Faith Works 12-24-11 & Faith Works 12-31-11
The Tree on the Porch
Grandma's hospital bed had been in the front room for two years now.
When she got to the point that she couldn't make the steep stairway to the second floor, Mom made up the front room for her, and got a better pair of drapes to keep out the cold and the light. Grandma slept mostly, even during the day. You could hear the psst of the oxygen even upstairs at night, every half-minute or so.
They'd put the TV in the kitchen, and tried the first year to wedge the Christmas tree in next to the dinette, sticking out into the opening to the front room. After the umpteenth person had brushed against it, knocking ornaments to the floor, Mom had said that was it, and the tree went out on the side porch.
Actually, it was kind of cool, and his friends liked the look of it, lights glowing, as you drove by in the busy alley alongside the narrow house. You could see it clearly through the big window behind the dinette, which was where they ate when it wasn't a meal over the sink, and Grandma could see a bit of it out the narrow window opposite her bed. The side door opened into the kitchen, and they rarely used it, mostly coming in the long hallway from the back into the other end of the kitchen. That was now the tree door, getting the most use when for twenty-five days they dashed out to plug in the tree each evening and the last person to bed dashed out to unplug it.
The three of them made it through the year fairly well, with Grandma's social security and Mom's job, but it was never easy. At Christmastime, Mom always went down to the Salvation Army and signed up for an Angel Tree gift package for him, but he was getting kind of old for that.
He'd gotten some good clothes and a few fun little toys, even one year a bike that he rode way past where the frame really suited him. Other times you could tell that either the people who'd picked his card hadn't read it, or (he figured) were older people who didn't know what a nine or ten or eleven year old boy would like, putting a stuffed bunny or craft set in with the sensible clothes.
Most of his friends at school had experience with Angel Tree gifts, and the ones with older brothers and sisters had ruefully pointed out that as you got to twelve and thirteen or fourteen, you generally got a gift card if you were lucky (because it didn't get picked, they guessed) or a bottle of cologne you'd never heard of. The game cartridges were usually not for a game he or his friends had, but you could trade them in downtown.
Mom was pretty smart about watching at Dollar General or Big Lots for the fall months, and she could usually pull out something kind of cool to add to the Christmas pile: a gadget to take apart and put back together, a radio control car in an odd color, or a dvd they'd watch together, joking about the bad acting. To tell the truth, those gifts he liked best because they came from her, not that they were better than what came from the nameless people who got his name off the Angel Tree.
Grandma, when she talked more, would tell him that when she was a girl there was no gift under the tree, but an orange in the stocking and a new toothbrush hanging from a branch with red ribbon. Mom would whisper to him "that wasn't her, that was her mother, your great-grandmother; she got toys and such just like you did, just no batteries." He'd saved up some money, and got her a tube of body lotion and silk flower in a vase from Big Lots; Mom thought that was wonderful he wanted to do that with his money, but warned him "don't feel bad if she doesn't react much when you give it to her. She knows, it's just hard for her to show much. Feelings are hard work for her with all the medications and all."
It looked to be a good Christmas, with a pie in the freezer they'd been given at the food pantry, and a little turkey that came with the Angel Tree gifts. He wondered what they were, but not too much. Expecting too much just led to disappointment, he'd figured that much out. They were together, the tree on the porch, the bird in the oven.
And he had a package for Mom. It wasn't much, but it was something, and he knew she'd love it. It might even be a pleasant surprise. She could use some joy this Christmas, and he wanted to give that to her.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio. Tell him a Christmas story at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.
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Faith Works 12-31-11
December 31, 1945
George hung up the phone and looked up at the picture of his father.
Just beneath it was the cross-stitch his mother had made for him of his dad's favorite quote – 'All you can take with you is that which you give away.'
He looked past them to the window, where the snow was still falling outside. The building whose owner had just been speaking to him was sifting into invisibility behind the mist and growing dark.
Potter wanted him to know they had "found something of interest to both of them." It was the much-searched for $8,000, in an envelope left in a deposit slip rack. A good-hearted customer had discovered the crumpled packet and turned it in to a teller; they had given $50 of it to the finder, which he was sure George would approve of.
Sure, said George. He was surprised how little excitement he felt at the return of the prodigal deposit, although he was amused at Potter's generosity with George's money. For a moment, he thought about asking "If I had found $10,000 of yours, and had given $20 as a reward, would you have been fine with that?" But he just added "Thank you for thinking of that, Mr. Potter."
There was a peculiar tone to the rest of the call, though. Potter sounded positively wistful, asking him about his children's Christmas day, and how the aftermath of that already fading Christmas eve had gone, with half of Bedford Falls crowded into his house on Sycamore Street.
It was true that the hall carpet was essentially ruined, but he didn't tell Potter that.
Harry had left yesterday for Pensacola, where he would be training new pilots. "Watch out for that Potter," he said at the train station, adding "he's got something he wants to prove, and you're in the way of it."
So it was with an extra sense of unease George had heard the words "Why don't you and that charming family come over to my house for dinner tonight, and toast a new year, and the prosperity of peace?"
There was silence on both sides of the line, long enough to punctuate with a couple of Potter's carefully controlled wheezes, just enough sound to indicate listening silence.
"I'll have to check with Mary first, Mr. Potter; to tell you the truth, things have been so busy I'm not sure what our plans at home might be."
"Of course, of course my boy, you do that; wouldn't want to upset the missus. Just give me all call when you get home out here to Beech Grove."
Potter's father had begun a large rambling Georgian home on a knoll well out of town, and built barns and a pond and trails for horseback riding around the wooded acreage. It was along those, everyone knew, that a young Potter Junior had been thrown by a spooked horse, and been paralyzed ever since. There were stories about a young woman and a broken engagement, but all that was before George was even born.
The current Mr. Potter had added wings and grey stone and a high iron fence, but the few who had been on the grounds reported back food that was excellent, cooked in Continental style by a chef who it was rumored spoke no English. George said "I will certainly call as soon as I get home."
"Excellent, excellent. George, we have much to talk about. My best to your Mary," followed by a decisive clunk.
Should he go out there, he wondered? Should he even mention the invitation to Mary? She would wince and shake her head, but then say sternly, "We ought to say yes, if only to find out what he's up to."
And just how would it be, with his children, no doubt in danger of breaking a priceless object at every turn, sitting there about to say things they'd heard at home? There was no way it would be a pleasant evening.
Yet there was something in the old man's voice, or in that silence as he chose not to wheedle or plead ingratiatingly, as was his usual style. Something *was* up, that's for sure.
George reached for his hat, and thought "at the very least, I'll have a story for Harry the next time he calls." And then stopped and read for the millionth time those words of his father, neatly stitched by his mother - 'All you can take with you is that which you give away.'
Well, I'll always have this evening then, thought George.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story of a new year at email@example.com or follow Knapsack @Twitter.