Roberta sighed softly while running a hand through her thick brown hair which was slowly graying despite the fact she had just turned seventy the day after Thanksgiving.
She didn’t have enough money to get her grandchildren what they wanted for Christmas, but she wanted to make it special for them. So in addition to the hat and mittens she had already knitted them she decided to go to the store and she exactly what she could afford with the little money she had left over from social security and retirement after paying her bills and buying groceries.
She sighed looking at the pretty gowns, fleece jackets, shoes, and the spectacular displays of toys. She wished she had more money because all of these pretty things would be sure to delight her small grandchildren.
Alas, she didn’t have the money. She knew that even before checking the price tags because they were all so finely made. It was such a shame that Christmas was so commercialized, she thought, but she also didn’t want to be the grandmother who gave bad gifts.
Every gift should be received with gratitude, but she knew that wasn’t always the case. She remembered as a child she was always disappointed when she received socks, but now she realized the price of them and told herself that had been a very kind gift. Useful and practical, but she thought everyone should have a bit of magic and whimsy in their lives. Life was entirely too short not to laugh every now and then. Life was too short to always be serious, never enjoying anything, rushing through in pursuit of riches without taking time for people who were more important and beautiful than things you could buy.
One good friend was a much better gift than a thousand people who would simply forget you whilst you were still living.
Roberta was distracted by her thoughts when she saw two children who looked to be freezing wandering alone in the cold snow. She wondered what these little ones were doing by themselves in such horrible conditions? Then she saw a haggard woman walking slowly behind them, and she smiled in what she hoped was an encouraging way.
She always hated to see people struggling.
Roberta wished she could help every suffering soul somehow. Shivering she pulled her coat tighter around her. She saw that the mother was struggling with groceries, and thought she was given two arms for a reason. What better reason than to help someone else.
“Excuse me, miss?”
“You seem to be struggling, can I help you?”
“What a sweet old lady,” the young woman smiled. Her eyes had circles around them. It seemed that exhaustion hung heavy on her bones. “If you could manage it, I would appreciate it.”
Roberta took one of the woman’s large bags. “This seems quite heavy. Where are you taking all of this?”
“Where do you live?”
“A few more blocks over on 28th Street.”
“Seems quite a distance to walk for some groceries,” Roberta frowned.
“I cannot help it. The store on 13th Street has the best sales,” the woman smiled. “Peggy! Art! Don’t get so far ahead of me. I cannot protect you if you’re that far ahead!”
“Momma, we’ll be fine. We’re always fine.”
“You don’t know that, sweetheart,” the mother called after her son. Obediently, the daughter and son waited for their mother. The woman seemed relieved. She turned to Roberta, “They don’t always listen.”
“Well, it’s nearly Christmas. All the little boys and girls want to make sure Santa comes.”
“Yes, yes, I know that’s true,” the mother laughed, though, her eyes seemed to hold some pain at the very thought of Christmas.
Roberta smiled softly. “Chin up, dear, it’ll get better. It has to, right?”
“I hope so,” the woman murmured. “Ever since my husband got laid off work, things have been difficult.” She sighed softly. “But you don’t want to hear about my struggles.”
“Don’t worry about it. We all have struggles. Sometimes all we need is someone to listen and see us where we are. I have struggled during my life, too, and that hasn’t stopped people from listening to me. Just have to find the right person.”
“You’re kind to take time with me; bless you.”
“Momma, we’re almost home!”
“Yes, we are.”
The woman seemed relieved when they returned home. It was then that Roberta noticed the state of the woman’s shoes. The children had good boots to cover their feet, but the mother’s shoes were worn in several places and ragged.
“Have to provide for the kids, no?” she smiled. “A mother sometimes has to put herself last.”
Roberta knew she didn’t have much, but she pulled out a twenty and the last few remaining dollars she had out of her purse. “Go get yourself a nice pair of shoes or get the children something for Christmas. You need this more than I do.”
Roberta smiled, turning on her heel. She knew that she couldn’t change the entire world by herself, but she may have helped that family, and that warmed her heart. She had learned from a young age that it was always better to give than to receive. She always loved to see people happy and well taken care of.
She sighed, thinking of her grandchildren. Well, they hoped they would understand that grandma just didn’t have the money to buy them all the fancy things they wished for. She thought she might make some chocolates and cookies for them as she was still able to do that and she did love baking. It would make the house smell good, she thought. Roberta nodded. Few things couldn’t be cured by chocolate.
Christmas came but once a year and she wanted to make it special for them.
Her parents had always made it special for her and she had always tried to make it a good day for her children, as well. After her husband Howard had died things had gotten harder and she wasn’t able to give the extravagant gifts she once had, but she wanted those in her life to know that she loved them very much.
She set about cooking and baking the chocolates and cookies. After she had finished she washed the dishes. Then she found a few fancy clear bags that she had from Christmas’ previous and stuffed the chocolates and cookies in them. She smiled.
Then she set upon the task of doing the dishes which was never something she particularly liked.
Roberta wished that she could do more for those that she loved but she was doing her best. Life was too expensive, sometimes, she thought. How was a person supposed to live on what they thought to give them?
Sighing softly, she reminded herself to be grateful that she had a roof over her head, good water to drink, and food to eat. She laid down in her bed, feeling tired and exhausted from the day. When she woke the next morning she woke to find that the gifts she had wanted for her grandchildren were in her house. The doll house for Addie, the toy soldier for William, the toy nutcracker Gracie had wanted, the doll for Joyce, and the toy bird that sang and danced for Lisa.
