A Heartfelt Christmas Story from 1903

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Photo: December 1940, Christmas shopping. Radford, Virginia Contributor Names  Vachon, John, 1914-1975, photographer.
Photo: December 1940, Christmas shopping. Radford, Virginia
Contributor Names
Vachon, John, 1914-1975, photographer.

This article was first published in July 1903 in Our Young People publication. Written by Marigold

How well I remember that Christmas ten years ago which seems but yesterday, so swiftly does time fly when one is happy!

We had little but sorrow and anxiety for ten years before that day, for we were poor and mother had to work hard to keep us children fed and clothed, and father was always away at the tavern drinking up his wages faster than he earned them – though he was a good workman and well paid.

We kept a little store in Green Lane; “We” means mother and I, for although mother bought the things and took care of the money, I stood behind the counter and sold them and in the spare hours or on rainy days when we had few customers in, I used to knit and crochet little odds and ends to sell for which I had the money to buy my clothes.

Besides me there were three other children, all younger, Jimmy, Fred, and the baby.

On the particular Christmas of which I was speaking, we were sadly in want of money, for the store needed repairing and we must make additions to our little stock or our new neighbor across the way would get our trade, so we determined to make our little window look more tempting than ever before, hoping to attract customers and add to our scanty income.

It was Christmas Eve and we were busy waiting on the people who had come in – we were very tired having worked so hard all the week before to get the store in order. Mother had made molasses candy popcorn balls and gingerbread dolls beside going about to buy what things her purse would allow.

Jimmy and I cleaned all the shelves and counters and the window while even little Fred helped by keeping the baby quiet, whom I am sure did all he could by being a very good child and not bumping his head too often.

What pride we took in decorating that little window! We couldn’t afford any curtains so we took some nice white paper and notched the edges, cutting diamonds and crosses and round hearts above, under, which we pasted a strip of gilt and it was real pretty; prettier we thought than a new pought shade.

We had two pots of ivy that mother had trained to meet overhead and these we used in place of evergreens. Then Jimmy and Fred strung bright red and yellow apples in alternation across the ivy and we covered big marbles, “allies” the boys called them, with some of the gilt paper that was left and hung them by rubber strings so that they danced up and down right merrily.

In the center of the window we set a large doll, the best we could afford, dressed by myself.

Mother used to say I was made for a dressmaker.

She wore a white dress with a long train and a veil with pink shoes and a bow in her hair to match and she carried a beautiful handkerchief made from a piece of lace paper such as one finds in cigar boxes.

Then we filled up the rest of the window with candy and nuts, oranges and cornucopias, and when it was all complete, Jimmy and I used to steal out every little while when we thought no one would be passing and admire it and say how much more handsome it was than our new neighbor’s could possibly be.

But poor mother was nearly tired out, partly from care of the baby at night after a hard day’s work, but oftener from anxiety about father; she was thin and pale and though she entered into our enjoyment at this time, still when she was busy over something we would see the tears in her eyes and then Jimmy and I used to whisper to each other that when we were grown older we would always take care of mother and she never should cry any more, but ah how little could we understand her heartaches!

We had done pretty well that day and mother felt quite encouraged for we had more customers than any year before and several noticed how pretty the window looked and when they spoke about it, mother said, “My children did that,” how shy and proud Jimmy and I were!

But in spite of our pride and success there was a cloud on our happiness which grew darker now that the hurry and excitement were almost over, for father had not been home for over a week and although he often stayed away several days at a time, it had never been so long before and when the stalwart working men who knew him so well came in with their little ones to buy some Christmas candles and asked after him, mother’s voice almost failed her when she was obliged to say he was out and she didn’t know when he would come in. And then they would cast a pitying glance at her which, harder to bear than all the rest, we hardly thought of the Christmas day for it would only be like other to us; only perhaps a little more sad.

It was about ten o’clock in the evening and mother was leaning wearily on the counter looking absently at it with thoughts far away as anyone could see.

Fred was holding the baby who insisted upon keeping wide awake and starins around with his great blue eyes.

Jimmy and I were saying that we wished Christmas would come every week if only the pennies would come too, when all of a sudden as I turned toward the window I saw father’s face close to the glass looking in at us.

I was scared and gave a little scream at which mother looked up just as he opened the door and came in, we all shrank back a little for sometimes he was very cross and would strike us children when he came home, but somehow this time he didn’t act as if he would, but walked right up to mother took her by the arm and led her into the back room.

They were gone a long time, so long that Jimmy and I began to get tired and as no more customers came in, he put up the shutters over our window and locked the door.

Baby had gone to sleep, so I took him away from little Fred who was nodding himself and carried him into the room where mother and father were.

Think how surprised I was when I saw mother looking so happy with bright tears in her eyes while father sat with his arm around her looking very quiet, yet so proud and contented too and before them on the table lay a roll of bills which I was sure father must have brought.

And oh what a merry Christmas Day we had!

Father was home all day and he trotted the baby and praised Jimmy and me and told us we were to commence going to school now and I need not work hard any more for he would hire someone to wait in the store and mother was to have a girl to help her and take care of the baby.

We could hardly believe it, but it came all true and father was as good as his word.

It seems that in one of his sober hours when he saw how hard we all tried to get along without any help from him, he resolved that he would reform and be a good husband and father, and so while we hardly dared to think where he might be for over a week he had been working hard night and day, only stopping as he said to walk past our little store and look in at the window every evening until he could bring home some money to help us and that was the roll.

I had seen fifty dollars in crisp clean bills fresh from the bank.

We kept the store for a few years longer in our possession and then father bought the building and rented it out and mother and we children had a nice little home of our own in a white frame house nearby.

Last year father became foreman in the great factory, for the owner Mr. Jackson says he can’t find anyone else so faithful and efficient, and this year we are to have a beautiful Christmas tree in our new home – a handsome house presented to father by his employer and as sociates for a wonderful invention of his, which he gave to the factory by means of which the labor is greatly lightened.

Mother is a lady now, she was always that, but I mean she dresses like one and lives like one and father says she grows handsome and young every day.

Jimmy is going to college next year and they say he will make a fine scholar.

Ned is clerk in a large dry goods house and the baby is a big boy who whistles and flies kites and races around in his boots just as Ned used to do ten years ago.

Mother and I are very busy preparing for our Christmas tree.

As I watch her happy face from which the traces of care have disappeared, my mind reverts to that day on which began for us a reign of peace and good will and in remembrance of which our hearts ascribe Glory to God in the Highest!

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