December passed with mild temperatures and lots of rain. For Sid nothing much had changed. The mill was still dark and gloomy, with long hours and little pay.

Of course, the man he worked with—Ted— was pretty nice to him as they tended their machines.

 Hope was still sick—and getting worse all the time—but she’d met a nice woman who attended the church on the corner. Sometimes the woman brought them a basket of food.

Papa was as depressed as ever and their fifteen year old sister Lyddie wanted nothing more than to go out with her boyfriend—anything to get out of the broken-down mill house for a while….

Christmas was coming but he wasn’t a bit interested. None of the family cared about the holiday since Mama was gone.

Except Hope—

“Papa, Papa! Look what Charlotte and Nathan brought us!”

Hope literally danced into the room, stopping only for a coughing spell.

 She quickly got out of the way as Sid and Nathan carried in—a Christmas tree!

Charlotte and Nathan were two young people, who were getting married soon, and they seemed to love doing things for people. Nathan had come a few times, sitting and talking with Papa about politics—and a bit of religion, too. Papa liked him.

Distressed, Papa said, “Nathan, we can never afford it.”

            “Really, sir, you mustn’t even think about it. Charlotte and I were tramping around  Harris’ tree farm, getting one for her family, and we saw this and she thought it would be so perfect.” Nathan grinned, engagingly. “You know how she is. You can’t stop her once she’s got her mind made up. It’s all paid for. It’s just a little one.” 

            “Hmmm.” Papa shook his head, amused. “She’s done so much for us already but it sounds like we can’t say no to her. Women….they just love Christmas. My wife used to be the same way.” His eyes twinkled just a little—for the first time in a long time.

            Nathan grinned even more.

            “Please, Papa? Can we keep it?” Hope begged.

            “You’re just like your mother. Can’t say no to any of you. All right. Go ahead and get the decorations out. We haven’t had a real tree in so long….”

            It was true. Lyddie hadn’t bothered to decorate at all the last couple of years. It was Hope who had collected fir branches in the woods, and pine cones and other greenery, to brighten the little apartment. It was she who insisted they play the radio and hear Christmas music, when no one else cared.

Sid had been commandeered by Nathan, who was driving down the road with the trees in a wagon. They dragged off the smaller one, and Charlotte took the reins and drove on home. Sid thought it a bit funny, for he’d also seen her driving about in her family’s brand new Ford. Charlotte came from a wealthy family and their fancy automobile seemed to suit this sophisticated lady more than an old wagon. But in reality Charlotte was kind and funny and wonderful to his sisters.

 He helped Nathan bring in the tree.

Hope had enough enthusiasm for all of them as she made Sid get down the boxes of Christmas decorations, and fetch a bucket of coal to stand the tree in. It was a perfect size for their low-ceilinged home.

“Thank you, Nathan!” she called, waving as he headed off in the wagon. “Merry Christmas!”

            “Hope, sit down.. You’re coughing and you look tired.” Papa urged. He was finally getting into the spirit. “We’ll decorate the tree after supper. Lyddie, isn’t this fun?”

            Lyddie looked indifferent as usual. She worked hard, as always but was gloomier than ever. All she ever seemed to care about lately was getting the dishes finished, and going off with  Claude to see a picture show.

            “Oh, Papa, don’t cry.”

            Sid looked away, a little embarrassed. Hope laid her head on Papa’s knee as she sat on her stool and gazed at the decorated tree.

            “It’s so beautiful. It’s like your Mama would have done it— with all her decorations that we bought when we were young. I do miss her.”

            Maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea, thought Sid.

            Papa brushed at his eyes. “I’m glad Nathan and Charlotte did this for us.”

            Sid sighed in relief. He sat back and gazed at the tree, and listened to the quiet music on the radio, thinking about Christmas’ past when Mama was still here.

