Christmas Gift #2
THE CHRISTMAS WISH
If just one wish I did possess, I’d place it in your hand;
I’d tell you how I spent the rest and hope you’d understand.
A wish is something that can be the best and worst of me.
For if a wish is used for wrong, the wish itself won’t last too long.
I took this wish and opened it and guessed what it beheld.
The rhyme and reason didn’t fit, I dropped it and it fell.
But just before it smashed and shattered, the core released its wings.
A sound that came across so still, it sang of different things.
This wish is growing from within and has a life to bare.
It slowly wraps around your heart and brings more wishes there.
So guard each wish that you now hold, won’t wither,
burn, or gather cold,
Instead of ice the fire’s glow, the wish your heart will truly know.
It was December 1, 1958, three weeks before Christmas, and Colby Point seemed emptier than usual. Most residents left when summer was gone, but we’d always had a few neighbors who would stick out the winter weather. This year was different. Even my best friend Peggy Walker and her family had gone back to their city home. So I had to rely on my grandparents and my four aunts to keep me busy. At four and a half years old, I wasn’t a bad child, I was just imaginative and full of questions. Being raised with grandparents that were a whole generation removed from me gave me a whole different scope on life. I acted older than I was. I understood things that I really shouldn’t have had to and being around grownups most of the time made me much more confident than kids my age.
My grandparents made sure that every day of the week had a schedule of some sort. Mondays were for cleaning, and we each had our chores to do. On Tuesdays, we did the laundry. I loved Wednesdays because I got to go to Crystal Lake with my grandpa to do the shopping for the week. On Thursdays, Aunts Dula, Lily, Sylvia, and Malita played cards. I was allowed to watch as long as I didn’t blurt out their hidden cards. Fridays were for reading or writing letters. Weekends were for playtime and church. So you can see, as a little girl I was happy with the business of our lives. I was five, but there was no kindergarten in Prairie Grove School, so school didn’t start for me for another whole year.
Church was special because I was able to go off with my aunts without my grandparents. They trusted me to go to my class and know my lessons from the week before. Pastor Neating had two sons, Teddy and Linus. I loved to watch Teddy and Linus come in with their mom and then settle down for the first part of church that we were allowed to attend. They were a family, and it felt good to see that because that is what I wanted more than anything—a mother and a father. Don’t get me wrong: I loved Grandma and Grandpa, but it seemed that something was not complete in me. I didn’t dwell on it too much and I never was sad; I was just happy to see that my friends had something that I wanted for myself. I also knew that someday I would have my own home filled with the laughter of children.
Every Sunday, weather permitting; I got dressed up in my Sunday-best clothes. Church in the summertime was hard because all I wanted to do was run barefoot across the grass to the Fox River. So I welcomed the winter time, as it calmed me down. I felt grown up in my Sunday dress, patent leather shoes, and white rabbit-fur muff to keep my hands warm. Aunt Dula would walk across the road and make sure I was ready, then together Aunts Sylvia, Lily, Dula, and I would take the long ride to St. John’s Lutheran Church in Island Lake. The drive into Island Lake was slow but always full of surprises. Aunt Dula and I always sat in the backseat as Aunt Sylvia drove. Aunt Lily was her copilot. Aunt Dula made it a game for me as we tried to guess what the other one saw.
The Sunday two weeks before Christmas that year was especially exciting for me. Pastor Neating had announced a contest for wishes. He wanted to know from his parishioners if they had a wish that they would like fulfilled for Christmas, or maybe they knew of someone else that had a need that would help make their Christmas a little brighter. I had given this request a lot of thought, and I was excited because I had the perfect wish for the perfect people! Finally, Sunday morning was here, and Grandma Cleo was trying her best to help me get ready for church. Grandpa Bill never left Grandma for too long, so going to church for them was not something that they could accomplish.
“What is up with you?” Grandma asked. “Why are you so darned fidgety?”
