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THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS

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(Based on a true story)

The 1960s: the Beatles hit number one, Elvis still lived, the Viet Nam War took many of our soldiers, and hippies became our love generation.

Because of the war the words falling in love took on a new meaning. Yet, times remained tough for young couples.
Jared farmed with his parents. Abby came from the city. They met at a local dance hall in a small farming community where residents gathered every Saturday. The two could not have been more different from each other, but they say opposites attract. Their courtship lasted only a few months, and they married.

Besides working on the family farm, Jared rented a section of land and planted his own crop. It would supply their income through the winter and purchase grain for the following year. In the middle of the summer, a hail storm destroyed the crops. With no crop insurance, there would be no income. Abby kept a small savings from her job before they married, so they considered themselves lucky.

Pregnant with their first child, Abby’s morning sickness prevented her from finding work in town. As her belly grew and her morning sickness subsided, she found no one wanted a pregnant worker. Jared hunted and fished, and the garden from the farm gave them vegetables.

A friend donated a used crib, and Abby painted the crib pink and blue. The newborn would makes its appearance around Christmas. They picked out names for a boy and girl.

Thanksgiving came and Christmas was around the corner. The young couple did what they could to make do without money. Abby learned to knit from her mother-in-law and made slippers and scarves for everyone in the family. She purchased material and made aprons for their mothers.

They decided not to get each other any gifts as the baby would soon be born, and money was needed to pay the hospital bill and buy baby supplies.

In their farming community the neighbors pulled together to help whenever needed. Jared and Abby were grateful for the wonderful people that gave them a baby shower. It supplied them with blankets and infant clothing.
A few weeks before Christmas Abby approached her husband with a request she harbored in her heart since Thanksgiving.

“Jared, I would like to get a Christmas tree to decorate. I don’t think we need a big one. I can make the decorations, but we do need a tree. It’s our first Christmas together. Christmas isn’t the same without a tree.”
No pine trees grew on the farm that they could cut down. Jared knew it would cost some of the money that remained, but he wanted to please his wife.

“Let’s drive to town Friday night and see what we can find.”

They searched several tree lots that evening, decided they could not afford the $15.00 for the cheapest scraggly tree. Defeated, they drove by a small grocery store where a bearded middle-aged man stood outside in the cold and sold trees set up against the building. The only lights came through the store windows and the parking lot. They stopped and ambled through the dark tree lot, looked at the prices, and decided to walk away. Their faces fell as they realized they would not be able to afford a tree this year.

“Maybe next year,” Jared said, as he hugged the fragile frame of his wife.

Abby’s body tired out easily in her last stages of pregnancy, and she needed to sit down. A wood box nearby gave her the incentive to plop herself down. Jared’s tall lanky body stood by her side to block the wind as she rested.

“Are you ready, Love?” a look of concern from Jared for her frail health. “We should head back home. It’s getting late.”

“Can I help you folks?” the salesman walked up to them. He noticed the young couple earlier, but let them look on their own. He saw them shake their heads as they looked at the prices on his trees. His heart went out to the gloomy look on their faces.

“I’m sorry to be a bother,” said Abby, as she attempted to rise up from the box. “I needed to rest before we walked back to the car.”

“Lookin for a tree?” he inquired.

Jared shook his head. “I’m sorry, but we can’t afford any of your trees. We’ve been looking all night, but don’t have the money for even your cheapest tree.”

The man removed his cap and scratched his head. “How big a tree did ya want?”

“Just a small one,” added Abby. “Our home is not big enough for a large tree, and there’s little money for decorations.”

“Just a minute,” the man walked around to the side of the building and returned with a small tree barely over three feet in height. “Will this do?”

Jared saw Abby’s eye light up and a smile crossed her face. Hard to get a good look in the dark, all they could see were the long needles, but Abby knew it needed a home. Jared wanted to please his wife.

“That will do. How much?”

The man tried to tear the price tag off and put it discretely in his pocket, but Jared got a glance at the twelve dollar price tag.

As Jared was about to open his mouth and refuse the tree, the man spouted, “Would three dollars be okay?”
Abby and Jared looked at each other. “Three dollars?” they repeated together.

“That’s what I said . . . three dollars.”

“We’ll take it.”

