The Christmas Sparrow

Hi everyone,

Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings, and Happy New Year!

THE CHRISTMAS SPARROW
By David L Harrison

It was Christmas all over the house. From the dazzling tree to the piles of presents to the turkey roasting in the oven, everything was ready. This was going to be the best Christmas Eve in the history of the world according to Samantha Peterson, who was six years old.

Then her brother Paul walked into the room and ruined everything.
He flopped on the sofa, leaned toward the coffee table, and ran his finger over the lid of the candy dish filled with fudge reserved for company. “Mom wants you,” he said.

Samantha’s eyes narrowed. “Why?” she asked, knowing exactly why he wanted her to leave.

Paul shrugged. “Go ask her.”

“I’m telling if you take fudge.”

“I wouldn’t advise it.”

Samantha made a face and stuck out her tongue.

Paul made a face and pinched her arm.

“That hurt!” she yelled. Doubling up her six-year-old fist, she smacked Paul on his nine-year-old nose.

“Ow!” he howled. “I hate you!”

“I hate you back!”

“I hate you more!”

“Motherrrrr!”

Mrs. Peterson was tired from cooking and needed a break. She was holed up in the bathroom in a tub of hot water, wearing a headset and shouting along to a tune by Led Zeppelin.

“Motherrrrr!”

After a very . . . long . . . pause . . . the bathroom door opened the merest crack possible.

“What!” came a voice that sounded like, “This had better be important.”

“Paul pinched me!” Samantha wailed, doing her best to sound mortally wounded.

The yelling and fighting excited the dogs. Boomer One and Boomer Two raced through the house, barking and howling and slipping and sliding and banging into furniture. They were huge dogs. Together they weighed 150 pounds, which was like ten bowling balls rolling around the house crashing into things.
Missing a sharp turn around the end of the sofa, the dogs crashed into the Christmas tree. Packages flew like missiles. The tree smashed against the wall and fell in a shower of ornaments and tangled strings of lights.
Mrs. Peterson ran out of the bathroom clutching her robe and rubbing her right temple.

“Mom,” said Paul, trying to be helpful, “your feet are making puddles on the floor.”

Mr. Peterson, who had just gotten home from work, bustled in through the garage door calling out, “Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!”

Samantha and Paul were too busy glaring at each other to reply.

Mrs. Peterson asked in a thin voice, “Did you remember marshmallows?”

Mr. Peterson smacked himself on the forehead and laughed. “Forgot! But who needs marshmallows anyway?”

Mrs. Peterson’s voice rose with each word to an astonishing pitch. “Who needs marshmallows?”

Mr. Peterson was suddenly indignant. “What’s the big deal?” he asked. “It’s a bag of marshmallows!”

Mrs. Peterson spoke rapidly and rather loudly about how could he forget marshmallows for the sweet potatoes the one simple thing she had asked him to do when she had done everything else and didn’t he even notice that the tree was destroyed and the packages were scattered like buckshot and everything in them was probably smashed and broken and if he didn’t get rid of those horses he called dogs she was going to scream! But in fact she already was screaming.

And then she cried.

And the dogs howled.

“You started it!” Paul yelled at Samantha.

“This is the worst Christmas Eve in the history of the world!” Samantha sobbed.

In the sudden silence, something thumped at the window.

“What was that?” asked Paul.

Samantha pressed her nose against the glass and left a snotty little smear on it. “I don’t see anything,” she snuffled.

Paul opened the door and looked out. On the ground lay a small brown bird with one wing spread out like a dainty fan. The bird wasn’t moving.

“Is it dead?” Samantha whispered. Paul crouched down with his face close to the still form.

“The little guy flew into the window,” Mr. Peterson said.

“Is it dead?” Samantha whispered again.

“It’s looking at us,” Paul said. “See how its eyes are looking at us?”

“Is it going to die?” Samantha asked. “I don’t want it to die!”

“It’s a sparrow,” said Mrs. Peterson. “Bring it inside.”

