Frozen Feet, Warming Heart
It was very cold that year in Marseilles. There was ice everywhere. I was returning, heavily laden from shopping, when I saw two Algerian girls, one about 18 years old and the other about 13. The little one had only summer slippers on and her feet were red with cold.
I could not resist the desire to help, so I approached her and said, “I have some shoes that are in good condition, but I don’t know who to give them to. I will give them to you if you’d like to have them.”
She couldn’t believe her ears. “Will you really give them to me? You mean, now?”
I told her yes, and the two accompanied me to my house. She tried on the shoes, and they fitted her well. She warmed herself for a moment by the stove and admired my Christmas tree. “It’s the most beautiful I have ever seen.”
Her sincerity went straight to my heart. We talked like old friends about the traditions of Christianity and Islam, and at that moment there was no longer anything but sisterhood among three people so different in race and religion. We were three children of God, and nothing more.
We came to Logan from Wyoming in the back of a truck, because our car had been wrecked during a blizzard. But none of us even thought of staying home. It was Christmas; and Christmas had to happen with our grandparents. We wanted to enjoy their love, their 15-foot tree, the homemade candy, the potatoes stuffed with coins, the singing, the games, and Christmas morning, replete with presents for everyone.
We luxuriated in perfect happiness, and Grandpa asked each of us to pick out our favorite toy. We brought them to him, eager and excited. Then he told us gently that he knew a family who didn’t have as much as we did.
It was a hard lesson, but for me it was the beginning of learning the spirit of giving. I saw it bear fruit in a special Christmas a few years later when I was 10 and my sister Karen was 13.
Thirteen is old enough for a wristwatch and it was all Karen wanted. I wanted a lot of things, but mostly I wanted a machine gun and a snow shovel. We used to snuggle together under our quilts in the frosty air of our Wyoming bedroom and share our dreams about the gifts. I would describe how I could throw the snow over my shoulder with the shovel, and she would imagine how pretty the watch would look on her wrist, gleaming gold and utterly feminine.
We didn’t tell our parents about these bedtime dreams. There was never much money in our house, and that year was especially skimpy because we were saving to buy a house.
Then Christmas came. Karen waited for her wristwatch to appear. It didn’t. I had the last package, and it was one I had hidden in my lap under the others, because it was small and long and slender and I was afraid I knew what would be in it.
My hands shook as I unwrapped the package. There lay a golden wristwatch. “Oh no,” I whispered, “this must be a mistake.” I checked the name tag again and looked toward Mother and Dad. Their faces smiled affirmatively and my heart sank.
Then Karen came over to my chair, knelt down by me, and held out her hand for the box. As she looked down at the golden wristwatch she had wanted all year, I watched her face. She lifted her head, and said through her most radiant smile, “Look, everybody! Look what Patricia got—a golden wristwatch!”
And she lifted it out of the box and fastened it on my wrist.