I felt as if I was bursting inside and wanted to tell Grandma all about the wish but decided not to as it might not come true. Looking around for a quick diversion I said, “Nothing, Grandma….Umm, it’s my shoes. They feel too tight, that’s all.” I made sure that I crossed my fingers behind my back for telling a fib. “I just want to hurry to church so I will get a good seat in the front so I can see everything, that’s all.”
Grandpa was listening while shaving and said, “Well you can’t put the cart before the horse—after all you have to ride with the aunts, and you know how slow they drive. You might as well just settle down.”
Grandma had a way of looking at me when she thought that I was hiding something from her. It always made me feel uneasy. I wanted to avoid that, so as soon as my dress was buttoned up and Grandma had given me a nod of approval, I ran to the front room. I grabbed my hat, coat, Bible, and winter muff and yelled, “I ain’t waiting for Aunt Dula. I want to get a good seat.”
Grandpa said something as I slammed the front door. Tinkerbell started barking, but I was determined to get everyone to hurry up! My patent leather shoes made the newly fallen snow under my feet feel like ice on the Fox River, so I slid all the way down our driveway and right into Aunt Dula’s stomach!
“Here! Here now, you have to slow down,” Aunt Sylvia said as she caught my arm before I fell on Aunt Dula’s feet. “You’ll be all tuckered out before we even get to church.” She laughed as she opened the front door for Aunt Lily. Aunt Lily was the keeper of the candy, and she eyed me as if to say that if I was real good, she’d have a treat for me. I climbed into the generous backseat of their brand new Buick and settled down for a ride of talking and singing and a little bit of family gossip. Our ride was long to the small church in Island Lake, and when we arrived, it was busy with families all coming together for a day of prayer and celebration.
Aunt Sylvia hadn’t even turned the car off before I was opening the door and darting past people so that I could get to the first pew at the front of the church. Aunt Dula was a greeter, so she took her place at the door. Aunt Lily went to the choir, and Aunt Sylvia settled into her seat at the back where I was supposed to be. I turned around and waved at her. She looked puzzled at my seat choice, but it didn’t matter. I wanted the service to begin so that I could tell Pastor Neating about my wish. The music began and after singing “Onward Christian Soldiers,” everyone was seated. Pastor Neating seemed to take a particularly long time this Sunday talking about doing unto others as you would have them do unto to you. After the very last “amen,” he finally began to talk about the Christmas wish. romantic bohemian style wedding wears
“As most of you know, we do have parishioners at St. John’s Lutheran Church who are having a hard time at this time of year. They may be out of work or have an illness or perhaps have lost a loved one. Today, we have five members who want to ask for their Christmas wish to be granted. Remember, this is the time when we need to look at how we can help others. So…without further ado, let’s begin shall we?”
I watched and listened as, one by one, several adults came forward and talked about their needs and wishes for the holiday season. I paid attention to what the others said as I wanted to make sure that my wish was different from anyone else’s. After the fourth person was done and just before Pastor Neating said that it was time for the last person to come up, I stood up and began to straighten my Christmas dress. This seemed to get everyone’s attention, including Aunt Sylvia. She seemed to be nervous at my standing up and was trying to get my attention. So was Aunt Lily, who was sitting across from me in the choir. Finally I heard my name, and I walked bravely up to the pulpit. Pastor Neating brought a stepstool for me to stand on, and then I waited for him to have a seat before I began.
“My name is Margie Mauer Reiling, and I go to this church. I come every week with Aunt Dula, Aunt Lily, and Aunt Sylvia. I have to leave Grandma Cleo and Grandpa Bill at home.” I waved to my aunts, and the entire congregation turned around to see them blushing in their seats.
“My Christmas wish is for my grandma and grandpa to have church come to them. Since Grandpa can’t leave Grandma alone because Grandma can’t walk, it sure would be nice if you all came for a visit and surprised them. We have a small house, but Grandma bakes really good sugar cookies. Right, Pastor Neating? I know you like them because you always have at least two when you come to visit Grandma and pray with her.” All heads turned to the back of the room where Pastor Neating smiled and waved sheepishly while the rest of the congregation chuckled softly.
