St Paschal Baylon School
Instructor: Mary Connors
A Christmas to Remember
A Christmas to Remember
It was three days before my father was coming home. Three days before Christmas Eve, my favorite holiday. I hadn't seen my father in over a year! I was so excited! Charlie and I were hanging garland around the fireplace. We had gone over and above with decorations this year, at least, with what we could afford. We had our Christmas tree in the living room and beautiful wreaths on almost every door in the house! Everything was perfect. My mother was in the kitchen baking cookies. Her light, curly, blonde hair was pulled back and her face had smears of flour all over, covering up the rosiness of her cheeks. She smiled at me from the kitchen, calling us in her sweet voice to come and taste test the cookie dough. Charlie smiled that lovable, toothless grin of his just like Father's. He ran ahead of me and skidded across the room. As he slid across the hardwood floor, his feet slipped out from under him. He flew across the floor and hit the door with a slam! At that same moment, there was a loud knock at the door, which was barely heard because of Charlie's thud.
My mother calmly walked over, keeping her composure as usual, and picked Charlie up. She brushed him off and told us to go into the kitchen while she spoke to the caller. We watched from the kitchen as she opened the door with her thin lips turned upright into a smile. The man was dressed in uniform, which was strange. He had a solemn look on his face as he patted mother's shoulder with a sad smile. The smile disappeared from her face. Her rosy cheeks were drained of their color and her light blue eyes filled with fear. She gazed at the man as he walked down the steps and disappeared from sight. She slowly pushed the door closed and leaned against it. The telegram was unopened in her hand. She just stood there looking like a timid lamb who had lost her shepherd. Charlie and I looked at each other. He didn't understand what was happening. His young mind had no idea. When he looked at me, I could see fear enter his light blue eyes. He stirred in the doorway. When mother realized we were standing there, she tried to regain her composure. She slowly walked away from the door and into the kitchen.
As she walked past us, I could feel her tense up. She dropped into a kitchen chair and slowly began to open the telegram, without making eye contact with either of us. Her eyes slowly moved left to right and filled with tears. I have to admit, I thought the worst. After watching the color drain from my mother's face, I thought my father had died. She lost her composure and slouched back in her seat. Slowly turning towards us and forcing her gaze at us, she grabbed our hands and told us the news.
"Children, '' she said softly, '' your father was injured in action."
I gasped. I felt like the wind was knocked out of me, as if someone had punched me in the stomach.
"Don't panic, sweetheart," she said as she gently brushed my caramel brown hair out of my face. "Darlings, your father was shot in the leg. They are keeping him back at his base in Germany until he is well enough to come home."
I was wondering how my mother was saying all of this so calmly. She had somehow managed to regain her composure. I didn't understand. I mean, Christmas was ruined and my father could have been dying halfway across the world, and somehow, my mother managed to remain calm. I could feel my deep blue eyes swelling up with tears. I couldn't let them see me like this. My mother had her arms around Charlie in an effort to comfort him. I ran up to my bedroom and buried my face in my pillow. I couldn't imagine a worse Christmas season.
Three days had passed and it was Christmas Eve. Mother had been trying really hard the past few days to keep us cheerful. She seemed determined to not let us see how worried she felt. I think she had Charlie fooled. He didn't seem to understand how serious the situation was for our father. Nevertheless, I knew how much mother was hurting. I had heard her crying in her room late last night. I couldn't fall asleep and was lying awake in my bedroom.
We were all around the fireplace that night. We were singing Christmas songs and listening to the special Christmas program on the radio. Right as we were about to turn it off, the broadcaster made an announcement.
"Tonight, we honor those who are fighting for our lives. Some very lucky soldiers are flying home to their families tonight," he said grandly.
The reporter read off a list of names of the lucky soldiers. I expected him to leave my father out, but he didn't! Father's name was mentioned at the very end!
"Ladies and gentlemen, tonight I ask you to pray for those who have been injured in action. Our very own friend, Larry McLaughlin, has been injured. He has been flown to New York and is in the local hospital. We wish the McLaughlin family a Merry Christmas, and to all of our listeners as well."
My mouth gaped open. Mother sprang up from the couch and ran to the telephone. Before she could call anyone, there was a knock at the door. It was the same man with another telegram. This time, he had a small smile on his face. He handed mother the envelope and hurried away, wishing us a Merry Christmas as he left.
My mother tore open the envelope with a frantic look in her eyes. Charlie and I crowded around her, trying to see the urgent message. The telegram was from one of the directors down in Germany where my father was stationed. My mother would read it out loud, then mutter to herself. Finally, she let out a relieved sigh and plopped into the nearest chair. She pulled Charlie close to her and embraced him in a tight hug. She handed me the telegram.
