There should have been snow, or at least a chill to the air. The holidays were here. There were some things you just expected to be part of the season. The decorations were everywhere: inflatable snowmen and reindeer, garish lights and giant candy canes. The Community Church was presenting their drive through Nativity for the 18th year. Yes, on the surface the most wonderful time of the year was here with the exception of the weather cooperating.
When I was younger - 8, 9, even into my early teens, I had really believed in the most wonderful time of the year. It was all about possibilities and dreams and magic. I can remember sitting up until 2 am. Waiting to hear the sleigh bells over the house as Santa and Rudolph made their rounds. Somewhere along the way all of that magic had faded for me. Reality made a big impact on my life. All of the visions of sugar plums melted away and I had come to see life as one big sticky gooey mess.
So I came home.
My family was all gone. Age and disease has taken their toll slowly through the years until all that was left was me, world weary and as cynical as they come. I suppose that some vestige of hope and faith still flickered in the depths of my heart, because I had chosen the one time of the year that I still associated with joy to return. To the town I had thought contained all the best the universe had to offer until life intervened. I gave myself a mental slap on the back of the head. Whatever I had hoped to accomplish on this prodigal’s journey would not transpire with this attitude.
I was carrying my attempt at atonement in a gaily wrapped box. The name on the construction paper angel attached was Bobby L. I had managed to ferret out a bit of background on the child from an old classmate that volunteered at the Salvation Army. The biography on the Angel Tree had been sparse. Age: 4 Christmas Wish: Toys for my brother and sister.
When I was Bobby’s age I had wanted trucks and army tanks. Action figures and a big boy bike were also popular gifts that year. Santa had been very generous with me as a child. I was puzzled at the simplicity and sadness of the request. My former classmate, Debbie, had filled in what blanks she could. There were a lot of privacy issues any time you were dealing with the personal information of a child.
Bobby L. was the oldest of three children in a single parent home. His mother had been left alone when her husband was killed in an accident the previous summer. She had managed to keep a roof over their heads, but necessities stretched her resources to the limit.
I had purchased the toys as requested. Enclosed with the gifts was a hand lettered “Claim Ticket” that Debbie would redeem for me after the holidays. I had provided a gift for Bobby, his younger siblings and his mother. She would be able to purchase sufficient clothing and supplies to see them through the next several years.
I had been in a hurry the night of the accident. I seemed to always be in a hurry, and failed to see the young man walking by the shoulder of the road at dusk, picking up aluminum cans. Legally I had been cleared of responsibility in the accident. The guilt had lain heavy on my heart for weeks.
Last month, right before Thanksgiving, I had decided that I had to do something, anything to atone for my own actions. I had not married, and when my parents had passed away I put the bulk of my inheritance in stocks. There was now a brokerage account for the heirs of Robert J Lane with dividends going to his widow quarterly.
You can only imagine my pleasure when I found Bobby’s name on the tree.
I slipped into the Christmas party unnoticed and placed the package under the Angel Tree. As I left, I could hear the strains of “Joy to the World” coming from the speakers at Community Church. I was grateful for the mist that had begun to fall, masking the tears that were suddenly streaming down my face as I realized the miracles and magic of Christmas were mine once more. As I reached the church, snow began to fall.
This was weitten as an entry in a Christmas short story contest.