When the bell rang on the last day before winter break all the children stampeded towards the bus and car loops. Well, all but Randy.
She dragged her feet down the main hall and when she reached the end, she braced herself for the cutting wind.
Randy hated the cold. She huffed and her breath swirled away in a cloud.
Small white flakes drifted on the wind, some of the children stuck out their tongue to catch the snow.Randy pulled her ratty coat closer and trudged faster.She hated snow.
On and on she walked, the dead grass slowly giving way to a carpet of white. She slowed down when she got to her street.
“Merry Christmas Randy!” Mr Gentry said as she passed by.
She mumbled in reply and waved.
She HATED Christmas. As she opened the door, she remembered why. The corner closest to the tv was chock full of dust bunnies and there was still the pale outline of her construction paper tree from last year. Above the fireplace hung no stockings, she couldn’t spare any. Her hand-me-down stocking had come apart when she tried to hang it last Friday.
Randy threw her backpack down by the sun bleached sofa.
“Mama, I’m home.”
She was greeted with a shuffling noise.
“Honey, she won’t be back until late,” called her Grandma.
Maybe it was the smell of Ben gay and brownies in the oven, Randy felt hopeful.
Then she remembered two years ago. She woke up to find the Charlie Brown Christmas tree tipped over a a prone form dressed in a Santa suit. She squealed with delight and clamored to help “Santa”. But Santa turned out to be Mama, surly and exhausted after an all night bender. Upon seeing Randy’s tears she became apologetic. Especially after realizing she had spent the money meant for presents on a bender.
Randy could still smell the whiskey on her breath, though it had been the last time she had seen Mama inebriated.
Randy shook her head at the memory and plopped down on the couch to wait for Mama. She wanted to be hopeful. She wanted to LIKE Christmas. But all she had was disappointment and her Grandma’s brownies to comfort her.
Hours passed basking in the aroma of Bengay and Tiger Balm. Still no Mama. Sometime between Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, Randy drifted off into a pleasant slumber, only disturbed slightly by her Grandma throwing a blanket over her. At first Randy thought she may have dreamed it, but she felt a feather soft kiss on her forehead as well.
When she woke early the next morning, Grandma was still there. Randy sat down to breakfast, poking at her eggs.
“Eat up honey.”
Randy struggled to eat. The hope she had felt last night was slowly wearing away. Where was Mama? Had she run away? Was she tired of Randy?
Tears pricked her eyes. Did something happen to Mama?
After breakfast Grandma demanded help with decorating. She put out a ceramic Christmas tree that lit up. Randy brightened when she saw it. It was beautiful and Mama had made it when she was a girl. Randy was proud of her. Then Grandma brought out some lights that were “nearly as old as I am”. They spent an hour untangling the lights, and then another replacing the burned out bulbs. But when Randy finally stepped back, she smiled.
Perhaps she could like Christmas. Then she frowned thinking of her Mama. It still didn’t feel like Christmas without Mama.
Grandma talked her into egg nog and cookies. Then a knitting lesson. Her hands were clumsy and she kept stabbing herself with the needles, but she at last learned to cast on. Then she helped make dinner. Again she feel asleep to the tv. And again she felt a kiss. Now she knew it was real!
But where was Mama? Her Grandma told her finally it was surprise.
“She’s not in jail is she?” Randy had asked.
“A good surprise.”
A week passed in much the same manner, though on Saturday an exhausted Mama had stayed in bed all day. Randy curled up next to her that evening. But in the morning, she was gone again. Randy let a few tears fall before breakfast. Was Mama mad at her?
The night before Christmas came and Randy was surrounded by lights and candles and cookies and ham. She and Grandma had finished their first knitting project: three stockings! Randy was delighted to help fill her Mama’s stocking. She and Grandma retreated to their bedrooms to wrap one or two final presents.
Grandma let her stay up late to “wait for Santa”. As Randy laid on the sofa watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” she found herself sitting up everytime she heard footsteps in the hall. Around 10 o’clock she was close to tears.
She closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep. Something tickled her nose and she sneezed and rolled over.
In the morning she woke to find piles of presents! Grandma was in the kitchen cooking. AND THERE WAS MAMA AT THE TABLE!
Randy ran to her and gave her a hug.
Mama laughed, her raccoon eyes twinkling back. “Go see what Santa brought!”
Grandma supervised the handing out of presents. She got Mama some clothes and a pretty necklace and tickets to see the Saints play. Grandma got a prayer book, cookbook, sewing materials, etc. Randy had a few toys and clothes.
She stood in the pile of wrapping paper and opened gifts unsure of what to do next.
“Have you unwrapped all your presents?” She nodded.
“Did you get what you asked for from Santa?”
“What did you get?” Mama asked, fiddling with her necklace.
“You!” She ran to her Mama and hugged her. “I asked for you.”
And Mama cried, but this time it was tears of joy.