“So if you choose my wish, we will be ready, but it has to be a surprise because that is how Christmas wishes come true, right?” I got down and walked to the back of the church. I could feel eyes on me, and I also saw lots of smiling and whispering going on. The ride home was a silent one, and I couldn’t understand why Aunt Lily did nothing but sniffle and Aunt Dula hugged herself tightly while Aunt Sylvia tried to find some Christmas music on the radio. Once at home again, the hardest thing for me was not to tell Grandma what I had done. As the days crept along, Grandma kept her eye on me and every once in a while I could hear her whispering to Grandpa about what I was up to.
Finally, Christmas arrived, and I woke up to the smell of Grandpa’s bacon cooking on the small white stove.
I jumped out of bed shouting, “Merry Christmas!” to my family.
“Merry Christmas to you,” answered Grandma and Grandpa together. “Did you see the presents that Santa Claus left for you under the tree?”
I was busy getting dressed and hollered, “Not yet, Grandma, but I will.” I could hear Grandma telling Grandpa how it was strange that I was taking time to get dressed, because I usually made a beeline right to the gifts. My mother had come for a visit, and she had brought me a beautiful, blue taffeta dress. I was going to wear it to Sunday morning church. That wasn’t for hours yet, but I decided to dress up now, just in case my wish came true.
I walked into the kitchen and did a little twirl to let them see that I was dressed and as pretty as I could be for them. I loved them so much.
But then Grandma said, “You’re not going to church today, honey. We got a call from Pastor Neating, and he said church wasn’t going to have services today. You can get changed into something more comfortable.”
I guess I didn’t looked surprised or happy when I replied, “But there has to be church today. There are wishes to come true!” I went over to the big, overstuffed, red chair that was in the middle of the front window. Tinkerbell and I sat there looking out the window, waiting for the big surprise to begin. I refused to let the tears fall or for doubt to enter in.
Grandpa came in with a plate of toast and bacon for me and said, “I’m not sure what you’re waitin’ on, honey, but after you eat this breakfast, how ‘bout we open the presents that Santa left you?”
I was too excited to eat, so I set the plate down and Tinker began to help herself. That made Grandma angry. About thirty minutes went by, but I still refused to budge. Finally, Grandpa came into the living room and started talking to me about all the fine gifts that there were. Then he looked out the window and saw a steady stream of cars coming down the road to our house. Grandpa stood for a good five minutes, watching as car after car came to our driveway and began to park all over the lawn. People got out of their cars carrying food and gifts, and then he saw Pastor Neating.
Scratching his head, he shouted, “Cleo, you’re not going to believe this, but I think the whole dang church is on our front lawn.” Then he turned to me and asked, “Margie, what did you do?” I allowed the tears to fall as I laughed and spun around and said, “I knew my wish would come true—I knew it! I wished that since you and Grandma could never go to church, that church would come to you, and it did. Don’t you see, my wish did come true!” I wanted to be the one to greet our visitors, so I ran and opened the front door. Grandpa and Grandma sat quietly watching the miracle unfold.
“I can’t believe that our little Margie did this for us,” Grandpa said to Grandma Cleo.
Grandma Cleo smiled and said, “I do, because—you see, Bill, when Margie wishes, she usually gets what she wants. We taught her that, you and me, right? But there’s only one problem I can foresee, Bill.”
“What’s that Cleo?”
“I don’t think we have enough coffee cups to go around.”
The door opened up and Pastor Neating had me in his arms. “Bill, Cleo. I hope you will say that this is all right. When the church heard your granddaughter’s wish, we couldn’t think of any other wish to grant. So sit back and enjoy this visit. Because of your granddaughter’s love for you, this was the best present that we could have ever given.”
That Christmas Sunday was a grand day for the Mauer family. We sang songs of love and hope and faith, and we had each other. As the choir sang “Silent Night,” I realized that I had gotten the best thing in the world for Christmas.
I got my wish.