Paul cupped the hurt bird in his hands and carried it into the living room.
Mr. Peterson lifted the Christmas tree back onto its stand. He rummaged around on the floor until he found one of the bird nest ornaments, which he hung on a branch halfway up the tree.

“Put the bird in that,” he said. “The dogs can’t reach it there.”

“The dogs,” Mrs. Peterson muttered darkly, “are taller than the tree.”

“Maybe it’s thirsty,” Samantha said.

“There is nothing we can do,” her mother said. “I’m afraid it’s dying.”

Tears rolled down Samantha’s face. “I don’t want our Christmas sparrow to die!” she cried.

“I’m hungry,” said Paul.

Leaving the bird resting with its eyes closed, the family sat down at the dining room table. Throughout dinner, which featured sweet potatoes without marshmallows, the only sounds were the clatter of knives and forks and tinkle of ice in glasses. Not one word was spoken. Mrs. Peterson glared at her sweet potatoes. Mr. Peterson stared at the wall. Paul shoveled food into his mouth. All Samantha could think about was the bird. This was, she told herself, the worst Christmas Eve dinner in the history of the world.

After it was over, Paul and Samantha left the table. Normally they would have hovered in the kitchen, urging and begging their parents to hurry. This year they sat quietly on opposite sides of the living room, trying not to look at the crooked Christmas tree with the silent nest halfway up its branches.

At last their parents entered the room. “Who wants to hand out the presents?” Mr. Peterson asked. Samantha studied her shoes. Paul shrugged.
With his arms across his chest Mr. Peterson walked to the tree and peeked into the nest. Shaking his head, he turned away. No one dared to ask what that meant.

Mrs. Peterson was absent mindedly straightening up the mess caused by the dogs. On the floor she found the bible open to St. Luke and started reading softly to herself. As the others began to listen, her voice grew stronger.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy . . .” Mrs. Peterson continued to read. When she finished the story, she set the book on the table near the tree. Again no one spoke, but this silence was not full of anger like the one at dinner. It was the sort of silence that comes from thinking. After a while the family went to bed. The gifts had not been touched.

Later, when the house lay dark and still, Samantha thought about the hurt bird in the living room. “Please don’t die,” she whispered. She thought about the story that her mother had read. She decided that a piece of fudge and a sack of marshmallows didn’t seem important now. Without expecting to she called out through the dark to Paul’s room across the hall.

“I don’t hate you,” she said.

“I don’t hate you either,” Paul answered back.

In their bed, Mr. Peterson whispered, “I loved your sweet potatoes. I’m sorry I forgot to stop at the store.”

Mrs. Peterson squeezed his hand. “Fewer calories that way,” she whispered.

Moonlight through the living room window fell across Boomer One and Boomer Two. Leaving the dogs in the house at night was strictly forbidden. Now they were lying beside the tree below the nest.

Next morning no one wanted to be the first up. Samantha lay awake with her eyes shut. Paul pulled the cover over his head. At last Mr. and Mrs. Peterson put on their robes and tiptoed into the living room.

“Oh no!” Mrs. Peterson cried when she saw the dogs snoring near the gifts.
Mr. Peterson groaned. “We left them inside!”

Samantha, who had just entered the room, glanced anxiously from her father to her mother.

“The bird!” Mrs. Peterson said, looking into the nest. “It’s gone!”

“We forgot the dogs!” Paul cried.

Boomer One and Boomer Two leaped up and bounded to the front door. With a heavy sigh Mr. Peterson opened the door and let them out. The rising sun was painting the morning pink and red.

From the top of the Christmas tree behind them came a musical two-note twitter.

“Our Christmas sparrow!” Samantha shouted. “It didn’t die after all!”

In a whir of brown wings the bird darted across the room and out into the brilliant day. In amazement the whole family hurried outside to watch it fly away.

Samantha discovered that she was holding her brother’s hand. “This is the best Christmas morning in the history of the world!” she said.

