In 2016, I started a little tradition here at the blog of writing a five-part Christmas story during the holiday season. While this does not appeal to all my readers, many of you have shared with me that you look forward to these stories each year. I really enjoy writing fiction and this is a bit of a way to stretch myself and my writing skills. And so I will take a little break from my normal style of writing over the next five weeks and will instead post a part each week to this year’s Christmas story: The Christmas Ornaments. I hope you enjoy it!
Julie sighed. Pulling her frayed sweater around her shoulders, she trudged on through the slush. Sleet fell hard on her shoulders as she walked down the street to her tiny apartment on the upper floor of an old historical brownstone. Adding a bright note to the dreary night were twinkling Christmas trees in the windows and Christmas lights strung from porch roofs and wrapped around lamp posts.
Biting her lip with worry, she wondered how she would pay the rent this month. Things were so tight. Waitressing just wasn’t providing her enough to live on. Especially now that they had cut her hours back. She thought of poor Mrs. Gunderson who had lost her husband a year ago. The restaurant was sorely missing its owner and manager. The owner’s wife seemed to be doing all she could, but it just wasn’t working. Mr. Gunderson had been the face of the Diner. He had been the reason for his establishment’s success. His fun, lively spirit and excellent management, along with a caring heart had made him one of the town’s favorite people. Some people you just couldn’t replace.
Julie knew she should get another job and yet thinking about leaving Mrs. Gunderson in this difficult time just seemed cruel. She sighed again as her options—or lack thereof—trailed through her mind.
“I’m too tired to think about it tonight,” she thought as she climbed the porch steps of her apartment building. Entering the huge foyer that served as an entry way, she stopped to check her mail and found an unexpected surprise: A small nondescript, brown package.
Curious, she put it, along with the bills and flyers in her box, in her tote bag and went up the stairs to her apartment. Putting the key in the old wooden door, she heard it creak just a bit as she opened it. Oh, it was so chilly! She turned up the heat a bit, trying not to think about the extra expense, while Mr. Tibbs, her orange cat, rubbed against her legs.
“Hello there, my big fellow,” Julie reached down and picked up Mr. Tibbs and cuddled him. She wasn’t really a cat person, but Mr. Tibbs had shown up in the yard downstairs one day and no one wanted him. After some effort to find his owner, Julie had eventually claimed him, growing quite attached during the process.
But there were matters more pressing than cuddling Mr. Tibbs and she put him back down and took the mysterious package over to the table. A scissors quickly opened the box and there, in a soft bed of bubble wrap, lay a miniature snow globe. A ribbon was attached, indicating that it was a Christmas ornament. She shook it up and down and watched the snow fall on the tiny Christ child who lay in a miniature manger with His parents close by.
She reached her hand into the package to look for a card. Finding an envelope she pulled it out and opened it. Her eyes widened in great surprise as she pulled a wad of bills out of the package. What in the world? She wondered. She counted them and found ten one hundred dollar bills along with a small post-it note that said only these simple words: Merry Christmas! I’m praying for you!
Julie thought through all of the people she knew and realized she didn’t know even one who could afford to send this kind of cash. Who could it be?
The next day she awoke to the pleasant realization that her rent was no longer a problem. The gift she had received yesterday would more than cover it. In fact, she could put several hundred away and still have a bit to spend on Christmas. She couldn’t remember the last time she had even a dollar that could be spent frivolously. She didn’t go to work until the dinner shift that evening and so she decided she would go have some fun. She hadn’t planned on getting a tree but now that she had this little ornament, perhaps a small tree was in order.
The crisp, bright weather outside seemed to understand her mood. The sun shone brightly from the blue sky as she walked into the city to do a little shopping. Beginning at her favorite department store, she found a small artificial tree for her ornament. She bought a few other ornaments and some mini-lights to complete the tree. Her heart welled up with excitement at the thought of decorating it. It had been so long since she had even celebrated Christmas. She hadn’t realized how much she missed it until she received the ornament.
Next, she went to the pet department and found some toys for Mr. Tibbs where she purchased a cloth mouse that squeaked and two little tinkling balls in bright colors.
The women’s clothing department was next on her list and there she picked out a new soft and thick heather gray sweater. She even found a much-needed winter coat on sale. It was a bright pink color—most likely the reason it was on clearance—but she bought it anyway. It was five times warmer than the thin, worn out coat she had had since she was a teenager.
Within a couple of hours she had made her purchases and was struggling to carry them home. She should have thought about that, she berated herself. The bag with the ornaments kept falling.
“Here let me help you with that,” A young man jumped to her aid just as the bag was getting ready to slip again.
“Oh, thank you so much!” She laughed as she accepted his help. She liked his warm brown eyes.
“Where are you headed?” He asked in a friendly manner.
When she told him her street, he whistled, “That’s a long way with a load this heavy. Why don’t I flag a taxi for you?”
“Oh, no, I’ll be fine—” and then she remembered. Just this once, she could afford a taxi. And so she told him to go ahead.
Within a few moments, she was cozily settled into the taxi with all of her packages.
“Thank you!” she said to the nice man but he had already turned and was walking away.
A few hours later, she was at work. But, unlike the previous days, there was a spring in her step and she hurried to the booth where her favorite customer, Mrs. Bailey, sat.
“Good evening, Mrs. Bailey!”
“Good evening, dear. So nice to see you.”
“Where is Mr. Bailey tonight? Still under the weather?”
“He still has that cold. He just can’t seem to shake that awful cough. His nurse seems worried. I left him in her care and thought I’d come out for a quick bite to eat.”
In the four years that Julie had worked at the restaurant, Mrs. Bailey had been joined by Mr. Bailey faithfully until the past three months. He had caught a terrible case of bronchitis and his 89 year old body was having a very hard time recovering. The Baileys had never had kids and had expressed how lonely they were. In this, Julie had felt a kinship with them and they had developed a relationship that went beyond just a few meals at the restaurant.
“Please let him know I asked after him.”
“I will surely do that, dear. You should come and visit when you can. I know that would cheer him up.” the Bailey’s lived in a tiny apartment in a nice neighborhood just a short walk from the restaurant. Julie had been there often.
“Yes, I will have to do that,” she smiled, “now what can I get you?”
A few moments later she carried out a steaming bowl of creamy potato soup along with a cup of coffee for her friend. Behind her, at a nearby table, someone sat watching.
“Well, that looks delicious. I think I’ll have the same,” said a slightly familiar voice.
Julie turned and, surprised, saw that it was the friendly man from earlier that day. He sat with a pretty blonde woman.
They were sitting in her section and so, smiling, Julie walked over to the table with her pad in hand, ready to take their order.
The man gave a big grin and said, “Well, if it isn’t the girl with too many packages from earlier today! What are the chances?”
He introduced her to his pretty wife, who was as friendly as he was. It was a slow evening at the restaurant and this gave her an opportunity to talk with the young couple. She found out their names were Ted and Maggie. Before they left, they extended an invitation to come to the young people’s meetings at their church. When they explained where it was, Julie realized that Grace Bible Church was not too far from her house and decided she would go. It was time to try something new.