many of us, one Christmas stands out from all the others, the one when the
meaning of the day shone clearest. My own "truest" Christmas began on a rainy
spring day in the bleakest year of my life.
Recently divorced, I was in my 20s, had no job and was on my way downtown to
go the rounds of the employment offices. I had no umbrella, for my old one had
fallen apart, and I could not afford another one.
I sat down in the streetcar--and there against the seat was a beautiful silk
umbrella with a silver handle inlaid with gold and necks of bright enamel. I had
never seen anything so lovely.
I examined the handle and saw a name engraved among the golden scrolls. The
usual procedure would have been to turn in the umbrella to the conductor, but on
impulse I decided to take it with me and find the owner myself.
I got off the streetcar in a downpour and thankfully opened the umbrella to
protect myself. Then I searched a telephone book for the name on the umbrella
and found it. I called and a lady answered.
Yes, she said in surprise, that was her umbrella, which
her parents, now dead, had given her for a birthday present. But, she added, it
had been stolen from her locker at school (she was a teacher) more than a year
She was so excited that I forgot I was looking for a job and went directly to
her small house. She took the umbrella, and her eyes filled with tears.
The teacher wanted to give me a reward, but--though twenty dollars was all I
had in the world--her happiness at retrieving this special possession was such
that to have accepted money would have spoiled something. We talked for a while,
and I must have given her my address. I don't remember.
The next six months were wretched. I was able to obtain only temporary
employment here and there, for a small salary. But I put aside twenty-five or
fifty cents when I could afford it for my lithe girl's Christmas presents.
My last job ended the day before Christmas, my thirty-dollar rent was soon
due, and 1 had fifteen dollars to my name--which Peggy and I would need for
She was home from convent boarding school and was excitedly looking forward
to her gifs next day, which I had already Purchased. I had bough her a small
tree, and we were going to decorate it that night.
The air was full of the sound of Christmas merriment as I walked from the
streetcar to my small apartment. Bells rang and children shouted in the bitter
dusk of the evening, and windows were lighted and everyone was running and
laughing. But there should be no Christmas for me, I knew, no gifts, no
As l struggled through the snowdrifts, l had just about reached the lowest
Point in my life. Unless a miracle happened, I would be homeless in January,
foodless, jobless. I had prayed steadily for weeks, and there had been no answer
but this coldness and darkness, this harsh air, this abandonment.
God and men had completely forgotten me. I felt so helpless and so lonely.
What was to become of us?
I looked in my mail box. There were only bills in it, a sheaf of them, and
two white envelopes which I was sure contained more bills. I went up three dusty
flights of stairs and I cried, shivering in my thin coat.
But I made myself smile so I could greet my little
daughter with a Pretense of happiness. She opened the door for me and threw
herself in my arms, screaming joyously and demanding that we decorate the tree
Peggy had proudly set our kitchen table for our evening meal and put pans out
and three cans of food which would be our dinner. For some reason, when I looked
at those pans and cans, I felt brokenhearted. We would have only hamburgers for
our Christmas dinner tomorrow.
I stood in the cold little kitchen, misery overwhelmed me. For the first time
in my life, I doubted the existence and his mercy, and the coldness in my heart
was colder than ice.
The doorbell rang and Peggy ran fleetly to answer it, calling that it must be
Santa Claus. Then I heard a man talking heartily to her and went to the door. He
was a delivery man, and his arms were full of parcels. "This is a mistake," I
said, but he read the name on the parcels and there were for me.
When he had gone I could only stare at the boxes. Peggy and I sat on the
floor and opened them. A huge doll, three times the size of the one I had bought
for her. Gloves. Candy. A beautiful leather purse. Incredible! I looked for the
name of the sender. It was the teacher, the address was simply "California",
where she had moved.
Our dinner the nigh was the most delicious I had ever eaten. I forgot I had
no money for the rent and only fifteen dollars in my purse and no job. My child
and I ate and laughed together in happiness.
Then we decorated the little tree and marveled at it. I put Peggy to bed and
set up her gifts around the tree and a sweet peace flooded me like a
benediction. I had some hope again. I could even examine the sheaf of bills