They loaded the tree in the car and drove to a local hardware store to purchase a tree stand. The only remaining stand in town was the display model. The words―$6.00 display only― boldly written on it with a black marker―probably so no one would steal it off the shelf.

“Sorry,” the clerk responded. “We sold out, but I can sell you the display model at a discounted price of four dollars.”

“Jared checked his wallet―three dollars remained.” He turned to Abby and shook his head. “We’ll figure something out to use. Maybe there’s something in the machine shed.” He saw the disappointment on Abby’s face, but he could do nothing about it.

The young clerk noticed their distress. “Give me a sec.” He left for a few minutes, and returned with a smile. “I asked the manager and since it’s a display model and marked up with all this writing, you can have it for a dollar.”

Again, Abby’s eyes lit up as she thanked the clerk. Their Christmas tree was becoming a reality.

They pulled the tree out of their vehicle and set it outside the house. Tomorrow they would decorate it. Abby decided to make homemade ornaments. She dug through her sewing and knitting supplies, and then raided her mother-in-law’s supplies.

The next day Jared cut the bottom off the tree and brought it into the house. They pushed two end tables together and set it in front of their living room window, and then began to laugh. In the dark they did not notice the irregularity in the tree. It looked okay to them when they purchased it in the dark, nothing out of the ordinary. During the light of day the tree trunk was deformed and crooked.

“That’s why the man sold it to us so cheap,” Abby’s laughter rang out. Jared smiled that his wife saw humor with the deformed tree.

Jared’s mom stopped by their house and offered extra lights and garland. That evening they decorated their first tree and used Abby’s homemade ornaments along with the donations from his mother.

Jared and Abby sat back on the couch and admired their handiwork, the crooked tree trunk barely noticeable.
“I’m sorry, Abby, there’s no money to buy you nice things.”

“Jared, we got each other. Other couples start out with nothing. I’m sure we’re not the first in the same situation.”

The little tree brightened up the drab furnishings in the small house. Everything in their home had been a donation of some kind. The only new things they owned were wedding gifts and what Abby purchased before they married. Their tiny house held few pieces of furniture: an old used television console with only one channel available, a couch, an overstuffed chair, two end tables pushed together in the window to hold the tree, a table and four chairs in the kitchen. In fact, because of Jared’s height, they could not close their bedroom door because his feet hung out the door because of his over six foot frame.

“The baby’ll be here soon.” She patted her belly. The baby kicked, and made a wave across her skin. Jared put his hand over her belly.

“Do that again, little one?” The movement started again. “He or she is really active tonight.”

“The baby’s happy,” replied Abby, as she rubbed her belly. “I wonder how much sleep I’ll get tonight.”

“Next week is Christmas. Are all the gifts wrapped and ready to go just in case you end up in the hospital?”

Abby nodded and pointed to the corner behind the overstuffed chair. She used newspaper to wrap the presents and tied bows made of twine. She secretly made a warm scarf for Jared and laid it among the other gifts.

“I’m worried, Jared. There not enough money to pay the doctor or the hospital. I know in the Bible it says to not be anxious about anything, but put everything in prayer and petition and present everything to God; and the peace of God will guard your hearts and your minds. I still can’t help but to worry.”

“God will take care of us. I’m just not going to worry about it. We may need to spend the next twenty years making payments, but we’ll get them paid.”

The next weekend they went to Abby’s parents to celebrate an early Christmas. Her mother gave her a used bassinet for the baby. She decided to put it by their bed to keep the baby close until it could go into the crib.

As far as Abby was concerned this baby could not come fast enough. With her energy level deteriorated due to her large bulk, she wanted to sleep most of the day. Her morning sickness stopped in the sixth month, but she gained almost fifty pounds over her 105 pound body. She worried she might have twins with the size of her body. Her doctor assured her that he did not hear two heartbeats, but that did not deter her from wondering if she could carry twins. After all, her grandma gave birth to a set of twin girls.

In the middle of the night, a terrifying scream sounded. “Jared, wake up! There’s water all over the bed.” Liquid rushed out her body as she lay in bed. “I think I ruined our mattress,” she cried, worried more about the mattress than what was happening with her body.

“What! What’s going on?” his face held a concerned frown still groggy from sleep.

“I don’t know. It felt weird. Get your mother.”

