MONDAY: CHRISTMAS EVE
There had been so much excitement yesterday and last night that Joey was just too tired to get up. Joey barely remembered getting in the car as they drove to Memaw’s house this morning. His mom had let him go in his pajamas. She had put his coat around him and steered him out the door and into the back seat of the car. Apparently sleep quickly overcame him again, because he again just barely remembered arriving and going inside. Little bits of memory eked into mind as Joey began to awaken.
There he was curled up on the huge sofa beneath the huge windows in the living room. He was covered with one of Memaw’s handmade quilts. He pulled the soft cloth to his face. He loved to smell the huge old quilts she had made. They smelt of a unique combination of the deep woodsy fragrance of cedar, from their storage chest; and a talcum like powder that always seemed to surround Memaw. In its special smell, Joey always found security and comfort. It was much like Memaw herself and her home. Her house had huge windows and doors, and ceilings almost too high to reach even with a ladder. Its old wooden floors creaked as you walked. Even on a cloudy day there seemed to always be lots of light in her house. And on a cold day like today it was nice and warm inside. Joey knew were everything was in the house. She never moved anything and the furniture had always been the same as long as Joey could remember. Some of it was really old, like the huge old rocking chair that sat in its special place by the door. It was his grandfather’s, his mother had told him. Joey didn’t ever know him, he had died before Joey was born, but the chair was still there. Then there was Memaw’s old Singer sewing machine, with the huge pedal on the floor that rocked back and forth. Joey remembered helping to push it up and down as she sewed.
Joey enjoyed being with Memaw. If he had known to look up safe and loved in the dictionary, he was sure there would have been a picture of her. As long as he could remember he had stayed with her when others were at work or school. Before he started to school, he had stayed with her every day. Her house was in town, so many times she and he would walk to the stores on the square during the day. Now Joey only stayed with her occasionally, like today. His mom and Eli had gone off to work at the grocery store so Joey would stay with her until they got off from work. Before his dad got sick, he and Eli would have been with him doing something on the farm on weekends.
Since school age, Joey had gotten to stay less with Memaw, but nothing ever changed. If there was one thing always consistent about her, it had to be her mild quiet ways. It seemed like she never got angry, never yelled, and never hurried. Joey was sure he had been bad at times with her, but she seemed to always take it in stride. Oh she had scolded him and made him mind her, but she always seemed gentle about it, never harsh. She had her ways, it always seemed she was doing interesting things and didn’t seem to mind if Joey helped. Joey couldn’t explain it all, but staying with Memaw was always ok.
“Memaw, did you see what I got last night at the Christmas program?” shouted Joey as he finally sprang off the sofa. As he ran into the bedroom, he saw her at the sewing machine by the window. With his thick socks on the polished wooden floors he began to slide as he tried to stop. Well he was almost trying to stop; Joey had become a master at sliding across those smooth old floors.
“Mr. Goodrum, you know, my Sunday school teacher at church, well he gave me this real Christmas ornament! It’s the baby Jesus in the stable. It’s just like the play we did last night,” as he held the wooden nativity up for her to see.
“Let’s see Joey,” said Memaw as she took the ornament from his hands. “My my, that is pretty now. Be real careful with it, so you don’t break it, you hear. Well, it looks like there is Mary and Joseph too, with Jesus in the cradle. That is real nice, Joey.”
“Memaw, last night I was in the big play. We did just like when Jesus was born. Mr. Goodrum read the story, and we all acted out the parts. It looked almost real.” exclaimed Joey. A good night’s sleep had vanquished the tiredness of the previous day and the excitement of the birthday had returned with the presence of a new audience. This time the audience of one had his undivided attention. She had not been there so every exciting detail would be of interest to her and Joey wanted to make sure he didn’t miss a thing.
With a quick breath Joey continued, “I saw mom when I peeked out the curtain before the play started.” Joey replayed the whole scene for his grandmother. He told her every detail as he remembered them. Sometimes they were not in chronological order, but she didn’t seem to mind. She pulled him up onto the sewing bench as he continued to talk as rapidly as he could. Occasionally she would say “oh” or an “I see” not to interrupt, but allow him time to breath. Joey recounted the whole evening to her right up to the part when he received the gift ornament.
