Always Believe in Miracles

Always Believe in Miracles

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

Always Believe in Miracles

Where there is great love there are always miracles.

Willa Cather

The year was 1924, and it was a few days before Christmas. Outside, a blinding snowstorm raged around the typical city row house into which my family had moved from the country only two months earlier. We hadn’t yet become acquainted with any of our new neighbors.

I didn’t see the snowflakes making frosty designs on my window, nor was I aware of my mother’s lonely vigil by my bedside. I was a little girl of five, deep in a feverish coma, and had the only case of the dreaded diphtheria in Philadelphia.

Two weeks earlier, my illness had been diagnosed by the neighborhood’s family doctor, whose office was a well-worn room in the basement of his home at the corner of the block. Immediately, my father and older sister had been given shots of antitoxin and shipped off to relatives until the danger passed. My mother, refusing to trust her child to a strange hospital, in a strange city, stayed behind to nurse me at home.

The city posted yellow warning signs on our front and back doors announcing a contagious disease. To make doubly sure no one other than the doctor approached, a policeman stood guard, twenty-four hours a day, outside each door. It was also their duty to see that my mother remained inside. Mail was laid on the doorstep, and the officer would tap on the door, then move back some distance to see that my mother opened the door only a crack and quickly took the mail inside.

In those days, Christmas shopping didn’t begin in October, nor were toys given in the abundance popular today. A week or so before was time enough to prepare, and the tree was to be decorated by Santa Claus when he came on Christmas Eve. This year, in my family, it was different. With the sudden onset of diphtheria, no thought had been given to Christmas. My getting well was all that mattered.

Late in the afternoon of December twenty-third, the policeman tapped on the door. There was a letter on the stoop from my mother’s sister. She was Catholic, and she’d enclosed a small bag of medals with her letter. “I can’t be with you,” she wrote, “but I want to help. My priest has blessed these medals. The bag is never to be opened, just pin it on your little girl’s nightgown and believe.”

My mother, willing to try anything, pinned the medals to my gown, but with little hope, as she looked down at my drawn cheeks and proceeded to apply cool compresses to my forehead. My eyes remained closed. During his visit, the doctor’s face was grave, and he only shook his head sadly before taking his leave.

Late the next afternoon, my mother heard a faint call. Rushing into my room, she burst into tears of joy. The fever had broken and my eyes were open! Uncomprehending but overcome with gratitude, she fell to her knees and hugged me, but her relief was suddenly shattered when my first words were, “Mama, it’s Christmas Eve. What is Santa going to bring me?”

“No, no!” she cried. “Honey, you’ve been sick a long time, but it isn’t Christmas Eve yet.” But try as she might, she could not persuade me to think otherwise, and I fell asleep that night with sugarplums dancing in my head.

Downstairs, my mother was frantic. She told me years later how she even considered putting on some of my father’s clothing and trying to sneak out to the corner store to get me a few toys, but of course she didn’t. Come morning, all she could do was hope to convince me that Christmas was yet to arrive.

Christmas morning came, and I awoke with the usual childish anticipation. My mother, exhausted with heartache, was still half-asleep when the policeman gave his familiar tap on the door. Wearily, my mother opened it, and then gasped in surprise. On the doorstep was a large country basket filled with a Christmas dinner for two and an assortment of toys for a five-year-old girl. My mother’s eyes silently questioned the policeman, but he only smiled and shrugged his shoulders. There was no answer there. Where had this spirit of Christmas come from? Would she ever know?

I recovered fully, unaware that two miracles had occurred that Christmas. My father and sister returned, and we settled into life in the city. As the years passed, my mother made a lasting friendship with one neighbor in particular, a friendly Irish woman and busy mother of six. Although they were close friends for years, it was only much later that my mother finally discovered the secret of the second Christmas miracle. Her friend with the thick, Irish brogue and smiling eyes—at the time a complete stranger—was the one who had understood, as a mother, the awful predicament my mother faced and cared enough to leave that wonderful Christmas basket on our doorstep. Thanks to her, I still believe in Santa Claus! You just have to know where to look for him.

Gerrie Edwards

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