"Dear Joyce McLaughlin...mmm...hmm…we are pleased to inform you of your spouse's safe return home! He is in the New York hospital, and you are welcome to go and see him! Oh, Mother! That's wonderful news!" I exclaimed.
"We'll have to go right away," she said, regaining her composure once again.
She quickly ran upstairs to grab some things before we left. Charlie and I were ready to go before you could say Merry Christmas! We made it to the hospital in pretty good time, since it was Christmas Eve and everyone else was at home with their families. We walked across the gleaming white floor to the front desk and my mother gave our names. The nurse smiled a knowing smile and took us up to his room. Before she let us in, she informed us of what procedure had to be done to fix my father's leg. It had to be amputated! I was in shock. Charlie's eyes opened wide and my mother grasped my hand. The nurse unlocked the door and told us to go in when we were ready.
We were all a little nervous to see him. My mother was holding my hand, and I was holding onto Charlie's shoulder. She slowly pushed open the door and marched into the room. My father saw us. He looked at us timidly.
"Joyce! Charlie! Ruthie!" he said as cheerfully as he could.
"Hi, honey," my mother said meekly.
She pushed Charlie and I ahead of her.
"It's alright kids, go ahead and say hello," she said comfortingly.
I looked at Charlie. He and I were both speechless. My father's leg was gone! His face was blood and tear-stained. His arms were covered in scars and bruises. He looked like he had fought the war single handedly.
Suddenly, Charlie let out a cry! He ran out of the room and down the hall. My mother stole a worried glance at my father before taking off after Charlie. I wanted to go help, but I couldn't move. It was like I was frozen to the spot.
"Ruthie," my father said quietly. "Hi."
I looked at him. He grinned. My father was beat up and bruised, but his grin was still the same. He still smiled his enchanting grin that transformed his whole face. For a split second, I forgot that he had just come home from war and that we were in the hospital. It seemed just like old times. Just father and me. Then I remembered something.
"Father," I said meekly, "I have to go talk to Charlie."
I walked out of the room. With Charlie on her lap, my mother was trying to comfort him. I came over and my mother stood up. She smiled an encouraging smile, a smile that told me that I was the big sister. I could do anything.
I took my mother's place. Holding Charlie tight on my lap, I gazed into his tearful eyes.
"Charlie, I know you're scared. I'm scared too. We all are. I know father looks much different. It's going to be hard getting used to his new appearance, but you have to remember, things could be worse. We love Father, and he still loves us as much as he did before the war. Nothing will change how much we love each other, Charlie," I said somehow managing to keep my voice steady all the while.
"How do you know?" Charlie asked doubtfully.
"That everything is going to be alright," he said.
"Charlie," I said softly, "why do you think it isn't?"
He didn't say anything. He directed his gaze toward the ground and hugged me tighter.
"What do you say we head back in?" I suggested quietly.
"What?" I questioned.
"I can't go in there, Ruthie," he said. "Father just looks so different."
"Oh, Charlie. I promise that underneath all the dirt and blood, his hair is still caramel brown and his grin is still the same."
"His hair is like yours, Ruthie," Charlie said, smiling just a little bit.
"And your grin is just like his," I commented.
"Neither of you have his dark, shining brown eyes though."
Charlie and I jumped. My mother was standing in the doorway smiling sweetly. I could tell she had been crying in the room with my father. For the first time, my mother wasn't afraid to lose her composure in front of us.
"You two have been very brave. Your father and I are very proud of the both of you. Things might be different this Christmas, but at least we are all together. We might be in this sterilized hospital, but we are together, and that's what Christmas is all about. I love you two," my mother said with a smile on her face, her light blues eyes sending tears down her rosy cheeks.
I hadn't seen that rosiness since we got the devastating telegram three days prior.
"I love you too, Mom," Charlie said as he put his arms around her.
He let go of my mother and ran into the hospital room. Mother and I, holding each other, followed him. Charlie ran right over to the bed where my father lay. Father's face wore an unsure expression.
"I love you, Dad," Charlie said fondly and then embraced him in a tight squeeze.
"Oh, buddy," my father wept, his dark brown eyes filling with tears. "I love you too! I love all of you so much!"
Mother let go of me and walked over to my father, putting her hand on his cheek and stroking his sweaty, brown hair with her thumb. She smiled a loving smile and gave him a long hug.
I stood there watching them. Both Mother and Charlie let go of him and turned towards me. I walked over and stood at the bedside. Father looked up at me adoringly. I started to cry. I was so overcome with emotion. I bent down and cried into his shoulder.
"Thank you, Ruthie," he whispered into my ear. "You've really helped our family this Christmas."
We all embraced in a tight hug and listened to the Christmas music playing over the radio in the room. That night didn't happen exactly how I had hoped for, but at least we were reunited for the first time in a year. We all knew we would never forget that Christmas Eve. It was the day I learned the true meaning of Christmas: family.