My submission of a 1,750 word story for a contest- to be published in the Buffalo News on Christmad Day - didn't make it. So, I decided to tell my story here.
[The story had to begin as follows:
"He was alone. Last year, he might have predicted things would work out this way. Someone who had been given such a gift – entrusted with it, really – would never simply continue life as it had been before. He should have known.
And here it was again, this holiday time of year. The calendar told him it was 2012 and his life was different.
The change went much deeper than being a year older. It went under his skin, as deep as his soul – if he permitted himself to believe in such a thing. Life was like that. It could strip everything away from you in the blink of an eye. And then it could restore everything you lost – give you even more, in fact, than you had ever had – with the same lightning speed. He knew that, now".]
The challenge was to continue the story...
The Christmas Story By Nancy Lee Canfield
His life took a sudden new direction. At age fourteen, Tom would be thrust into a role that he was barely prepared for. Tom had two siblings. Mary, his sister, would be seven years old in a few months. She was close to her big brother and turned to him for help with her schoolwork whenever she needed it. Mary had always listened to Tom and never caused him any problems, probably because he had always been protective of her from an early age. Tom had even taught her how to walk, by holding her two little hands and putting her little feet on his as he walked about the room. Tom’s little brother, Jimmy? – now, he was a handful. Jimmy was a very active child, to say the least; he got into mischief almost daily, as most two-year-olds do.
Mrs. Ward, Tom’s mother, was a quiet woman who adored her hard-working husband. She never had to work outside the home, because Mr. Ward believed a woman should be cherished and provided for, just as his father had done for his mother. The family lived very well on what Mr. Ward earned at his construction job.
Buffalo, New York had very cold winters. The blasts of icy air whipped the fallen snow into swirls leaving no doubt that Christmas was one week away. Tom helped his father hoist the huge, short needle pine on top of the car roof and tie it down. He was glad to be out in the cold air; it helped clear his mind. Lately he had been having thoughts of dread and doom - and that puzzled him. He couldn’t quite understand what it was that was going to happen - but he knew it wasn’t good
The huge Christmas tree sat in the corner of the living room across from the fireplace. It had been decorated with a blaze of colored lights, ornaments and silver tinsel. Under the tree was an assortment of beautifully wrapped gifts with red and green bows.
The family celebrated Christmas Day with a feast of roasted turkey with stuffing of dried bread cubes, onions, celery, walnuts, sausage and sage accompanied by all the trimmings that included sweet potatoes, mashed white potatoes, smothered in rich gravy, string bean casserole, brazed brussel sprouts and caramelized carrots. Apple and mince pie were served for dessert, followed by roasted chestnuts.
Life was good for the little family that lived in the outskirts of the city. The public school, a bank, a drug store and a corner grocery store were all within walking distance of their house and a public bus ran down the main street,. Mr. Ward had just leased a new automobile so he wouldn’t need to take the bus to work any more.
Spring arrived early this year and the flowers were just beginning to bloom. Despite the promise of a good year ahead, Tom couldn’t shake the strange feeling that puzzled him. For several months, he had a creepy feeling that something dreadful was going to happen, but he refused to listen to his inner knowing. Tom was very intuitive and often knew things before they happened, but this time he chose not to know.
Tom’s father, who had been feeling more tired than usual, didn’t need to be worried about something Tom was feeling, so Tom didn’t say anything to his father or to his mother about feeling something dreadful was going to happen. One week after Easter, Tom’s father was rushed to the hospital, where he died of a heart attack.
Following the funeral, Tom realized this was what he refused to believe his inner knowing was trying to tell him. In a way, Tom blamed himself for his father’s death: if only he had asked his father to get a check-up; if only he had told his parents of his feeling of dread; if only this and if only that.
Spring passed into summer then summer into autumn. The autumn winds blew the trees bare from their colorful foliage, leaving the world to look bleak and bare, just as the kitchen cupboards of Tom’s house were beginning to look.
