by Kasey Eyre
Savanna Clark winced as she flipped through the stack of bills on her desk and compared them with the amount available in her checking account. The numbers didn’t add up. Clicking her mouse a few times, Savanna reluctantly transferred money from their dwindling savings account to cover the bills. After writing the checks and getting everything stamped and ready for the mailbox, Savanna pushed herself up from the desk and then wandered into the kitchen.
Looking at the calendar above the phone in the kitchen, Savanna noticed it was only ten days until Christmas. Usually, Savanna had Christmas planned out months in advance; the gifts were all purchased well before Thanksgiving, hidden away in her closet where her curious boys couldn’t find them. But the past two years had changed all that. It had been difficult with all of the pay cuts her husband had received at work and this year wasn’t looking any better. Last Christmas had been small with simple gifts, but the boys hadn’t seemed to notice, thankfully. Savanna was worried about this year, though. She still hadn’t bought any Christmas gifts because there was no longer extra money at the end of the month. Savanna felt tears of frustration prick her eyes as she thought about her three boys waking up Christmas morning to no gifts under the tree.
Savanna shook her head and took a deep breath, determined not to cry. She wasn’t going to let herself get down. Despite their financial troubles, Christmas was still the family’s favorite time of year and she wanted to make sure everyone enjoyed it as much as they could. She knew her and her husband would figure out something for gifts for their boys. In the meantime, Savanna started humming a Christmas carol to try and put herself more in the spirit of the season as she put away clean dishes and tidied up the kitchen. When she heard the front door open a few minutes later Savanna frowned. It wasn’t time for the boys to come home from school yet.
Savanna walked through the kitchen into the living room to find her husband slumped over on the couch, his head resting in his hands. She walked over to him, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“Michael, why are you home so early? Are you sick?”
Michael looked up at Savanna and with pain in his eyes replied, “I got laid off today.”
After dinner that evening Michael and Savanna sat at the kitchen table while the boys were in their bedroom playing a board game. They had papers scattered on the table, a calculator in the center of the mess.
Michael wrote something down on a piece of paper and then punched some numbers into the calculator. “We have enough in savings to pay the mortgage and bills for the next two months, but that’s it. We can’t spend even a penny on anything extra.”
“But what about Christmas?” Savanna’s voice trembled as she tried to hold back the tears.
Michael shook his head. “We can’t afford gifts. We can barely afford groceries. Hopefully I can get some handyman jobs until I can find something permanent. But with the way things are now, I might be out of a job for a while. Let’s just pray the boys understand.”
Savanna felt fear and uncertainty creep into her. She was scared about what was going to happen, but she wanted more than anything to give her boys a good Christmas. They deserved at least a little Christmas joy. But it seemed hopeless. She and Michael didn’t even feel right asking their parents for help. It seemed everyone was struggling this year.
Michael placed his hand over Savanna’s and smiled weakly at her. “We’ll figure out something. We just need to have faith.”
Savanna nodded and smiled back. Faith. With it being Christmastime that should be something that came easily, but it seemed like the more faith she tried to have the worse off they were.
The boys came running into the kitchen then. Savanna wiped her eyes and smiled while Michael picked up the papers and calculator and cleared the table. The boys were hungry and wanted a treat, but Savanna looked through the almost-empty cabinets and couldn’t find anything to give them.
“I need to go grocery shopping,” she admitted, thinking of the small amount she would have to spend on food.
Michael clapped his hands together. “Well, I’ve got something for you. When I was little your grandma would make something that we always thought was a special treat.”
The boys sat at the table while Michael busied himself at the kitchen counter.
“Dad, what are you making?” ten year-old Brad asked, craning his neck trying to see around his father’s large frame.
Michael grinned as he came to the table with three plates. He placed the plates in front of each boy. “Here you go! This is Grandma’s special recipe for sugar cookies.”
The boys looked at the slice of bread on their plates with doubt.
“It’s just bread and butter and sugar,” Will frowned and poked the bread with his finger.
Trent took a bite. “Mmmm. It’s good Dad! Grandma was a good cook.” His wide smile showed off his two missing front teeth.
Everyone laughed. The boys ate their treat while Michael told them stories about growing up on the farm and Savanna made hot chocolate for everyone. After the stories they played a game and then got the kids off to bed. Savanna stood at the doorway to the boys’ room and felt a swelling in her chest. Earlier that day she had felt so dismal, their financial worries taking over. But now, looking at her boys all snuggled in their beds sleeping peacefully, she had joy in her heart. She was going to have faith that things would work out. For these boys she had to.
