Erica looked at her mother’s red eyes. Tears flooded her own eyes as her mother explained their Christmas would be different because her father had been out of work for awhile. They needed to keep food on the table for Erica and her little brother, Michael. There would not be any gifts this year.
Later, after Erica and Michael had been put to bed, their mother, Angie, worked feverishly crafting special gifts for her children. She did not want them to do without. For children this was a special time of the year and she knew at six and four years old they couldn’t comprehend the meaning of their father not working.
“I see you’re at it again,” John said to his wife. After another unsuccessful day his spirits were down. “How do you do it?”
“If you had seen the look in Erica’s eyes you would know,” Angie replied to her husband. “She doesn’t understand. I know she’ll be devastated if there isn’t a gift under the tree.”
“With all our problems and adversity you find time to think about what is most important,” John said, continuing to marvel at his wife’s commitment. “It’s no wonder I love you so much.”
“I need to keep working. Tomorrow night is Christmas Eve. Dinner is in the fridge. You’ll have to warm it up.” Angie returned her attention to the homemade gifts.
Dawn of the next morning brought a chill wind. Blowing across the already frozen ground covered in white, it tossed around the little sparkles of crystallized flakes. Erica and Michael scurried into the kitchen for breakfast. A small bowl of warm cereal awaited them. Powdered milk and a spoon full of honey to sweeten were poured on top.
Erica looked at the cereal and wanted to complain. Her mother had given her and her brother the same thing every morning for the past week. Michael wasn’t bothered by the repetition, he was hungry. Erica began eating, thankful there was something.
It was a special day, the day before Christmas. There was loads of activity as people finished preparations for Christmas day. Shoppers bought last minute items, knitters finished their knitting, and sewers finished their sewing. And Angie worked hard to finish her homemade gifts.
Bundled up, the children played in the yard giving their mother the needed extra time to work on their gifts. Because John was out of work, they could not afford to buy gifts for their children. One homemade gift under a small tree from the woods behind their house was all they would see in the morning. Even the day before Christmas there was nothing under the sparely decorated tree.
As Erica and Michael played, their mother worked. The children played so well together. Erica loved her little brother and doted over him. She thought she was his guardian. Angie watched her daughter and smiled. At such a young age she saw the signs of a caring person. Her heart was warmed by the actions of her daughter. She watched and remembered that Christmas was about more than receiving gifts. It was about family and love and being together. It was about loving one another and loving Jesus, whose birthday they would be celebrating. She thought about her emotions in the morning when they listened to the story of Jesus’ birth. But, she also knew children needed a gift under the tree.
“I’m hungry, mommy,” Erica said, startling her mother. “What are you doing?”
Angie looked up at her daughter and then at the wall clock. She had gotten so involved in finishing her children gifts that she had lost track of time. It was three in the afternoon and she hadn’t fed her children any lunch. Ashamed, she put her work down in the basket beside her feet and rose from her chair. “I am so sorry, sweetheart. I will get something for you and Michael right now.”
She handed her children a slice of bread with a thin spread of jam on top moments later. Erica took note it was the same as the past few days, but she did not complain. Instead, she looked at her mother and asked, “Are we going to have Christmas this year? It is okay if we don’t, mommy. We can wait until next year. Maybe daddy will be working.”
“We will have Christmas, I promise. It will just be a little different.”
“What do you mean, mommy?
“I can’t explain it, sweetheart, but you will be happy. I will make sure of that.”
Angie noticed the rosy redness on her children’s cheeks when they’d come in and decided they needed to stay inside. She scooted them off to their room and she returned to her work. If the gifts were to get done, she would have to work into the late night. She looked down at the two baskets and the creations taking on the form of a finished product. It began to look as if her children would have a gift under the tree in the morning. She hoped they would like what she had worked so hard to make for them.
Unbeknownst to Angie, her husband also worked hard into the night of Christmas Eve. His project had special meaning, but it was not directed toward the children. He loved his son and daughter, but knew instinctively their mother was much better equipped to satisfy their needs and make them happy. What he worked on was for her and he wanted to finish so he could give it to her early. His fingers were sore from twisting and molding wire into a special gift for his wife. Angie had been so wonderful to him, never complaining about the hardships she lived with and always being there for the children, knowing exactly what to say to them and do for them to keep them happy. He marveled at the women he’d married and loved her so much. He hoped she would like what he was making for her. It was nothing much, but it was personal and came from the heart.