“Don’t forget the story Mom read last night,” Paul reminded her.

“Oh. Right,” Samantha said. “It’s the second best, and that’s perfect!”

Hand in hand the Petersons went in to breakfast. Soon they would get around to opening their presents. But they knew they had already received the best gift of all.

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MRS. STANLEY’S CHRISTMAS

Hi everyone,

This story first appeared in the Springfield News-Leader a few years ago. Since then I’ve posted it on my blog more than once. I hope you won’t mind seeing it again and telling others about it who might like to share it with someone.

Tomorrow I’ll post another Christmas story, also from the past.

Merry Christmas!

MRS. STANLEY’S CHRISTMAS
By David L. Harrison

It was Christmas Eve and snowing. Mrs. Stanley’s feet hurt but she hummed a Christmas carol as she worked in her kitchen. Little John would be there soon. She hadn’t seen her grandson since last summer. The table set for four looked splendid with her best dishes. She hummed as she set out coffee cups.
She stopped humming when the telephone rang.

“Mama?” It was Joyce.
Mrs. Stanley knew something was wrong.
“We’re snowed in at the airport.”
“Oh no!”

“They’ve just canceled all flights. No way out before tomorrow. That won’t leave us enough time to come.”
“Joyce!”

“We can’t make it, Mama.”

Mrs. Stanley looked at Little John’s place at the table. The sofa cushion on the chair was for extra height. Two napkins lay by his plate, just in case. After all, he was only four.

“Mama, I know you’ve gone to so much trouble. I’m so sorry! I’ll call you
tomorrow.”

Mrs. Stanley put her head down on the table. She knew Joyce was disappointed too but she had her family. Mrs. Stanley lived alone. It was hard not to feel bitter. She steadied herself on the table as she stood up. Her knees ached from too much walking the past week. She had even walked to the grocery store several blocks away.

“Hi Mrs. Stanley,” Eddie said as he sacked her groceries. “Haven’t seen you lately. Ready for Christmas?”
“My grandson’s coming!” she told him.
“Hey, way to go! Got your tree up yet?”
“It’s on my list, Eddie. “But I don’t know how to get it home.”
Eddie paused with a can of pumpkin in his hand. “Kids sure love Christmas trees,” he said.

Mrs. Stanley had an idea. “If you’ll get my tree home for me, Eddie, I’ll bake you a pie. Is that a deal?”

Eddie grinned. “For a pumpkin pie, I’ll get it home and put it up for you.”

Looking at the pair of pies on the counter, Mrs. Stanley wondered if Eddie might like them both. She no longer felt hungry. She went into the living room to look out the window. Snow swirled down now so thick she could hardly see the streetlight.

Her small Christmas tree looked beautiful in front of the window. Now no one would see it. There was no star on top anyway. She had broken the old one putting it up. She sighed. She sighed again at the packages under the tree. She reached to turn off her porch light.

Was that something outside her door? She listened. There it was again, rather low down on the door. Mrs. Stanley was a cautious woman, but whoever was making that gentle sound didn’t sound dangerous. She opened the door a crack and peeked out.

A little boy with a smooth round face smiled up at her. He might be six or seven. Snow glistened on his hair and coat.

“Oh my!” she said. “Who are you?”
“Danny,” he said.

Mrs. Stanley looked out into the night. There had to be someone with this child. He couldn’t simply appear by himself. What could his parents be thinking! Nothing else moved in the dark except the blowing snow.
Danny was looking around her, past her into the living room. “Ma?” he called. “Ma here?” he said. “Cold.”

“Oh! Of course! You must be frozen!” Mrs. Stanley took the little boy by the hand. He wore no gloves and his fingers felt frosty. He followed her inside and stood while she brushed off the snow. In the warm room, small puddles soon formed on the floor around him. He kept smiling while she took one of his hands and rubbed it.
His other hand clenched into a fist.

