watercolor by m.stewart
PART FIVE: CONCLUSION
TUESDAY: CHRISTMAS DAY
Joey was exhausted! He didn’t know if he had that last bit of strength yet needed to climb into the back seat for the trip home. He was truly tired. It was a different kind of tired, not the kind you have after a long day of work on the farm or even a long day of class work at school. Those kinds of tired come from depleting your physical strength or mental capabilities. The days when you are glad they are over and done. This exhaustion is almost as physically and mentally demanding as those kinds but quite different. This type of tired he was experiencing now was the kind brought about by non-stop joy. His Christmas Day had been so overflowing with fun, good times and just plain ole happy that he was emotional tired as well to add to his mental and physical fatigue.
Of course Joey had not analyzed the situation nor scoped through its various aspects, as a small boy, he was just tired from a great day of enjoyment and satisfaction. At his age it is possible to have fun all day without achieving satisfaction. The pleasure of fun activities can so distract that desires are pushed aside or forgotten. Not this day, Joey had such fun and the activities of the day were a fulfillment of his heart’s desires. That rare combination results in two things usually, utter exhaustion from all the body’s energy being expended and joy. Being happy is a common experience for a child, experiencing joy is rare for most, even for some adults.
Joy is a word Joey probably would not use or even understand, but it was something he was experiencing. He didn’t know it but his exhaustion and peace were pure joy in human form. What a day it had been. What a Christmas Day it had been!
Joey awoke to the sight of a beautifully decorated Christmas tree adorned with lights and shiny ornaments. Sometime during the final stages of tree decorating, Joey had drifted off to sleep on the sofa near the tree. Following the visit from the three gift bearers, the excitement level of his mom had become contagious. Joey and Eli as well could sense the great relief and happiness she felt. A huge weight was lifted off her shoulders and now it really seemed like Christmas to her also. She gathered the boys in for a big hug and immediately began talking about what this gift would mean to them all. The laughing and planning went on into the night, way past Joey’s bedtime.
There were so much good tidings from their gift that the talking was non-stop. Joey’s mom explained how that now they could surprise their dad with an unexpected visit tomorrow on Christmas Day. There was enough to supply gas for the trip and perhaps a surprise gift for him too. She spoke of how until this blessing she had only been able to buy just a few clothing items for each of the boys for Christmas but now they could have some left over to shop after Christmas. Everyone was excited, what a Christmas present. After Joey drifted off to sleep on the sofa, his mom finished the tree. She would let him sleep there for the night.
“It’s really pretty,” thought Joey as he lay on the sofa peering at the tree through still sleepy eyes. The bright lights gave a rainbow of color to the dark green tree. It was huge, or from Joey’s perspective; the tall tree with its Angel topper almost touching the ceiling. Joey smiled as he mused to himself, “I picked it out, all by myself. The farmhands wouldn’t have known which tree to get if I hadn’t marked it for them.”
“Of course they brought it home for me,” Joey denying the underlying thought of how he had failed to bring home the tree himself. “I am happy they did that for all of us, that was nice of them.”
“It’s Christmas really,” thought Joey. “It’s Christmas,” he shouted as he realized what he had just said. He sprang off the sofa and bounded over to beneath the tree to see what was there that had not been there the night before. When he had gone to sleep last night there were lights and ornaments but that was all. This morning there were presents. Some of them were neatly wrapped in bright holiday paper of red and green. Others had no wrapping, only a bright bow to adorn them. It didn’t matter much to Joey if there was unwrapping to be done or not, they were both still presents. To a small boy that was all that mattered.
After Eli and his mom joined Joey around the tree, they began a methodical exploration of the gifts found there. First there was the sorting, an orderly division of the packages according to the names found on the labels. Then in turn Joey and Eli would open one gift at a time, allowing for motherly explanations of the gifts use or size or proper care. Although there were not numerous gifts under the tree, the process of exposing each one and expounding on its attributes did require a good bit of time. Joey’s mom had the least number of gifts, so she took only intermittent turns in the opening ceremonies. Joey had created some handmade ornaments and a personal Christmas card for his mother. She seemed thrilled with her unique creations. Eli had bought her a real present with some of the money he had earned from working this season at the grocery store. It was a nice scarf and gloves that one of the ladies at the store had helped him pick out for his mom. She seemed very thankful for the winter wear and Eli’s thoughtfulness. Following the gift opening, it was time for breakfast, a bath, and get dressed for the real surprise of the day. They were traveling to the hospital to see their dad, and he didn’t know they were coming. What a surprise it would be!
There wasn’t any way to contact the boys’ dad prior to their arrival. There were no telephones in the rooms. Joey’s mom had said on the trip down that since it was Christmas Day that dad would probably be up and not have any treatment today so they would get to spend the day with him.