“I was really surprised when I opened the box,” said Joey. “I didn’t know Mr. Goodrum was going to give us anything. I wonder if he knew it was like the play we were doing. Anyway, after I got home, Memaw, I figured out something nobody had every figured out yet.”
“What was that Joey?” asked his grandmother with a gentle smile.
“Well, you see it’s like this, you know my birthday is always two days before Christmas. Everybody always says too bad your birthday and Christmas are right together. Sometimes, they just get me one present for birthday and Christmas.” Joey explained as if she had never heard this before.
Memaw nodded her head in agreement and said, “Yes, I know Joey, but what is it you figured out last night that no one knew.”
Joey took a deep breath, paused before he began his story. Joey knew this was important. He wanted to get it right. This was no time to talk fast and hurry. This kind of news could change everything.
“Well Memaw,” Joey started as he glanced down at the figurine once more. “I don’t know if I can explain it just right, but I’ll try. I always knew my birthday was two days before Christmas. It was like the two best days of the year were right together.
Memaw just smiled and nodded for him to continue.
“I always thought that was great. It was like we could celebrate one thing then just two days later we could celebrate again.” Joey cleared his throat as he pondered his next words. “Last night at the play while we were all doing our parts, it almost seemed real. I felt like I was at Jesus’ birthday, really there. You know, watching everything. When we got home from church I was looking at the little manger scene on my ornament and I figured something out.”
Joey raised his head and spoke with a little more confidence, “Me and Jesus have our birthdays together!”
“Well yes dear, your birthday and Christmas are close together,” Memaw said with a puzzled look.
“No, no, you don’t understand, it’s not just Christmas, it’s our birthdays! And we have them together,” Joey exclaimed with a serious look. “Jesus and me have our birthdays at the same time! His birthday is at Christmas and so is mine.”
Joey didn’t know why she couldn’t understand. It was clear to him. Their birthdays were almost the same day, too close to matter. And they were at Christmas time! How great was that. He wasn’t sure why someone else hadn’t figured it out before, but finally he had. It was about the best news ever; he and Jesus had their birthdays together.
Memaw, still with a puzzled look, looked down at Joey and nodded her head in agreement. “O, I see now Joey,” she said softly. “Your birthdays come together and it’s at Christmas?” She didn’t know if Joey was convinced with her last words of agreement but she was content to just know he was satisfied with his new discovery.
It was almost dark when they pulled into the driveway. Joey’s mom and Eli had gotten off work a little early. It was Christmas Eve and the store owner had told his mom she could leave early to spend some time with her boys. The car came to an abrupt halt, jarring Joey from the back seat. The headlights blearing into the carport revealed a sudden obstruction and Joey’s mom slammed on the brakes.
“What is it mom?” Joey blurted as he gathered himself from the floor board. He hated when he did that. It seemed whenever someone hit the brakes suddenly, he slid off the seat and down into the floorboard behind the front seats. Everyone knew it, or so it seemed. Sometimes he thought they jarred the brakes just to see him slide. He just laughed too, but he really didn’t think it was that funny.
“Well my my,” said his mom as she glared out the windshield.
There under the carport were two big men, one holding the handle of a little red wagon in his hand, and behind him, the other holding a bright green cedar sapling.
As his mom got out of the car, the short round fellow began to speak. “Sorry mam didn’t mean to cause you a start,” the plump little man sheepishly said as he bowed his head.
By this time Joey had bounded out of the rear door and made his way to the front of the small audience of three just in time to hear the round fellow speak again.
“We were herdin’ in the cows for the night to put them up in the barn. You know it’s posed to turn cold and maybe snow tonight,” he continued.
By this time Joey recognized the two men standing in his carport, talking to his mom. They were two of Uncle Bill’s farm hands. They had been out in the fields by night herding in the cattle. Joey eased back from the front line, not sure of the man’s next words or more importantly his mom’s next words.
The short one continued as he pushed back his oversized floppy hat to expose his round face. “We were bout done when we got glimpse of this bright shiny reflection at the edge of the woods. Didn’t know what it could be, so we walked over there to have a look see.” He pulled the little red wagon with the tools still in it around front of him so everyone could see.