Christmas was approaching and Tom missed his father more than he dared to admit. Yet he didn’t mind sharing the household responsibility with his mother. As a matter-of-fact, he welcomed the role. It made him feel important and manly – a feeling that seemed to go well with his tall stature and the smile of confidence that was always on his face. Tom had a way of meeting the world head on without fear. He was alone, but he never felt it, because he believed we all have guardian angels watching over us. One night, as Tom was about to doze off, the spirit of his father came to him and said, “Son, you couldn’t change my fate, so don’t trouble yourself with such thoughts ~ I’m leaving it up to you to carry on the Christmas spirit ~ be a help to your mother and keep the young ones out of mischief.”
In a low whisper, with a tear falling from his eye, Tom answered, “I will, Pa, you don’t have to worry, I’ll take care of things. I love you.”
Things wouldn’t be the same this Christmas 2012 as they were last Christmas. The sudden death of Tom’s father brought with it a whole new way of life for Tom, his mother and siblings. The sorrow of losing a loved one was compounded by the lack of money. The automobile was returned to the dealer. There were many bills to pay and so little money, now that Tom’s father wasn’t there to provide for the family. Tom took a Saturday job at the corner store, helping Mr. Roberts stock the shelves and sweep the floor. It didn’t pay much, but Tom got to take home the day-old bread and vegetables that weren’t too fresh anymore.
This year the tree wouldn’t be bought at the local nursery. Tom took it upon himself to head into the nearby woods where he cut down a fir tree and dragged it home to be set up in the living room and decorated with bright colored lights. Tom and his mother did all they could to keep alive the spirit of Christmas for the sake of the little ones.
The smell of wood burning in the fireplace was in the crisp winter air. Once again, Christmas Day would soon be here, a time of joy and celebration for Christians all around the world, but it wouldn’t be so joyful for those who longed for their loved one, or for those down on their luck or those without a family to share the day with.
With the holiday wreath of fresh pine boughs hung on the door, a few presents for the younger children wrapped and safely out of sight, they were ready for the big day. Tom worked that Saturday, the day before Christmas 2012. “Tom, be sure to bring home an onion after you finish work today, I need it for our dinner tomorrow,” Tom’s mother said, as Tom wrapped the scarf around his neck and headed out the door. For this Christmas dinner Tom’s mother would have to make do with what she could afford - a small chuck roast, potatoes and carrots.
“Hello Tom, are you all set for the big day tomorrow?” Mr. Roberts asked when Tom entered the store. Mr. Roberts, the owner of the grocery store was a kindly man in his early forties. He had never married. Because he didn’t have any children of his own, he took it upon himself to keep an eye on the children in the neighborhood.
“Yes, Mr. Roberts, my mother has everything she needs except for one onion.”
“Tom, I wonder if your mother would mind if I gave you a potato or two to add to the onion - if she would set a place for me at the table. I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ll be alone on Christmas Day and would enjoy the company.”
“I know little Jimmy would be excited to show you the new little truck my mother told me Santa was going to bring him. I’ll be right back – I’ll run home and ask her.” Tom ran the few blocks home to the little white house with the dark green shutters and flew open the door to ask his mother. “Ma, Mr. Roberts wants to know if he can come to Christmas dinner tomorrow – he said that he was alone and would like the company.”
Tom’s mother wasn’t the kind to refuse anyone her hospitality - even now when she had little to share. She was brought up to believe that ‘we are our brother’s keepers’. Tom’s mother took a few seconds to consider, then replied, “ Tom, tell Mr. Roberts that Mary and little Jimmy would be delighted to have him as our guest tomorrow. Dinner will be at 1:00, after we return from church service.”
I think you can guess the rest of the story. As I said before, - life is like that. It can strip everything away from you in the blink of an eye. And then it can restore everything you lost – give you even more, in fact, than you had ever had – with the same lightning speed. Life has nothing set in stone except the date of your birth and the date of your death. The days, months, years in between are forever changing. Whatever your circumstances are today – they can change and very likely they will.