Upon arriving at the hospital the boys ran to the door, in some way hoping their dad would be there in the atrium waiting for them.
“Slow down boys,” shouted their mom. “We have to check in at the desk first, so they know we are here. Then they will tell your dad and he can come out here.” Her words of instruction fell on deaf ears.
After a quick glance around and no visual sighting of his dad, Joey stopped and looked up. There was the biggest Christmas tree he had ever seen. It was 10 times bigger than the one at home. The huge two story entrance to the hospital was now adorned with this massive celebration of Christmas. It was covered from top to bottom with bright lights that twinkled on and off in some sort of random pattern. There were ornaments too. Big ornaments to match the size of the tree hung from every available tree limb. Everywhere around the hall green pine garland had been carefully hung to mark each door and window. Above each strand of garland was a neatly tied red bow. This place had always seemed big whenever Joey had come before to see his dad, but whoa, this was spectacular. At Christmas these grey dark hallways came alive with the Christmas colors of red and green, bringing a sense of hope to their viewers.
“Hey kids,” came the familiar sound of their dad’s voice from across the great hall. They had been so busy looking at all the decorations that they had not noticed the time interval from their arrival. The two boys wheeled around in time to see their dad coming across the atrium being pushed in his wheelchair by their mom. From the speed of their footsteps toward him and the broad smile on his face, this was obviously a great Christmas surprise for them both.
“Wow, did you guys ever surprise me today! I didn’t think I would get to see you on Christmas Day but here you are,” spoke their dad with a slightly broken voice. He gathered them both in for a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Joey didn’t care much for kisses any more, he was getting older you know, but this one he welcomed.
“What a great surprise, this is the best Christmas present ever,” exclaimed their dad. “We will have some fun today now that you are here!”
The family foursome sat in the atrium for a while catching up on all the events of the past few days. Well the parents sat and sometimes Eli, but Joey never creased the seat of his pants. He was up moving and talking letting his arms give visual expression to his every word. Everyone took turns talking but sometimes at the same time. The drama and thrills of the past several days came alive again as each member of the household told their own personal take on each separate event.
Joey spoke with pride as he told his dad of his exploits to bring home the family Christmas tree this year. The small aspect of he not being able to accomplish the act was far outweighed by his cunning skill of planning and marking the tree for those to follow. Joey could see that his dad was impressed with his prowess. He didn’t even scold him for the secretive plan or borrowing the tools without permission.
Next in the summary of events, the trio recounted for their husband and dad the details of the herdsmen bringing the selected tree to the house. Joey’s mom told more of the story from her perspective. This shed a little less glory on Joey and his adventure to secure a tree. Joey took the cue; talked a little less while his mom was speaking. Joey did notice how his dad would smirk a little smile toward him when his mom wasn’t looking. That helped.
Joey was glad when his mom got to the next part of their story. She began telling about the three men from church coming to the house and giving her the gift that made this day possible. He took it as a sign that he could start talking non-stop again. His version of the event was far more thrilling than his moms’. She kept tearing up and saying how thankful she was for today and the gift from the three that made it all possible. Joey’s dad listened intently to each member of his family. He was just so glad to have them there with him this day.
As the noon hour approached, Joey’s mom interrupted the barrage of excited conversation from the boys to their dad. “Well, I have one more surprise for all three of you,” she said. “I checked with the nurses and they said we could all have Christmas dinner together with your dad in the cafeteria! They are having a special dinner for everyone in the hospital and their families too. This will be great,” as she bent down and hugged them all once more.
“Let’s go,” said Joey, as he turned to lead the way. All three remaining members of the party just sat still in amusement. They realized that Joey had no idea which of the numerous vast hallways to turn into and soon he would realize it for himself. Just seconds later Joey abruptly stopped, turned back toward the group with smiles on their faces. “Come on dad, which way?”
“Slow down Joey,” came the instruction from his mom. “I will lead the way to the cafeteria. You and Eli help push your dad, but not too fast, okay!”
Joey had not been down any of the long pathways leading out of the entrance before, some strange rule about being old enough. Well today was different, it was Christmas. After making their way down a seemingly endless maze of corridors, the troop finally arrived at a huge set of double doors. As they rolled the wheelchair upon the entrance pad the broad doors sprang open wide. It would be difficult to say which had sprung open the widest at that moment, the automated doors or Joey’s eyes as he beheld the wonders in the room on the other side of the doors.
“Wow,” exclaimed Joey. “Look mom, dad, another gigantic Christmas tree!” In the middle of the room stood another tall Christmas tree adorned from top to bottom with blinking lights and oversized ornaments. There were innumerable tables placed all around the tree filling up the enormous banquet hall. On one side was a serving line like the one at Joey’s school but twice as long and filled with every delicious thing imaginable.
