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Icy tree branches in sunlight

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 Christmas, 1944

Christmas of 1944 is a memory that often comes back to me, especially around the holidays. My mother, like many women of that time, worked in a defense factory in another city and state. I was five years old and my sister was my caretaker most of the time, except in the rare times on weekends and holidays, when Mama came home.

As Christmas approached, we expected her home for the holidays, but the weather turned bad and snow and ice covered everything. Roads were slick and even though cars crawled, occasionally one slid off the road. We kept hearing of cars being stuck, and even big trucks and buses. I began worrying.

Icy-country-road

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In my childish mind, I knew Mama would make it home because “she’s coming on a big bus, and they always make it through.” But day after day passed with no sign of Mama. Finally I approached my sister with my worries, “When is Mama going to be here?” She hesitated a moment, then replied, “Well, the Greyhounds (buses) haven’t been able to get through because of the snow storm, so she might not be able to make it for Christmas.”

My heart sank. Christmas without Mama? That just wouldn’t be Christmas! My sister noticed my sad face and quickly added, “But you know if there’s any way to get here, Mama will find it.” From then on I tried to keep that thought in my mind, but “she might not be able to make it for Christmas,” kept echoing and shoving it away. At night, I cried into my pillow, asking God to please take the storm away so Mama could come home. She was the only gift I wanted. Then to make sure, since it was Christmas, I bargained with Santa in my thoughts,

“Santa, I don’t want any gifts if you’ll just see that Mama gets home. She’s the only gift I want. Please sir.”

Finally, it was Christmas Eve. We went to church and heard the choir sing “Silent Night,” and “Oh Holy Night,” but by this time I was having none of it! I didn’t feel at all thankful and blessed that Jesus was born, because to my little girl’s mind,  at least he had his Mama! I was both sad and angry at the situation. We had heard nothing more about Mama’s journey, and I just knew Christmas Day was going to be miserable.

A country church similar to ours, in the snow.

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Christmas morning dawned bright and beautiful; sunlight glittering and glistening off the ice covered trees. I’d never seen this before and it was beautiful, but since Mama wasn’t home, I wasn’t that impressed. I got Christmas gifts of course, a new coloring book, crayons, a new doll, a new coat. In those simple days, that was a pretty good Christmas for any child. But they held no charm for me. I opened them and laid them aside and went to the window to look for Mama. She was my best gift, and since Santa had seen fit to bring me the gifts under the tree, I felt that meant she wasn’t coming.

The wrapped packages under the tree held no joy for me.

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The Best Gift Of All

As we prepared to sit down to our Christmas dinner in the early afternoon, I had no appetite. Of all the wonderful foods we always had on holidays, nothing held any flavor for me. I knew I couldn’t eat! I was sick at heart because my Mama was not home with us. Just about the time we finished saying grace, there came a knock on the door, giving me a few moments of reprieve from eating. My sister opened the door while I stood close by, to see our neighbor Ed Martin, holding an armful of gifts. But behind him was the BEST GIFT of ALL!! My Mama was standing behind him, surprising us all. I hugged her and hugged her again. I couldn’t stop crying and laughing at the same time.

After all the excitement had settled, we sat down to Christmas Day dinner. It was delicious and suddenly I was ravenous! I ate more than I ever did, because that day I was joyous, I had received the best gift of all, my Mama was home.

Later as I was in Mama’s lap, she told us the story. The bus slid off the highway into a ditch and came to rest with a broken axle, basically out of service. Nobody was hurt, just shaken up, but bitterly disappointed in thinking they’d not make it to their destination for Christmas Day. But the bus driver, concerned for his passengers, knowing how important it was for them to be home, as well as himself, hailed a passing car. He asked the driver to notify the bus service, so they could send another bus to retrieve the passengers. Ed Martin, our neighbor, was the man driving the car, fresh from picking his mother up from a neighboring town for the holidays. Ed saw my Mom and offered her to ride along with them, telling her to get her Christmas gifts and load them into the back seat. He notified the bus service as soon as he reached town, and those folks were rescued. They all made it home for Christmas and so did Mama!

Suddenly, sitting in Mama’s lap, the world was such a beautiful place. The late afternoon sun sparkling off the icy trees looked like a fairy land to the eyes of a five year old little girl. The presents were everything I could ever ask for and I knew that no other child was this happy in all the world. My Mama was home! Soon after that, I never had to worry about Christmas Without Mama again, because the war ended and she was home for good.

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