“Danny, do you have something in your hand?” She hoped it might be a note, maybe a phone number or address.
One by one his fingers unfolded. He was holding a small seashell bleached white by the sun.

“Pretty,” Mrs. Stanley said, not knowing what else to say.
“Pretty,” Danny repeated with a happy smile. “My Pretty!”
“Yes,” she agreed. “Pretty.”

He ducked his head and threw his arms around her. She hadn’t expected this. Wet clothes and all, Danny hugged her.
“Feel better?” she asked the top of his head.
“Yeah,” he said. “Feel better.”
He tilted his head back and looked up at her.

Mrs. Stanley moaned to herself. First, Christmas got snowed out, and now this! She should be holding her own sweet grandson, not this wet little stranger at her door. She had no idea what to do next.

This time the knock was louder. Without taking one second to think, she turned and opened the door. A man and woman stood there. Their frantic faces told the story.

“He’s here,” Mrs. Stanley said. “Come in.”
“Danny!” the woman cried. She rushed into the room and gathered the boy in her arms. The man closed his eyes and hugged them together.
“Ma!” the boy cried. “Dad!”

“Where have you been?” his mother said. “We’ve been so worried!”
Danny’s eyes filled with tears. “Danny sorry,” he said.

“He knocked on my door a few minutes ago,” Mrs. Stanley said. “I couldn’t imagine what to think.”

“We can’t thank you enough!” the woman said. “I’m Mary Waller. This is my husband, Joe. We’ve been out of our minds looking for him!”

“I’m Judith Stanley,” she said. “May I ask how you managed to lose your little boy on a night like this?” She knew that sounded cross, but she was feeling cross.

Mary Waller didn’t seem to notice. “It’s a long a story,” she said. “Joe got laid off. And Danny has so many bills. We’re going to stay with my parents for a while. Until things get better. On the way there tonight our car broke down.”

“I can fix it in the daylight,” Joe said.

“Somehow Danny got away when we were looking under the hood,” Mary said. “He likes to wander. We watch him, but sometimes . . . ”

“Pretty!” Danny shouted, gazing at his shell.

“That’s his treasure,” Joe said. “Carries it everywhere. For some reason that shell means more to him than just about anything.”

Mrs. Stanley looked from one face to another. “Have you eaten?” she asked.
Joe dropped his head. “We’ve been a little busy,” he said.

“I was expecting company,” Mrs. Stanley said. “But they’re not coming. I have all this food.”

Danny was seven, three years older than Little John, but the sofa cushion worked well. Joe carved the turkey while Mary warmed the bread and finished getting things ready. Food was soon on the table.

“I can’t believe this,” Joe kept saying. “This is a wonderful dinner!”
“If I do say so,” Mrs. Stanley said, “this is one of my better pies.”

Mary and Joe put away leftovers and washed dishes. Mrs. Stanley sat and watched them. They worked well together. Sitting there resting her legs, she started thinking about something. Now she made her decision.
She reached across the table and took Danny’s hand. “Ready to open presents?” she asked.

“No way!” said Joe.
“Presents!” Danny shouted. “Presents! Presents! Presents!”

Mrs. Stanley put her arm on Danny’s shoulder. Together they led the way into the living room. “Next year,” she told him, “I’m going to get a new star for the top of the tree. Won’t that be nice?”

“We can’t accept these,” Mary said.
“It’s Christmas,” Mrs. Stanley said. “Joe, this is for you. Mary, this is yours. Danny, I saved the best for last. This one is just for you.”

With a happy shout, Danny set his shell on the floor and ripped the paper off his present. It was a large box of crayons and a coloring book.
Danny’s round face looked puzzled. Mary opened the box for him and pulled out a red crayon. She opened the book and colored a balloon bright red. Danny’s smile was magnificent.
“Oh!” he said. “Pretty!”

Joe was a large man like Mrs. Stanley’s son-in-law. His flannel shirt was the right size. Mary opened her small box with a gasp. It held one of Mrs. Stanley’s own treasures – a dainty ring set with a small ruby. Joyce would understand.

