad peeked in and turned off the lights on the tree.
Christmas morning arrived. Bright sunshine poured in the dining room window and filled the living room, too. The Mitchell family gathered around the tree in their pajamas. The space under the tree that had been empty the night before now was bursting with boxes disguised in Christmas paper decorated with ribbons.
“The first thing we need to do, now that you’ve opened your stockings, is to have breakfast,” Mother announced.
“Breakfast?!” all three girls cried.
“Yes, I want to relax and enjoy this morning,” Mother answered.
“That will take so long, to have breakfast!” they moaned.
They looked longingly at the packages stacked under the tree.
Jennifer started to cry. “I want you to open your present.”
Jill and Wendy started to cry, too.
“Well isn’t this a lovely Christmas,” Dad sighed.
“Girls,” Mother calmly continued, “We’ve waited this many days. You can wait a little longer. Let’s go in the kitchen and I’ll put the kettle on for Dad’s tea.”
After breakfast, Dad moved his dining room chair next to the presents. The sisters sat around him on the carpet. Mother pulled her red velvet chair nearer to the tree.
“First l’ll read the Christmas story from Luke 2,” Dad did that every Christmas.
Jill could hardly wait any longer. Jennifer bounced up and down.
“At that time the Roman emporer, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken….,” Dad began. “…I bring you good news that will bring joy to all people. The Savior has been born today….” Later, he finished, “… it was just as the angels had told them.” He closed his Bible. Mother walked over to the presents. She picked out three packages that looked the same size.
“Here’s a present for each of the girls,” Mother handed three flat gifts to Dad.
Dad passed them out, reading the tags. “To Jill, love, Santa”, “To Jennifer, Love, Santa” , “Wendy, love, Santa”
“Look, a Peanuts calendar!” Jill exclaimed. Wendy unwrapped a “Dresses of Jackie Kennedy” calendar. Jennifer got a Suzi’s Zoo.
Jennifer watched Dad hand out presents as if he was passing out gold pieces.
“Dad, where’s the green present?” Jennifer asked. “My present for Mother.”
Jill’s opened gifts sat neatly in a pile next to her. The high stack around the tree got shorter and shorter. But no doll.
“What a thoughtful gift,” Mother said as she unwrapped a book from Aunt Marian.
Jennifer opened the jar of paste from Jill, selected carefully that Saturday at Woolworths. “I love this!”
“Here’s a big package for Jill, from Santa,” Dad handed her a long rectangular box with a red ribbon. Mother set the book she was looking at in her lap.
Jill pulled off the paper. Tiny pink flowers covered the box. “Madame Alexander” was written in lacy handwriting across the top. Jill opened the box and sniffed. She drank in the scent of her new doll, the exact one, with the pink silk bonnet.
“Oh! Mother! Dad! Thank you! Thank you!” She took her new baby out of the box and felt her softness melt into her arms. “She’s just right! She’s so beautiful! Thank you!”
Dad and Mother beamed. Dad turned back to the few gifts left under the tree.
“Here’s a small one for Mother,” he said.
Jennifer jumped up. That was her tissue wrapping! “I’ll give it to Mother.”
She took the gift out of Dad’s hand and placed it triumphantly in Mother’s.
“I can’t imagine what it can be!” Mother smiled.
She unwrapped Jennifer’s treasure. “What a nice box.”
Then she carefully lifted the lid. Her eyes widened with surprise.
“I absolutely love it!” she exclaimed with the perfect timing and poise an actress would use to win an Academy Award. “I’ve never seen anything quite so… wonderful for Christmas!”
“Let us see it!” Wendy cried. “Hold it up.”
“Wait,” Mother raised her hand. “Jennifer, I want you to show everyone.”
Jennifer proudly displayed it: a two inch plastic pin of Santa’s head. In the place of his nose sat a tiny red bulb. A red string with a jingle bell was attached at the bottom of the pin.
“It’s Santa!” Jill exclaimed.
“LOOK at this…” Jennifer pointed out. “When you pull the string, his nose lights up.”
Jennifer’s small fingers clasped the thread and yanked. The tiny red bulb at Santa’s nose came to life. It glowed.
“That’s cool!” Wendy said.
“Jennifer, this is my best Christmas present,” Mother said. “I just love it.”
Jennifer’s eyes shone.
“Ruth, you’ll be the only one at church with a creation like that!” Dad said.
Mother pulled the string, too. Once again, the red nose lit. Then she set the Santa pin neatly back on the cotton in it’s box.
“I want to try lighting up Santa,” Wendy said.
“No. I don’t want to wear him out,” Mother answered. “I want him to stay special. I’m going to wear this on my jacket. ”
Mother smiled at Jennifer.
“I thought you might really like it,” Jennifer said shyly.
“This is the best Christmas I’ve ever had,” Mother announced.
That night, Jill tucked her new baby into the toy crib jammed next to her bed. Jennifer was already snuggled under her covers.
“You won’t be able to get out of bed,” yawned Jennifer.
“It is pretty smooshed,” Jill said. She pulled her covers back and jumped under the icy sheets. “Mother really liked the Santa pin.”
“I know,” Jennifer said. “Best Christmas ever.”
“Yup,” Jill agreed.
Best Christmas ever.
MORAL: “Love people, not things.”
Thanks to Jennifer, who now owns the Santa pin that Mother showed off many years at Christmas speaking engagements.