12 Years of Christmas
Terry looked down at her two sleeping angels and wondered how she could possibly make their Christmas special. All the money she earned as a cashier at the local bookstore went towards the rent for their one-bedroom apartment, food, electricity, and their basic needs. She couldn’t afford to get a second job because a decent sitter was too expensive. Besides, she didn’t get much time with Justin and Julie as it was with her current work schedule. The twins went to second grade at the neighborhood school which started at 7:45am, and Terry worked from 9:00am to 5:30pm five days a week. By the time she picked up the twins from the after-school program, they only had time for dinner, homework, and baths before bedtime arrived. Saturdays and Sundays were typically spent cleaning the tiny apartment, washing clothes at the laundry mat they walked to down the block, or shopping for weekly grocery bargains. Her checking account currently had $135 which had to last for two weeks. Christmas was four weeks away. How was she supposed to bring joy to her babies’ faces on Christmas morning with no extra money?
All the next week, Terry stressed over what to do, and often times, her mind wandered at work. So much so that her boss, Mrs. Bell, took notice and inquired about what was distracting her. However, Terry couldn’t bring herself to reveal her situation. She felt too ashamed. Mrs. Bell was not easily deceived though. She knew that Terry was a single mom who struggled to make ends meet which had to make Christmas particularly tough, and she had an idea that she hoped would bring some joy to the family.
“You know, Terry, that we have a lot of wooded land, and every year, my husband and I search for the perfect tree to use as our Christmas tree. Would you and the kids like to come find one for your home?” Mrs. Bell offered.
“Oh, we would love to, but I have no way to get it home.”
“Don’t worry about that. My husband can bring it back for you. Let’s plan for Saturday if that works for you.”
“Thank you so much. We would love to come. Justin and Julie will be so excited.”
That Saturday, the twins were up by 7:00am bouncing around filled with excitement for the day. Terry was excited as well, but in the back of her mind, she knew the Uber ride out to Mrs. Bell’s was making a big dent into her money. Plus, they couldn’t afford to buy decorations for the tree. She was determined to not let all of that ruin the day though. Just as she was about to request an Uber, Terry heard a knock on the door. Justin jumped up from the kitchen table to peak out the window.
“Mom! It’s the lady from the bookstore!”
“Justin, you don’t have to yell. We are all in the same room.” Terry opened the door to Mrs. Bell and asked, “Is everything okay? We were just about to get an Uber out to your place.”
“Yes, everything’s fine. I had to run to the bookstore this morning, so I thought I could give you a lift since you were on my way. Hope that’s okay?”
Terry didn’t want to intrude or take advantage of Mrs. Bell’s kindness, but this would save her money, and Mrs. Bell’s offer seemed sincere. “Thank you, we appreciate your offer. Come on kids. Put on your shoes and coats. We are riding with Mrs. Bell.”
Mrs. Bell’s home was a modest wood cabin surrounded by thick forest. The front porch spanned the entire length of the house and had swings hanging on both ends with four rocking chairs between them. Smoke billowed from the chimney promising an escape from the cold outside. Upon stepping from the car, Terry felt a sense of calm blanket her. No matter what tomorrow brings, she would embrace and appreciate today.
Mr. Bell stepped out the front door and yelled “Who’s ready to find a Christmas tree?!”
The twins yelled back in unison, “I am!”
Mrs. Bell laughed, “You’ll see that Mr. Bell is a big kid himself when it comes to Christmas.”
The five of them loaded into Mr. Bell’s truck to head out in search of two perfect trees. Mrs. Bell tuned the radio to Christmas music, and they sang while dancing in their seats to the holiday songs. Two hours later, they had found their trees. Mrs. Bell invited them inside for hot chocolate before leaving which Terry happily agreed to in hopes of warming up in front of the fireplace after being out in the cold.
Justin and Julie sat down on the floor drinking their hot chocolate in front of the chair Mrs. Bell settled into while she read them a short Christmas story. Mr. Bell dragged in their Christmas tree and stood it up to the left of the fireplace. Then, he began bringing out boxes and boxes of Christmas decorations. Terry’s eyes welled with tears when she began thinking about not having any decorations for their tree. She quickly turned towards the fire hoping no one saw her reaction.
