“It’s old man McNealy on the other side of the street,” my friend, Tonya, whispered.
“Quick, inside your Mom’s store.” She shoved me inside Leah’s Antiques, Deco, and Such.
“Are you nuts?” I asked her.
“But everybody knows old man McNealy is strange. He lives alone in a creepy, old house, wears a black overcoat even in summertime, and has a crooked nose.” I rolled my eyes. Tonya started to whisper some more about Mr. McNealy, but my mom called for me.
“Mary! I have a project for you!”
Tonya waved. “I’ll see you later. Merry Christmas!”
“Sure, if we have money to celebrate this year,” I muttered, but Tonya was gone.
I headed to the back of the store. Mom was waiting for me with Anna and Timmy, my little sister and brother.
“I need you all to do something for me,” Mom said. “I need you to go out into the woods and pick some crow’s-foot.”
“Crow’s-foot? What for?” I asked.
Mom smiled. “You’ll find out later.” I sighed.
“All right, let’s go.”
I led Anna and Timmy through our small Maryland town. We came to Mr. McNealy’s pasture and crossed in front of his house.
Still darting through his pasture, we ran the rest of the way into the woods. “Why is he grouchy?” Timmy asked.
I shrugged. “Let’s get busy.”
The silky leaves of the fern-like crow’s-foot poked out from the top of the blanket of snow. The plant’s softness brushed against my fingers, which were already reddened from the cold. I pulled the root up, releasing it from the hard winter dirt. We gathered all the plants we could find on the forest’s floor.
Mom was waiting for us when we got home. We followed her into the damp, dank basement.
“We pull off the leaves with the stems,” Mom said, gently tugging at the silky leaves of the crow’s-foot. When the leaves were off, she twisted them around a wire. A circle of leaves formed. Mom then attached extra leaves to the circle, and spread them out to make a wreath.
“Losing Dad this year has hurt,” Mom began. “We’ve scrimped to pay our bills, but I had thought . . .” Mom paused. “I had thought we would have to do without gifts this year, but God gave me an idea. I think He’ll be pleased.”
She smiled and held up the wreath. “If we sell enough handmade wreaths, we can buy Christmas presents this year. What do you think?”
“Christmas presents!” Anna and Timmy jumped up and down.
Dear Lord, please help us, I prayed silently. Let us celebrate with gifts.
Mom’s crow’s-foot wreaths sold better than anything else in the store that year. We made them every night and hung them in the display window. Every day people bought them.
“How’s your project going?” Tonya asked me on the way home from school.
“We’ll be celebrating Christmas!” I exclaimed.
“Good.” I looked at my friend.
“My dad is leaving in two days. The military is sending him overseas.”
Tonya nodded sadly. “We’re having gifts before he leaves, but we’ll be alone on Christmas Day.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Do you want to come in for some cocoa?”
“No, thanks, I have to go.”
Tonya headed on down the street. I went inside the warm store. “Mom, I’m home!” I called, but no one was there. “Where is everybody?”
In the back room, I found my family. Timmy and Anna sat, quiet as kittens. Mom’s eyes were red from crying.
“What’s wrong?” I sank into the couch.
“We owe the bank money.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Does not having presents cancel Christmas?” Anna asked.
“We can still celebrate knowing Jesus,” Mom said.
“It won’t be fun.” Timmy folded his arms.
I knew I had a choice—mope or make the best of it. “Let’s have a Christmas party!”
“A what?” Mom asked.
“A party!” I said.
“We don’t have any money,” Mom reminded me.
“I know we don’t have money, but do we have flour?”
Mom frowned. “Yes.”
“Sugar?” Mom nodded.
I jumped up. “Then I’ll make the cookies!”
“A party with just cookies?” Mom asked.
“Why not? We’ll invite our friends for cookies and remember that we have God’s love.” I grinned.
Mom relented. “Okay, who should we invite?”
“Let’s invite Tonya and her mom,” I said. “They’ll be lonely without Tonya’s dad.”
Timmy and Anna named a few of their friends.
“And Mr. McNealy!” I exclaimed. “We ran across his pasture.” We all laughed. It was settled.
“Good cookies,” Tonya said on Christmas day.
“Thanks,” I replied, looking around the room.
“Who are you looking for?” Tonya asked.
“You invited him?”
“What are you doing?”
“Taking cookies to Mr. McNealy,” I said. “Want to come?”
We trekked through the freshly fallen snow to deliver the cookies. We knocked on the door, but nobody came. I left the cookies, and on his door, I hung a freshly crafted crows-foot wreath.
“You’re weird,” Tonya said.
I shrugged. We raced to Leah’s Antiques, Deco, and Such. I looked up at the crisp, blue sky.
Thank You, God, for sending love through Jesus. Help me to love like He does. With a big grin, I beat Tonya back to the Christmas party.
© 2005 Kathleen Bracher, Wiesbaden, Germany
CLICK HERE for a fun Christmas activity to do while you shop.
Cookies photo by danceincreeek, barn scene by Rodney Campbell, cardinals photo by Mary R. Vogt, calculator photo by Jane M. Sawyer, Christmas tree from Cherie Durbin – all modified from Moreguefile.