“Okay boys, let’s find a table first,” said his mom as she looked about the room. The vast cafeteria was almost half full when they arrived. There were other families, lots of kids, some doctor and nurse people, and Joey noticed there were many other dads there in their robes and pajamas.
“Over here mom,” said Eli as he pointed to an empty table near the tree. “That one will be fine,” as his mom wheeled the chair into place.
Within a little while, a man in a suit came and stood in front of the long serving line. He was barely visible to Joey from his seat at the table.
“I want to welcome all our guests today to our special Christmas dinner celebration. We invite you all to come and eat as our gift to you. Chaplin Howard will give thanks for this day and meal, then everyone line up and enjoy yourselves.” He continued, “Now boys and girls take your time, don’t rush through your dinner, but don’t leave too soon. I have been told there will be a special visitor arriving after dinner fresh from the North Pole!”
Joey had never seen so much food in one place. At lunch time at the school there would be big pans filled with the choices of the day, but the choices were singular. Here the choices seemed endless and Joey could hardly make up his mind. As he pushed his tray along the bar, every new selection seemed better than the previous one. With his dad’s urging Joey decided on the turkey and dressing, just like his dad. The really neat thing was the dessert table was set up separately and overflowing with lots of choices. Joey of course went for the chocolate cake. It’s hard to beat a proven favorite.
After dinner, there were a group of nurses positioned around an old piano in the corner of the hall. They sang several familiar Christmas songs and invited everyone to sing along also. Suddenly through the massive double doors burst a familiar sight in a bright red suit. Santa’s entrance with a sack on his back brought a huge cheer from all the children scattered about the hall. With a big “Ho Ho Ho,” Santa began making his way about the room to every table. He had helpers to pass along Christmas gift bags to each and everyone.
Joey knew it wasn’t really Santa, but what kid in his right thinking is going to say anything at this moment. Santa was headed his way with a bag full of surprises. As he took the brown paper bag from a helper, Joey did remember with a look from his mom to say, “Thank you.” Everyone round the table, even his folks got a gift bag and a “Merry Christmas” from the jolly fellow.
Without delay Joey peeled open the bag to discover an assortment of nuts, fruit, and best of all candy. There were striped candy canes, multi-flavored hard candies, and of course chocolate drops. Joey wasn’t real sure why his folks gave him and Eli all their candy, surely they liked chocolate too. They seemed content with the apples and oranges found in their bag. He didn’t question their choices but gladly opened his sack for the added treats.
The foursome had sat around the table laughing and talking for most of the afternoon. Other families were lingering as well; no one seemed to want to leave. Once while Joey’s mom had left to go to the bathroom, Joey went and sat in his dad’s lap. He wanted to tell him about the amazing discovery he had made this Christmas. He was sure he would understand. As Joey explained the events of the church Christmas play and the wooden nativity ornament he had been given, his dad listened with great intent. When Joey had finished talking, Joey’s dad gave him a big hug as he said, “Well how about that, Joey. I had never figured that out either before you told me. You and Jesus share your birthdays at Christmas time. Now that’s special! No one could ever forget your birthday or His, ever. They just have to remember its Christmas!”
Joey didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to. His dad got it, even if some of the others didn’t.
“Well guys we need to be heading home soon, before it gets too late,” said his mom. As she rose from the table she continued, “I don’t want to be driving home after dark in this weather and your dad needs to get some rest after this tiring day.”
With a tug on the rim of the back seat Joey hoisted himself past the doorway of the car with his seemingly last bit of strength. Joey was exhausted! What a Christmas Day this had been!
He settled into the backseat, pulling the hood of his coat up over his ears. He gathered his treasures left there in the seat of the car. The small wooden ornament clutched in one hand and the faithful “Queen Anne” box of chocolates pulled up next to him on the seat.
As they made their way out of the parking lot of the hospital the car slowly began to warm and Eli fumbled with the radio playing Christmas music.
“Well Joey,” said his mom peering in the rearview mirror as she entered the highway headed back home. “Did you have a good Christmas?”
It was a delayed answer, quite expected by his mom. She knew he would soon be asleep as they traveled homeward.
“Yeah, we had a great birthday,” came the muffled tone from the rear seat.
She wasn’t sure if the sleepiness or the last bite of a cream filled chocolate covered cherry distorted his reply. The unexpected answer brought a gaze of puzzlement from her eyes into the mirror for a last look. He was about gone.
Joey’s last thoughts were centered on his amazing stewardship of his chocolate covered treasures. With his plan he could make them last till time for school to begin again. It was all in the planning and of course his unique way of devouring them in a two step process.
As the radio softly played a welcoming tune, Joey drifted off in sleep. “Yep, it was a great birthday, huh Jesus.”
“Silent night, Holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace.”