Savanna was about to leave for the grocery store when Trent came bursting through the front door.
“Mom! I found a dollar!” He waved the green bill in his hand and ran up to her. “I was walking back from the park with Dad and Will and I found a dollar on the street. Dad said I could keep it. Can I go to the store with you and spend it? Please?”
“Calm down,” Savanna said holding up her hands. “Yes, you can go to the store with me. What are you going to buy?”
Trent twisted his mouth as he thought. “Maybe a candy bar or a pack of gum. Then I can share it with Will and Brad.”
“Go get in the car. You can figure it out on the way there.”
When they got to the grocery store, Trent skipped through the parking lot chattering on and on about what he wanted to buy. He stopped suddenly when he saw a man dressed as Santa standing outside the entrance to the store ringing a bell.
“What is that Santa doing, Mom?” Trent asked.
Savanna pointed. “See that bucket? People put money in there and Santa gives the money to people who need it so they can buy food for Christmas dinner.”
“You mean some people don’t have money to buy food?”
Savanna nodded, feeling a knot in her throat. “Some people don’t.”
Trent took the dollar bill out of his pocked and looked at it carefully in his hand. Then, he marched up to Santa and put the bill in the bucket. Savanna felt her eyes fill with tears as she watched her son give up something he wanted to help someone else. Savanna reached into her purse. She didn’t have very much money for groceries that day, but she knew she had more then some people. Pulling out a few bills, Savanna placed them in the bucket as well.
Santa rang his bell and smiled. “Thank you and Merry Christmas!”
Five days before Christmas Savanna was in the kitchen making dinner when Brad came in from outside.
“Did you finish pulling weeds in Mr. McGill’s yard?” she asked her son.
Brad nodded grabbing a clean cup from the dishwasher and filling it with water from the tap. “Dad is still over there. He had a leaky pipe or something so Dad’s fixing it.”
Michael got home just as Brad was setting the table for dinner. Savanna pulled a casserole dish of macaroni and cheese out of the oven.
“Brad, go tell your brothers that dinner is ready.” Savanna placed the casserole dish onto the table.
Michael was washing his hands when the boys ran into the kitchen and tumbled into their seats. Michael sat down, but before saying a blessing over the food he turned to Brad.
“What did Mr. McGill say to you when you went in the house to get a trash bag?”
Brad shrugged. “Just that is was nice to have some company.”
Michael shook his head. “I think he’s been awfully lonely since his wife died. He talked non-stop while I fixed that pipe.”
Brad jumped up from the table. “We should take him some dinner. We should all go over there and eat with him.”
Savanna started to protest. The macaroni and cheese, frozen peas and canned peaches wasn’t much of a meal to share with someone. But the determination on Brad’s face stopped her. “Let’s get this food packed up and head over.”
The boys shouted and laughed as they put foil over the food and grabbed something to carry. As they walked down the street to Mr. McGill’s house they were full of cheerful chatter. They reached the old man’s house and Brad proudly knocked on the door. When Mr. McGill answered there was a surprised look on his face as he saw the entire Clark family on his porch holding dishes of food.
“We wanted to bring you dinner and thought we could all eat together,” Brad said.
Mr. McGill gasped, his hand covering his mouth. “What a wonderful surprise,” he replied. Opening the door wide, Mr. McGill ushered the family in.
After dinner that evening, Mr. McGill pulled Savanna aside as the boys and Michael cleared the table. “Thank you. This is the first home cooked meal I’ve had in a long time. You were an answer to my prayers.”
Savanna reached up to give Mr. McGill a hug. “You are welcome for dinner any time,” she whispered and Mr. McGill could only nod his reply.
On Christmas Eve, Savanna stood in the living room and stared at the blank space under the Christmas tree that was usually full of gifts. What surprised her most of all was that her three sons had not once asked why there were no gifts under the tree this year. She wondered if they would be disappointed the next morning. She wished there was something she could do to give them at least one gift to open.
Savanna’s thoughts were interrupted when she saw Will rummaging around in the hall closet.
“What are you looking for?” Savanna asked.
Will stuck his head out of the closet. “Where is that Christmas wrapping paper from last year?”
Savanna’s heart leaped. “What do you need it for?” she asked carefully.
“I was over at Jake’s playing and he told that for Christmas this year their family was taking gifts to the kids at the women’s shelter tonight. I thought I could give some of my toys.”
Savanna walked over to the closet and found the paper high on a shelf. “What are you going to give?”