He worked in his shed, glancing toward their bedroom window. He saw his wife rocking in the chair given to them by his grandfather several years before. She worked to complete the gifts for their children by candlelight so they would find something under the tree in the morning. John looked at the homemade gift he continued to craft for his wife. She would expect him to come in soon so he needed to work faster. He wanted to present it to her before they went to bed. She deserved to be first. It was meant to be a piece of jewelry. John hoped Angie would see it as something pretty and not a bunch of wires strewn together.
Erica and Michael rushed into their mother’s room. “What do you want, momma?” Erica asked.
“It is time for you and Michael to hurry off to bed or Santa won’t come to visit,” Angie said.
The embrace from her daughter brought a smile to her face. “But you said we wouldn’t get any gifts this year because daddy wasn’t working.”
“I know I said that, but then I remembered Santa and Santa’s job is making little children happy, isn’t it?” Angie asked.
“I guess so,” Erica said.
“I want Santa to come tonight,” Michael said to his mother, his small cheeks flushing red, “because I want to be happy in the morning for Christmas.”
“I want you to be happy, too,” Angie said, smiling and brushing the top of her son’s head. “I will put in a special request just for you.”
“Mommy, when I say my prayers tonight I will make a special request, too.”
“Me, too,” Erica echoed her brother.
“I think that is a wonderful idea,” Angie said to her children. “Now hurry off and get your pajamas on and don’t forget to brush your teeth and wash your face and hands. I will come up in a few minutes to help you say your special prayers.”
Without another word, Erica and Michael ran out of their mother’s room. She listened to the bustle of her children preparing for bed on this special evening pulling the basket behind her chair. She would need a couple more hours to finish making the gifts Erica and Michael would find under the tree in the morning from Santa.
When it became quiet she left her room and walked to the small room her daughter and son shared. It would not be long before the two would need to be separated, she mused. Erica would soon be a young lady and Michael a young man. But, for now, at six and four years old, both she and John felt the sleeping arrangement was appropriate. And the children felt the security of being together, which they needed at a young age.
After she had helped both of her children with their prayers and stayed with them as they dosed off, Angie stepped quietly out of their room and returned to her own. She glanced at the wall clock as she passed it. Only three hours to midnight. Three more hours to Christmas, the day she loved more than any other.
Nearly three hours later, just a few minutes before midnight, she heard John come in. She worried and had almost gone to check on him, because he usually came in when the children were going to bed. He liked to say good night and tuck them in. But tonight he hadn’t. After rummaging around the kitchen for several minutes, presumably finding a late night snack, which was true to his character, he walked into their bedroom.
John set the saucer, covered with apple slices, down on the chest-of-drawers and kissed his wife. “You’re still at it, I see,” he said.
“I’m almost finished,” Angie responded. “Just a few more stitches. Erica and Michael will have a gift under the tree when they wake up in the morning.”
“Wonderful,” John said, reaching around to rub his wife’s shoulders.
After a short silence, Angie turned around and saw the tender look of love in her husband’s eyes. She stopped crocheting and met her husband’s gaze. “What is wrong, dear? You look sad.”
John pulled his wife into a tight embrace. He didn’t want to let her go. Angie was everything he’d ever dreamed of and he often felt he didn’t deserve her. And yet, he loved her very much and knew he couldn’t be without her.
“Please put your beautiful creations down for a minute,” he said. “The children are not the only members of this family who deserve a gift. Mother deserves a gift, too. I made something for you.”
He reached into his pocket before his wife could respond. “Please close your eyes,” he said. John then reached around his wife and clasped the homemade necklace with locket at the nape of her neck.
Angie opened her eyes at his request. She looked at her husband’s gift and began to cry. It was made from fencing wire that he’d taken the barbs out of. The clasp was his creation and the locket touched her chest just below her Adam’s apple. “It is beautiful,” she cried, hugging her husband. “I love it.”
“Open it up. There’s something inside.”
Angie found the release pin and opened the locket. Inside John had placed a picture of Erica and Michael. She looked at the small picture for several moments and then closed the locket back up. She didn’t say another word, but returned to the gifts she had nearly completed for Erica and Michael. She soon finished and placed the homemade gifts under the Christmas tree.
She looked at her husband, sleeping soundly. She kissed him on his cheek, lingering for a moment. She opened the locket once more. At the midnight hour, just as Christmas began, he gave her a special gift and a memory she would never forget.