61: The Christmas Present

61: The Christmas Present

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

The Christmas Present

A little girl, asked where her home was, replied, “where mother is.”

~Keith L. Brooks

On this beautiful October morning my aunt’s spacious farmhouse was brimming with excitement. I was eleven years old and had been living with her and her large family since I’d lost my mother a year earlier. My dad, who was working out of state and could only see us occasionally, was on his way. I’d been counting down the days since his last trip six weeks earlier. Now that the big day had arrived, I was so excited I didn’t think I could wait another minute to see him.

When he still hadn’t arrived by late morning, my cousins Bonnie and Ruby and I wandered into the kitchen where my aunt had been cooking for hours (as she did each time her younger brother came). The large, sunny kitchen was filled with the tantalizing aroma of roasting chickens and deep-dish apple pies my aunt had just taken from the oven. As my cousins eyed the pies, I asked my aunt for the sixth time that morning, “Shouldn’t he be here by now?”

Though normally good-natured, she was becoming exasperated.

“He’ll be here when he gets here. You girls scoot so I can finish getting lunch ready. He probably hasn’t had a home-cooked meal since the last time he was here.”

My aunt and uncle were kind to me and I loved them and my cousins, but there were times I felt incredibly lonely in the midst of this large family. I grieved for the loss of my mother and yearned for the family and home we’d had. Being fanciful, I compared myself to the fruit salad my aunt was making. The cousins were the apples, pears, grapes, cherries, and peaches that were all homegrown and belonged together. I was the pineapple that my aunt had just added. While it blended in, anyone eating it knew it was a foreign ingredient.

My steps were slow as I followed my cousins to the back door.

“If you girls go to the top of the hill, you’ll see his car when it comes around the curve. That way you’ll get to see him even sooner.” My aunt’s voice had softened at the sight of my slumped shoulders.

We’d barely gotten to the top of the hill when we heard the sound of a motor and saw the hood of my father’s Chevrolet coming around the curve. As it pulled to a stop beside the front gate, I began a headlong dash down the hill. I ended my wild dash with outstretched arms ready to wrap around my father when suddenly the redheaded woman with him stepped between us. I found myself enfolded in soft arms that reminded me of my mother.

I stepped back and studied her. She stood no taller than my father’s shoulder and was pleasantly rounded. When the sunlight touched her hair, it sparkled as brightly as a new penny. And when she spoke, it was with the soft accent of the Deep South. “I’ve been so anxious to meet you that I couldn’t resist hugging you,” she said. I liked her instantly. Then, along with a hug from my dad, I got the news that this young woman’s name was Polly and that she was going to stay for a week so we could get acquainted.

That week was one of the happiest of my young life. I didn’t want it to end. Neither did my six-year-old cousin, Virgil, who asked Polly, “Are you going to marry my uncle?”

A grin spread across her face. “Stranger things have happened.”

By the time the week was up, I had made up my mind. This was the woman I wanted to be my mother. As they were getting in the car, I shyly whispered, “Please come back.”

She smiled back. “I will.”

As fall turned into winter, my dad, Polly and I spent many wonderful weekends together. Each one made me more certain than ever that she was the answer to my prayers. Snow covered the land around the farmhouse as Christmas approached. My cousins played outside as it fell, making snowmen and pelting each other with snowballs while my youngest cousin was trying to catch the snowflakes on his tongue. While the snow meant fun to them, to me it meant that for the first time in my life, my dad wouldn’t be with me for Christmas. I knew the mountain roads he would have to travel would be too dangerous for him to make this visit.

As I moped around the house feeling sorry for myself, the door flew open and miracle of miracles, my dad and Polly blew in. While I chattered excitedly, they added their wrapped gifts to the stack already under the tree.

Brushing snow from his blond hair, my dad said, “The roads were terrible but with chains on the tires, we managed to make it. It would take more than a snowstorm to keep us away this Christmas. We have a wonderful present for you that couldn’t wait.”

I wondered which brightly wrapped package held this special gift. But my dad just looked at me and said, “It’s not under the tree.” Then he grabbed a fistful of tinsel from its green branches and draped the silver strands over Polly’s red hair. As I stared in amazement at my father’s peculiar antics, he made the pronouncement I dreamed I would hear. “It’s Polly! She has agreed to marry me and to be your new mother!”

Polly waved her new ring in the air and said, “That isn’t all! We’ve rented a house big enough for your dad and me and you and your brother. You two are going to come with us after Christmas to our new home.” I could feel the tears of happiness spill down my cheeks when she said the words I had prayed to someday hear: “We’re going to be a family!”

When I look back on the many Christmas presents my dad gave me over the years, I want to thank him for the baby dolls, the bicycle, the skates, the gold locket, the pearls, the angora sweaters, and my first wristwatch. Most of all, though, I want to say thanks, Dad, for the best present of all, the one you presented to me in the parlor of my aunt’s farmhouse when I was eleven years old. It was the answer to a lonely little girl’s prayers. The precious gift that lasted for more than fifty years — a wonderful mother.

~June Harman Betts

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