Will shrugged his shoulders. “I have lots of toys. I was thinking maybe I could give my baseball and mitt or one of my board games.”
Savanna gave her son a hug. “I think that’s a good idea.” She handed Will the wrapping paper and watched him run off to his room. Savanna went into her own room and closed the door. She knelt down beside her bed and started to pray. Even though her boys seemed to be fine, she was still the one running low on faith.
Christmas Eve dinner was usually ham and scalloped potatoes, green beans, homemade rolls with cranberry jam, Will’s favorite Jell-o and pumpkin pie for dessert. This year Savanna made rolls and placed them on the table along with fixings for ham sandwiches made with cold cuts she found on sale at the deli. She did have a pumpkin pie, even if it was store bought. It was cheaper to buy an already made pie then get everything she needed to bake one herself. She hesitated calling the boys for dinner, but was surprised when they came to the table excited at the prospect of making their own sandwiches.
“Can we eat on the floor in the living room with just the Christmas lights on?” Trent asked.
The family settled on a blanket, their sandwiches on napkins and cups of water sitting on the coffee table that had been pushed aside. As they ate they told stories of past Christmases, the boys reminiscing about their favorite gifts. It was next that Trent finally told the secret he and his brothers had been keeping for the past two weeks.
“We didn’t write letters to Santa this year,” he blurted out, getting dirty looks from Will and Brad.
“You weren’t supposed to tell!” Brad shouted.
“What’s going on?” Michael asked. He looked from Brad to Will to Trent. Brad, the oldest of the three spoke up.
“We heard you talking one night about not having money for gifts. So we decided we wouldn’t ask for anything, even from Santa.” He shot a look at Trent who started to frown.
“We thought because Christmas was for Jesus’ birthday we’d do nice things for other people, instead of being sad about not getting new toys,” Will added.
This time Savanna didn’t stop the tears from falling. She grabbed her sons and pulled them into a hug. “You’re my three little miracles this year.”
Michael stood up from the floor and clapped his hands. “Let’s go caroling!”
“What?” Trent asked raising his eyebrows.
Savanna laughed, “You hate singing,” she teased.
“Well, these boys have put me in the Christmas spirit. Everyone grab your coats and shoes. We’ll make our way down the street and then stop by Mr. McGill’s and invite him over for pie.”
When everyone was bundled in their coats the Clark family walked outside and started singing Christmas carols. They walked to their neighbors on either side of them and then across the street. At one house they were handed a plate of homemade goodies as a thank you for the caroling. At another home, the neighbor handed Savanna a bag of old toys she had been meaning to bring over for the boys. Her kids no longer played with them and she thought the Clark boys would like them. By the time they made it to Mr. McGill’s house Savanna’s arms were full of things from their neighbors.
Michael knocked on Mr. McGill’s door and the boys started to rambunctiously sing “Jingle Bells”. When Mr. McGill came to the door he was laughing.
“I could hear you when you were all the way down the street,” he chuckled.
Savanna invited him over for pie and Mr. McGill happily accepted their invitation.
They stayed up late that Christmas Eve, eating pie and the treats from their neighbor, drinking hot cocoa, singing songs and telling stories. Before Mr. McGill left for the evening and the boys went to bed. Michael read the story of Jesus’ birth from the Bible. As she drifted off to sleep that night, Savanna felt peace for the first time that Christmas season. Her three boys, her Christmas miracles, had reminded her that Christmas was more than having a pile of gifts under the tree; it was about giving.
The next morning Savanna woke up to the excited whispers of her boys. She shook Michael and together they stumbled into the living room to see why their boys were up so early. Michael and Savanna found their three boys sitting in front of the Christmas tree, the lights casting a warm glow on their faces. Under the tree was a small stack of gifts. Savanna gasped and turned to Michael. He just shrugged.
“I have no idea where those gifts came from,” he whispered to his wife.
Savanna knelt down in front of the Christmas tree to examine the boxes. There was one for each of member of the family.
“I guess Santa brought gifts, after all,” Savanna said.
Trent reached for the gift with his name on it and shook his head. “I think this year our gifts came from Jesus.”
Critique: Watch out for passive voice. Give us a little more personality in the family and for Savanna, deeper characterizations. Both of those issues could be helped with a little more dialog. Needs more sensory imagery. A couple of plot issues but has potential.
What I liked best: The sweet Christmas feeling. The children being so willing to give to others and to go with the spirit of the holiday and the family bringing their elderly neighbor into their celebrations.
Publication ready: Not quite yet. There are some characterization issues that need to be worked out and it needs to be tightened up. But overall, it's close.