From behind her, Mrs. Bell said, “You know kids, one of my favorite memories of Christmas when I was your age was making decorations from popcorn and paper. Would you like to make some before you go?”
“Mom! Can we?” Justin and Julie asked.
Julie took a deep breath, put a smile on her face, and turned to face their glowing faces. “Sure, we have nothing else planned for today.”
Over the next three hours, the five of them strung popcorn on string and made paper ornaments of snowflakes, candy canes, Christmas balls, and more while drinking hot chocolate and eating cookies Mrs. Bell had baked the night before.
At the end of the day, Mrs. Bell offered to put the homemade decorations in a box while Terry loaded the kids in Mr. Bell’s truck. Terry met her back at the cabin’s door to carry the box for her, but Mrs. Bell shooed her away and insisted on placing it in the truck herself.
“Mr. and Mrs. Bell, thank you both for making today so special for me and my kids. You have no idea what this means to me.”
Mrs. Bell hugged Terry and responded with glistening eyes, “You three brought joy to us today and helped remind us of what Christmas should be about. Thank you.”
When they got back to the apartment, Mr. Bell carried in the box of decorations and the tree while Terry lugged the sleeping twins inside. Before leaving, Mr. Bell insisted on placing the Christmas tree in its stand and making sure it was stable. Then he explained in detail the importance of keeping it well watered so that it didn’t dry out and become a fire hazard. Terry appreciated his thoughtfulness and couldn’t keep herself from hugging him good-bye and smiling when his white beard tickled her cheek. Driving away, Mr. Bell waved at Terry who felt joy in her heart for the couple who had done so much for her family today.
That night, she picked up the box of decorations to place it next to the tree, and she thought it felt heavy for just popcorn and paper. She opened it and began pulling out the items they had created earlier in the day. Under them, she found two strings of colorful Christmas lights, an angel tree topper, and envelope with her name written on the front. Hands shaking, Terry opened the envelope and read,
Over the last few months that we have gotten to know you while working at the bookstore, you have proven yourself to be a strong, determined young lady who puts family first. You, Justin, and Julie have brought a much-needed brightness to our lives. We have included some extra items in the box that we hope you will use. The lights are to brighten your Christmas and light your way when times feel dark. The angel is a reminder that you are never alone, and the check is your Christmas bonus which is only a small fraction of what you are worth.
Mr. and Mrs. Bell
Terry slid out the check for $500 and completely broke down. Justin and Julie found her crying when they walked into the room after changing into the pajamas.
Julie ran to her mom hugging her and asked, “What’s wrong?”
Shaking her head, Terry replied, “Nothing Baby Girl. These are tears of joy. I was just reminded that there are guardian angels in this world.”
Over the next 12 years, Terry, Justin, and Julie would spend every second Saturday of December with Mr. and Mrs. Bell finding the perfect Christmas trees, making decorations with popcorn and paper, and drinking hot chocolate while eating Mrs. Bell’s homemade cookies. Terry eventually became manager of the bookstore when the Bells decided to retire. Justin and Julie often helped them at home with jobs they could no longer do themselves. The five of them were a family brought together by the joy of Christmas.
After their twelfth Christmas together, Mr. and Mrs. Bell tragically died in a car wreck on their way home from watching a movie one night. Terry, Justin, and Julie mourned their loss of the two special people who had blessed their lives. They were already missing the tree hunting days that would never come again. A few days later, Terry realized she most likely would be out of a job when new owners took over the bookstore. She not only severely missed her two friends, but she also dreaded starting over.
One day while sorting through Mrs. Bell’s desk at the bookstore, Terry came across an envelope with her name written across the front. With shaking hands, she opened the envelope and read,
So many years ago, you, Justin, and Julie became blessings in our lives. Your brightness lighted our way. You were our angels who reminded us that we were never alone. The three of you brought so much joy to our lives that we could never repay you. Please accept our last Christmas bonus to you. It is only a small fraction of what you are worth.
Mr. and Mrs. Bell
Terry pulls out the rest of the envelope’s contents, and she completely breaks down when she finds the deeds to the bookstore, home, and land. Justin and Julie walk into the office at that moment, and Julie asks her mom what is wrong.
Terry raised her head and said with a smile, “Nothing Baby Girl. These are tears of joy. I was just reminded that there are guardian angels in this world.”