Jared sprinted from their home, through the crunchy snow, over to the main farmhouse. After all, his mother did give birth to five children. With no locks on the doors, he easily burst into the kitchen and then his parents’ bedroom.

“Mom, can you come over to the house. Something’s wrong with Abby.”

She grabbed her robe and slippers and ran through the snow to their little house across the road.

“What’s the matter?” she asked shivering as she entered the house.

A scared Abby laid in a wet mess on the bed. “I don’t know what to do.” she cried.

His mother chuckled. “Your baby’s on its way. Time the contractions and then get to the hospital. Don’t wait too long. It’s at least a half hour drive.”

“Should we go right now or wait?”

“Don’t pay to go until the contractions are closer together.”

Abby’s face turned red. “I’ve read all the books, but still panicked when this happened.”

“Don’t be concerned. Just think―there’ll be a Christmas baby.”

“Thanks, Mom.” Jared, in the meanwhile, grabbed some bath towels and started to absorb the water on the bed. “Here put this under you in case more water comes out,” he handed her a towel. Abby gave him a bewildered look.
“Honey, I think the damage is already done.”

Jared cleaned the bed as she started to get dressed. They spent the remainder of the night on the couch timing each pain.

Contractions came slow, and they waited until morning. With little sleep, they drove to the hospital.

The nurses dressed Abby in a gown and checked her periodically. Contractions continued throughout the day, each hour getting worse.

“If this is what Mary, the mother of Jesus, went through when she gave birth, I feel sorry for her.” She tightened her grip on her husband’s hand as a contraction went through her body.

“I wish I could do more for you.”

“Just stay here with me,” she begged.

“You know, our priest told us that Mary didn’t have any pain giving birth to the baby Jesus. God made sure of that.”

“Yeah, Ow!” she anguished as another pain hit her. “He transferred the pain to all the other mothers.”

The clock ticked close to ten on Christmas Eve when they wheeled her into the delivery room.

Jared heard Abby’s screams from the delivery room. He wished they would allow him in the room with her. He could calm her. Her screams continued as he tried to cover his ears.

Several hours later the screams stopped. One of the nurses walked out of the delivery room.

“Jared, it’s not going very well in there. You may want to call a priest and maybe the rest of your family.”
“What’s happening?” his face turned ashen, and he could feel the fear in the pit of his stomach. He was going to lose his wife and baby.

“The baby’s too big and it hasn’t turned. It’s coming shoulders first. The doctor is working on her right now. Your wife is too weak to push anymore.”

Abby lay unconscious on the delivery table. The doctor needed to use all his knowledge to save her life and the life of the unborn child. His face grim; it was Christmas Eve, and he did not want to be there delivering a baby. His wife and kids waited for him at home.

Jared fell to his knees and prayed to God for the safety of his wife and child. The doctor and nurses prayed in the delivery room. “Dear Lord, let us deliver this baby safely and keep the mother alive.”

Christmas music played over the loud speakers in the hospital. Jared heard Silent Night, Holy Night, All is calm, All is bright, Round yon virgin mother and child . . . and he wept for the family he might lose.

He called both families and their parish priest. He watched the snow fall gently as he waited by the main door to the hospital. Within an hour the family gathered around Jared and prayed with him for the safety of Abby and child.

“Dear Lord, it’s Christmas Eve, the night before your Son was born to be our savior. We ask in the name of Jesus Christ to spare Abby and the baby. Give them a chance at life. Guide the doctor’s hands and the nurses helping him. Amen.”

Another hour went by and the doctor emerged, his gown stained from blood. “You have a daughter.”

Jared breathed a sigh of relief.

“Your wife’s pelvis was too small to deliver such a large baby, but it was already too late to do a C-section. We had no choice but to use forceps to turn the baby and pull her out. Your wife passed out from exhaustion and couldn’t push anymore. You’ll notice a few bruises on the baby’s head, but she’s healthy. Your wife lost a lot of blood and needed stitches. She’ll require a longer stay in the hospital as she’ll need blood transfusions.”

“Thank you, doctor. Praise the Lord,” from deep in his chest he let out a sob of relief as he fell to his knees in thanks.

“Will the mother be okay, doctor?” asked the priest. “I’m here to give the Last Rites, but if she’s okay, I can go back to the parsonage.”

“You won’t be needed, Father.”