Now Joey knew he was in trouble. It all came rushing back to him. The failed attempt Saturday to retrieve the scheduled Christmas tree was about to be fully exposed. His unsuccessful plan would be visible for all to see. Not only would they discover he had sneaked out on his own but even worse he had failed. The excitement of the past two days quickly faded as he pondered his eminent doom and shame.
“When we saw the boy’s wagon at the tree line, with the saw and axe on top, we knew what was happenin,” chuckled the jolly fellow. “Right behind the wagon was this purty cedar sapling with some marks on it. Looks like somebody had tried to take it down?” as he peered over at Joey.
“And here it is!” burst out the tall lanky fellow from behind the short one. As he stuck his head over the shoulder of his fellow worker, he stretched out his long lanky arm with a bright green cedar tree in his grip. “It’s a beaut, gonin to make a fine Christmas tree mam!” the grin beaming in the still glaring headlights of the car.
Joey’s mom burst out with a huge laugh. She didn’t know what was more comical, the two opposite looking bookends standing in front of her holding a wagon and a Christmas tree, or just the whole turn of events on this Christmas Eve. It was more of an excited laugh, the kind that comes with new developments and new information.
She turned somewhat and looked down at Joey. He had gone out there all on his own without permission and no one knew where he was, he could have gotten hurt. There he could have been hurt and no one knew. She was a little bit mad but probably relieved more now that it was over and he was safe. She was glad she didn’t know at the time. Some of her anger was tempered in knowing how important that tree was to Joey and just how things had not been so good for them lately. But this was good news, Joey was safe, and they had a Christmas tree to decorate on Christmas Eve.
She reached down and took Joey by the chin. “Young man that was wrong to sneak out there on your own, you could have gotten hurt,” scolded his mom. “But you didn’t, and thanks to these gracious men we now have that Christmas tree you wanted so badly.” Joey got a quick hug and a command to give thanks to the farmhands who had finished the job he started.
“Thank you, sirs,” came the muted expression of being humbled from Joey. The next words came with more enthusiasm as Joey shouted, “Wow, thanks, it looks great.” Joey ran over to secure the tree from the tall fellow. The sapling barely came up to his shoulders but it was more than a head taller than Joey.
“Well mam, again sorry if we gave you a start. We were headin home and was gonin to just leave this all here in the cover,” spoke the hand as he and his partner turned to go. “Glad we got to tell you and that the boy is alright. Enjoy the tree boys! Merry Christmas mam!” as there forms faded into the twilight.
The three new recipients of a prized cedar Christmas tree waved their goodbyes and shouted “Merry Christmas” in return.
Joey’s mom wasted little time in organizing the plan for the night. She had not expected this sudden quite pleasant turn of events, but they now had a Christmas tree and she knew what to do next.
“Eli, you take these tools back to the shed and the wagon!” directed his mom. “While you are out there get the tree stand too,” shouted his mom as Eli had wasted no time in beginning his task. He knew just where the tree stand was located and he was excited about their new tree also.
“Come along Joey, help me drag this tree into the living room,” as his mom entered the house.
The next hour or so had been a flurry of activity. Joey and his mom had scampered up the attic stairs to retrieve the cardboard boxes containing the prized Christmas decorations held within. Joey could easily manage the vertical folding steps that spring back into the attic with a push. Everyone else had to duck and hold on; Joey could traverse the incline without holding on or bending down. He was a natural on the attic steps.
The cardboard boxes held the Christmas treasures of all the years past. Of course some things had been replaced periodically as necessary, such as the string of lights. The boxes revealed tiny ornaments carefully wrapped from the year before. Some were quite old, “Mom said some were as old as he was,” thought Joey as they sorted out the treasures.
Eli had placed the huge tree in its stand, with Joey and his mom tightly steadying it as he tighten the base to kept it vertical. Joey couldn’t tell if the tree were straight or not when Eli asked as he tightened the screws into the wood. His arms could barely reach the tree trunk and his face was stuck in the branches once more. Again Joey remembered how he liked the smell of the cedar tree but not the branched that made his nose itch. Joey’s mom had given the “Ok, that’s good,” to Eli beneath the tree.
Everyone dove in to help decorate the tree. The trio ate intermittently as they placed the ornaments on the tree. Eli had secured the huge bright multicolored lights out of their seasonal resting place and began placing them around the tree while their mom had secured a fast mobile meal of hotdogs and chips for the working crew.
