93. Scarlet Ribbons

93. Scarlet Ribbons

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

Scarlet Ribbons

A mother’s treasure is her daughter.

~Catherine Pulsifer, Inspirational Words of Wisdom

It was Christmas Eve, decades ago, when I first heard the song “Scarlett Ribbons” sung by Harry Belafonte. I was a young mother surrounded by the people I loved: my husband, my children, my parents, my husband’s parents, his brother, and his beloved grandmother. My Christmas that year was filled with joy as our families spent Christmas Eve at our home. When my brother-in-law arrived a little later he brought a gust of cold air and a sprinkling of snow in on his hat and coat. As he brushed it off he said, “It is really coming down.” I opened the curtains so we could see the large flakes begin to cover the ground.

We had a wonderful, companionable evening. We breathed in the smell of the freshly baked cookies and the scent of pine as we munched on cookies, drank eggnog, opened our presents and enjoyed seeing the children play with the toys they’d gotten from their grandparents. My gift from my mother-in-law was a Harry Belafonte album. She and I were fans and coaxed my husband into playing it for us on the stereo.

The song “Scarlet Ribbons” told the story of a father who hears his little girl fervently praying for scarlet ribbons for her hair. It was Christmas Eve and all the stores were closed, so though he searched into the night, he was unable to find any ribbons for her hair. However, in the morning, when he looked into his little girl’s room, she was still asleep but her bed was covered with scarlet ribbons. He never knew where the ribbons came from, but secretly he wondered if it had been a miracle. It is a beautiful song and the memory of it plays an unexpected part in my life on another Christmas.

As the years passed our Christmases changed. We added new people to our family as our children grew up, married, and had children of their own. Sadly, as we added some, we lost others. My parents, my husband’s parents, his brother, and his grandmother all passed away. Though our family changed, my husband and I had started a tradition of spending our Christmas mornings together. We’d have our coffee and then open our gifts from each other. I treasured that time together.

Then the time came when it was just me. It had been three months since my husband died and I dreaded that first Christmas without him. My children were doing everything they could to make it easier for me. My older daughter invited me to her house for Christmas Eve. I spent the evening with her family and then returned home Christmas morning. When I walked into the empty house I could tell that someone had been there. If it was a burglar or ghost, it was a friendly one. The house was warm and cozy. There was the smell of freshly made coffee, a freshly baked coffeecake was on the table ready to be sliced, and the lights were aglow on the Christmas tree.

Then when I went into the bedroom I was amazed at what I saw. Like the little girl in the song, my bed was covered not only with scarlet ribbons, but with ribbons of every color in an artist’s pallet! Each ribbon was tied around a gaily-wrapped gift. Like the father in the song, I wondered, “How? What? Who? When?” For a second, I even wondered if this was a miracle. As I unwrapped the first gift I saw that it was from a close friend; the next was from my niece. There were gifts from more and more friends and family. I was beginning to see my younger daughter, Janice’s, fine hand in this. My suspicions were confirmed when she wandered in.

After all the gifts were opened, we went into the kitchen. Then, over tea for her and coffee for me and a coffeecake for both of us, she explained, “I knew that you would have gifts later today from the rest of the family but I talked to some people and none of us wanted you to be alone this morning.” Tears welled in her eyes when she added, “And I just wanted you to have gifts to open… just as if Dad was here.”

I told her, “Your dad was always proud of you and would be especially proud of you for understanding and making it easier for me today.”

Four Christmases have passed since that one. I have found that missing my husband, my soul mate, hasn’t lessened. However, the joy I get from my memories, my wonderful children, grandchildren, and friends has truly been a blessing.

Unlike the father of the little girl who wondered if the ribbons he saw on her bed could have been a miracle, I know mine were, and her name is Janice.

~June Harman Betts

More stories from our partners