The priest put his hand on Jared’s shoulder, “Call me if you need me for anything. I’ll stop by after Christmas Day to see your wife and baby.”

“Thank you for coming, Father. I appreciate it.”

The nurses wheeled Abby out of the delivery room. She remained conscious, but groggy.

“We have a little girl . . . or should I say a half grown girl,” Jared picked up her limp hand and stroked it to comfort her.

Abby gave him a weak smile and looked around to see both her and Jared’s parents. “Sorry to bring you all out. I don’t remember anything. You said it’s a girl. Is she all right?”

“We haven’t seen her yet, but we’re all going to see her before we leave. God gave us a miracle tonight, and we are so grateful,” said her mother.

“I’ll see you in a few minutes,” Jared kissed his wife’s sweaty cheek as the nurses pushed her toward the nursery area.

“Honey child, you had the whole hospital in a dither all night. Everyone in the hospital heard you. Now you just lay back and get some rest,” the nurse insisted as she tucked the sheets around Abby and fluffed her pillow. The older nurse hung a unit of blood and attached it to the IV in Abby’s arm.

“When can I see my baby?” she asked, as her eyes closed, and she passed out from exhaustion.

“Poor child,” the older nurse added. “She’s been through a rough one.”

Abby slept through the remainder of the night and most of the day. The nurses let her sleep, but did wake her to check her temperature and continue to give her blood transfusions.

Late in the afternoon she asked the nurse who just came on a new shift, “Could I please see my baby?”

“Haven’t you seen your baby yet?”

“No, ma’am. I don’t know what she even looks like.”

“I’ll get her for you.”

The only baby in the nursery, the nurses doted over her. The nurse brought her across the hallway to Abby, but still too weak to hold her baby, she could only look at the beautiful bright-eyed child.

“She’s beautiful,” she smiled. “My Christmas gift.” The baby focused her eyes on Abby. She saw a slight curl of a smile as she opened her small mouth. She knew then that they needed to pick a different name for their little girl.

Jared visited in the evenings and stayed until the nurses kicked him out. He wore a path back and forth between Abby and the baby. The sign on the bassinet said the baby weighed nine pounds eight ounces and twenty inches long. He could not wait to hold his child in his arms.

They talked about the name for their baby girl. Since the birth date said Christmas Day, they decided to change the name of the baby to Holly Noel.

Her body, traumatized from giving birth, did not want to respond in the normal way. The nurses tried to get her up and walk every couple hours. The first few days she barely made it past the door to her room. Even though Abby prepared herself for breast feeding and followed the directions in the baby books, her milk refused to flow.

Because of the baby’s size, she seemed constantly hungry. She would sleep and then cry for an hour before the nurse would bring her to Abby to feed every four hours. The nurses would supplement with formula.
News travelled fast in the small community and after hearing about her difficult delivery, friends and neighbors stopped by the hospital to see her and the baby. Abby’s exhaustion showed, and the nurses refused any more visitors.

Abby knew the longer she stayed in the hospital the more expensive the bill. Her determination to leave the hospital and take care of her daughter triumphed, and after seven days the doctor said she could go home.
The following afternoon Jared arrived ready to take Abby and Noel home.

“Jared, we need to talk to the hospital and get the final bill.”

“I’ll go down to the office.”

“I don’t know how we’re going to pay them. Try and make some payment arrangements.”

He returned a short time later with a grin on his face.

“Abby, I don’t know what happened, but when I asked about the bill, they told me everything had been paid.”
“Huh! I don’t understand.”

“An anonymous person paid our entire bill―in cash. I tried to find out who, but the office refused to give out their name.”

Abby smiled. “It’s a miracle we survived, and now our bill’s been paid in full. The Spirit of Christmas is with us. Someday we’ll need to pay it forward for someone else. Let’s take our Christmas gift home.”

J. A. Rost is an Indie author of Christian fiction and non-fiction. Currently, she is writing a trilogy called the River Falls Mystery Series. My first in the series, released November 1, 2017, is “Secrets in the High Rise“, a cozy murder mystery. The second in the series is called “No Reasonable Doubt”, and also a cozy murder mystery, is scheduled to be released Spring 2018.

Rost has had short stories and articles published in various online publications, newspapers and magazines. Recently, She had a short story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Dreams & the Unexplainable.

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