The Christmas tree always sat in the corner of the living room in front of the large multi-paned bay window, its bright red, blue, green and yellow bulbs even visible from the road that ran in front of the house. When the overhead room lights were turned off, the brilliant tree gave a special reddish–yellow hue to the room, making it look magical. Occasionally Joey would run over and turn out the overhead light just to expose the glow of the tree lights, usually to the reprimand of the other tree decorating crew members. Joey worked to carefully place the ornaments around his sector of the tree. His mom and Eli decorated from the middle to the upper branches sometimes from the foot stool. Joey found some of him and Eli’s past creations in the ornament boxes. There were hand crafted works of art done at school or church in Christmas’ past. The Christmas tree was taking form in all its glory. The lights were affixed; the shiny ornaments placed with care, the beautiful Angel tree topper had been carefully positioned in its rightful place overlooking the tree below. Joey’s mom had stood atop the stool and placed the Angel this year, usually his dad would have completed the crowning touch.
The trio was just about to randomly toss the shiny silver tinsel about on the tree branches to give them their finishing touches of brilliance when there was a loud knock on the kitchen side door.
“Joey, go see who that is,” said his mom from high atop the stool. “Wonder who could be out at this time of night?” talking more to herself.
Joey flung open the side door leading to the carport from the kitchen. The carport light was still on to expose three commanding figures in its glow.
“Hello Joey is your mom busy, we want to speak to her if we can?” came the voice from the edge of the shadows.
Running back into the living room Joey exclaimed, “Mom, mom, its some men from the church, three of them I think!”
“Well Joey did you invite them in from the cold?” asked his mom as she descended from her perch above the floor. Wiping her hands on her apron she walked back into the kitchen. Seeing the figures looming outside the door she shouted, “Oh, sorry, excuse Joey’s manners, ya’ll come on inside where it is warm please!”
His mom, Eli, and Joey gathered around the kitchen table as the three men stepped from the cold darkness outside. One by one the three night travelers removed their hats as they entered and gave a nod of welcome. Mr. Alcox, the Sunday School leader was the first to speak. “Evening, we saw the light on in the carport but we weren’t sure you were home until we saw the other room lights go off and the Christmas tree lights shone to the road. We knew we could find you then.”
“Yeah, we were fortunate to see the tree lights.” explained Preacher Lyle. “Excuse us for barging in so late but we three were out tonight on our way home from a church meeting and we saw your lights on.”
Mr. Goodrum spoke from the back, “We were going to come by tomorrow but we were not sure if you would be home or not. We thought you might be going to see the boy’s daddy in the hospital so we thought we would stop by when we saw the lights.”
“Oh my, that’s ok. We would have been home tomorrow too. We don’t have the extra gas money to make another trip to Madison,” explained Joey’s mom. “Sorry you had to get out on such a bad night, besides tomorrow is Christmas, you wouldn’t want to be away from home.”
Mr. Alcox spoke once more, “Well, we hate to disturb you and the boys on Christmas Eve, but that is part of the reason we came. We have a gift from us and others at the church for you for Christmas.”
“We hope at this time of year it will be a blessing to you and your family,” said Preacher Lyle as he handed her a large envelope. “We all realized it has been a struggle for your family during this illness and especially here at Christmas time. We pray this will help in some small way and be a blessing to your family.”
Joey’s mom bent down with the envelope to allow Eli and Joey to peer inside as she opened it. “Oh my goodness!” exclaimed his mom as she realized the envelope was filled with dollar bills. “Oh, thank you all so very much.” The tears of gladness were difficult to contain as she continued to speak. “Boys, with this extra money we can go to see your dad tomorrow on Christmas! Wow, will he ever be surprised. Isn’t that great news boys? Oh, say thank you to the gentlemen!”
As the three gracious bearers of gifts exited the room and back out into the cold, Mr. Goodrum paused at the door, “Joey, are you and Jesus having a good birthday?” He smiled as if he knew something only he and Joey could know. With a step outside, he exclaimed, “Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday Jesus!”
The three of them stood at the door and waved a hearty goodbye to their three late travelers with gifts to bear. “Merry Christmas,” they shouted as the men drove away.
“Look mom, it’s snowing!” as Joey pointed to the dimly lit sky line at the edge of the carport.