“You’ve given us so much,” Mary said, “and we have nothing for you.”
Mrs. Stanley smiled. “You would be surprised,” she said.

Danny yawned. Joe looked at his wife, but Mrs. Stanley had already made that decision too. “You’re staying here tonight,” she said. “Tomorrow you can be on your way.”

Mrs. Stanley took the small bed in the extra room and gave her larger one to Mary and Joe. She spread quilts on the sofa for Danny and left the tree lights on because he liked them.

Sometime after midnight Mrs. Stanley got up to check on Danny. He was asleep facing toward the tree.
“Merry Christmas, Danny,’ she whispered.

When Mrs. Stanley woke up Christmas morning, she scolded herself for sleeping so late. She knew at once that the house was empty. She found the note on the kitchen table.

“Dear Mrs. Stanley,” it began. “We’ll never have a better Christmas. Joe can fix the car in the daylight so we’re getting an early start. We hope we didn’t disturb you.”

Mrs. Stanley carried the note into the living room and finished reading it in her chair. “Danny loves you very much. We all do! We’ll never forget you, Mrs. Stanley. Bless you for taking us in.
Mary, Joe, and Danny
PS — Danny said Merry Christmas.“

The phone rang. Still holding the note, Mrs. Stanley picked up the receiver.
“Hi Mama. The snow finally stopped here. Has it stopped there too?”
Mrs. Stanley looked out the window. “Yes,” she said. “It’s a beautiful day.”
“I’m so sorry that Christmas got snowed out this year,” Joyce said. “How are you doing?”

Mrs. Stanley had just noticed something. Danny’s shell perched on top of her tree. It seemed to her that no tree ever had a more perfect star.

“I’m fine,” she told her daughter. “I guess it takes more than snow to keep Christmas from coming.”

Joyce sounded puzzled. “I guess so, Mama,” she said.
“Hug Little John for me,” Mrs. Stanley said. “Tell him I love him. Tell him I said Merry Christmas.”

Mrs. Stanley’s Christmas

MRS. STANLEY’S CHRISTMAS
By David L. Harrison   
  

It was Christmas Eve and snowing. Mrs. Stanley’s feet hurt but she hummed a Christmas carol as she worked in her kitchen. Little John would be there soon. She hadn’t seen her grandson since last summer. The table set for four looked splendid with her best dishes. She hummed as she set out coffee cups.
      She stopped humming when the telephone rang.
      “Mama?” It was Joyce.
      Mrs. Stanley knew something was wrong.
      “We’re snowed in at the airport.”
      “Oh no!”

Click here to read the rest of the story

Peace to all,
David

Sorry about the snow

Hello everyone. To those of you who have been stranded or inconvenienced by the record snowfall, my sincere sympathy. Here in the mid-section we don’t often see snow over a few inches deep so it’s hard to imagine what you are going through now. I wish you sunny skies, warmer temperatures, and diminishing snow. Enough already.

I’m going to post a Christmas story on the 24th. I wrote it three or four years ago at the request of our newspaper. Last year I read it in our Hall for Performing Arts as part of a Christmas show. This year it was published in a booklet used as a fund raiser to help feed folks who need a little hand. So now I think I’ll offer it to you. I hope you will enjoy it. The name of it is Mrs. Stanley’s Christmas There’s a lot of snow in my story too.

.

Thanks to a last minute flurry of student poems, we finished with 23 entries for December! While Kathy prepares the ballot boxes to post tomorrow, I’ll be thinking of a good word for January.

Thanks to everyone who participated this month with their poems. In our first three months we’ve enjoyed poems posted by 22 adult poets and 34 student poets from 12 states: Arkansas, New Hampshire, Virginia, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon, California, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Rhode Island. At least 13 teachers have helped their students write poems that got posted. I think we’re set for a great year in 2010.

David