Then he brightened up a little when he saw how happy Hope was about the gift of the tree. Maybe they didn’t have the new-fangled electrics that shone brightly through the windows of some people’s homes, but their tree was still pretty. They didn’t have popcorn to string, but the little colored round balls and silvery ornaments were perfect. Three tiny stuffed elves, one belonging to each of the children, peeked out from the pine boughs, and a beautiful silver and gold star sparkled in the light of the gas lamp.

A small sleigh with eight reindeer and Santa Claus beaming for all he was worth, sat in the middle of the table on a doily.

            “I’ll still get some pine branches for the mantle. It will set off these silver bells just right,” Sid said.

            “That will be perfect. And I want some for our room, too. You’ll like it, Lyddie, once it’s all fixed. You always do,” said Hope, perfectly happy as she held Papa’s hand. “I’m making presents for all of you so we’ll have something for our stockings.”

She had already pulled out the hand-knitted Christmas stockings Mama had made long ago.

            Papa chuckled. “When I was a boy, we used our own stockings. We didn’t have special  Christmas stockings. But Mama got the idea when Lyddie was just a baby. Your mother would send Christmas cards, too. But, of course, things got hard and we couldn’t afford them.”

            “I wish I had some paper. I’d make Christmas cards for all our friends. The Thompsons next door

and the girls at the mill…”

“They won’t care! They wouldn’t do the same for you,” said Sid.

“And Nathan and Charlotte.”

“Well, they deserve it,” agreed Sid.

“You don’t do nice things just for people who deserve it,” Hope told him wisely.

Sid shook his head.  She had made some kind of decision at that Sunday School at the church down on the corner. She’d always been cheerful but she was different now—she really did have hope—and peace, even though she was so sick. She read the little Bible that Charlotte had given her all the time.

But Papa was talking, “I have a little writing paper of your mother’s. You can use that to make Christmas cards.”

            “You do?” Hope sprang up, happily.

            “In her drawer. And I think she had some colored pencils.”

            “And maybe I’ll make one for Mr. Simmons.”

            That was the man who worked in the office at the mill. He was trying to help people have better conditions. But he wasn’t a boss so he couldn’t do much. But he’d been able to get shorter hours for Hope because of her illness-all that coughing and sometimes she could hardly breathe. He’d even paid for a doctor to come visit—out of his own money. And last fall he’d allowed Sid to pick a whole bushel of apples from his orchard.

            But….

            “Better not,” said Sid. “People will think you’re trying to get more favors.”

            “I’ll slip it to him when no one can see. Just a thank you for all he’s done for us. Oh, Sid, God has been so good to us!”

            Sid ignored this. He didn’t like talk about God. “Well, maybe you could make one for Ted. He’s been nice to me.”

            “You make one for Ted.”

            Jingle Bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way...The song was playing on the radio.

He was suddenly caught up in the music. “Maybe I just will!” he said with a grin.

            They sat at the table making cards. Papa told them to use the last of the milk and make some cocoa with the little bit left in the tin, and what a happy time they had! Candles and Mama’s old decorations brightened up the little room so that Sid hardly recognized it.

          It was Christmas morning!  There were gifts in everyone’s stockings.

The rest of the family had caught the spirit along with Hope. They each decided to take a tiny bit of the hard-earned cash and make or buy something for each other. Even Lyddie embroidered initials on new handkerchiefs for everyone. Of course, they all gave practical things, except for a tiny jewel box of Mama’s that no one had ever seen before. That was for Hope to keep her treasures in. And Lyddie received a pretty necklace belonging to Mama. For once she looked happy as she fingered the delicate blue pendant.

            Lyddie did not go out that evening, even though there was a Christmas party at her friend’s house and Claude was sure to be there. She put Hope to bed since the girl was exhausted and barely able to breathe. Lyddie called them all to come in and sit while she read aloud from Hope’s library book of Christmas stories.

As Sid fell asleep that night, he realized that he’d enjoyed Christmas this year. Could it be possible that God might just care a little, after all?

To be continued….

Jingle Bells-public domain