Roberta rubbed her eyes, making sure that this wasn’t a dream. She then realized that there was someone standing behind the gifts.
It was the woman from the day previous. However, she was wreathed and ornamented with light that was blinding.
“I don’t understand,” Roberta insisted.
“For your kindness, Roberta Francis Lovett, this enchantress was moved,” the woman remarked. “You would give the last of your money to a woman you didn’t know to help her, and that makes you one of the richest people that I could ever hope to know. Enjoy your Christmas, Roberta, and remember your goodness matters to all those to whom you’ve given it. Bless your kind heart always. Enjoy your family.”
“I will, thank you, I will.”
Tears spilled down Roberta’s cheeks.
“Wait,” Roberta whispered. “What do I call you?”
“My name is not important.”
“You’re very welcome.” The beautiful young woman vanished in a flash of light.
Roberta knew miracles happened, but she didn’t expect anything like this would ever happen to her. She looked towards the heavens. “Thank you!”
She wrapped the gifts for her grandchildren, feeling very content. She hoped that this would make Christmas lovely for them.
Bundling up when it was time to head over to her daughter’s for Christmas dinner she found that the grandchildren were all ready to meet her.
“Hey, don’t crowd grandma. You can see she has all those heavy bags, William, help her,” her daughter remarked.
“Mother, you shouldn’t have carried so much over. You’re not so young as you used to be,” her son-in-law scolded.
“Oh, be quiet. You do offend my delicate ego,” Roberta chuckled. “You know I have to make Christmas wonderful for you all.”
“Mother, we should be the ones making Christmas wonderful for you,” her daughter protested.
“Well, I don’t see why we shouldn’t all be happy,” Roberta shrugged. She smiled at her son Roger. “It’s good to see you all again.”
“Grandma, can we open our presents.”
“Not yet, sweetheart, you know those come after dinner.”
“Poop, that’s what momma said, too.”
“Lisa, we don’t say poop. It’s not nice.”
“Well, what do we say instead? Crap?”
Roberta couldn’t help but laugh. “Sherry,” she remarked, placing a hand on her daughter’s arm. “Let them be. It’s not a curse word, after all, and they’re only little for a little while.”
“Still, it’s not very nice to be discussing on Christmas. Patience is a virtue.”
“Well, Sherry, I remember one little girl so impatient for her gifts that she began to open them without waiting for her mother or her little brother.”
Roger chuckled. “That’s right, and I got mad because she unwrapped one of mine by mistake!”
Sherry blushed. “Mother!”
Roberta grinned as her grandchildren laughed. “Well, it’s true. I cannot help it if the truth hurts.”
“Sorry,” Gilbert shrugged. “I cannot help it if your mother’s right,” he added, winking at his mother-in-law.
The children gathered around the Christmas tree.
“Grandma, can you read us a story before dinner?” Joyce asked.
“Sure,” Roberta smiled. “What story shall I read you?”
“This one about Rudolph!”
“That was your mother’s favorite, too, William,” Roberta smiled. She slowly lowered herself to sit on the ground with the children. She opened the first page of the book and began reading the story to her grandchildren.
“Why were they so mean to Rudolph, grandma?”
“Because he was different and that scared them. Whenever someone is angry or afraid sometimes they exclude someone who is different, but that is one of the gravest mistakes anyone could make. Because sometimes those who are different are the brightest jewels of our lives. They just want a chance to shine like anyone else.”
“Shine like Rudolph’s nose?”
“Yes, like that,” Roberta nodded.
“Does that mean that I have to be nice to weird George? He picks his nose,” Lisa remarked, pulling a face. “He smells funny, too.”
“You should be nice to weird George even if you aren’t best friends. Maybe one day he’ll be very handsome and smell nice. You never know what the future will hold. It’s why we must enjoy moments as they come.”
“I think he’s always be weird and gross.”
“Maybe that’s true, too, but you still should be nice.”
Roberta watched as the children all yelled ‘yay’ after Sherry announced dinner was ready. She slowly stood to her feet with some difficulty.
“Come on, grandma, you’re going to be left behind if you walk like a dinosaur. Why are you walking like that, anyway?”
“It’s harder for me to walk than it once was. Being old isn’t always easy.”
After dinner, Roberta was so happy to see everyone open their gifts. All her grandchildren shouted and squealed in delight at their gifts, and she thought that her family was the best gift she could’ve ever received. She knew that one day these little ones would understand that. For now, she would let them enjoy the gifts and the magic of the world and all the lessons it had to teach them.
Bio: Linda M. Crate is a Pennsylvanian native born in Pittsburgh yet raised in the rural town of Conneautville. Her poetry, short stories, articles, and reviews have been published in a myriad of magazines both online and in print. She has three published chapbooks A Mermaid Crashing Into Dawn (Fowlpox Press – June 2013), Less Than A Man (The Camel Saloon – January 2014), and If Tomorrow Never Comes (Scars Publications, August 2016). Her fantasy novel Blood & Magic was published in March 2015. The second novel of this series Dragons & Magic was published in October 2015. The third of the seven book series Centaurs & Magic was published November 2016. Her novel Corvids & Magic was published March 2017.
If you enjoyed reading this and would like to know when more stories, essays, and poems will be posted more please sign up for the mailing list. We don’t sell emails and we don’t engage in spam.