So Far from Home

The first snow of the season squeaked under Billy’s feet as he hurried up the street. He had looked forward to seeing snow ever since he left his home in Arizona to come and live with the Todds and go to school.

Billy tried to walk faster, but he didn’t want to risk slipping and crushing the objects in the bag he carried. I shouldn’t have taken so long in choosing the gifts, he thought.

Billy had worked hard doing yardwork around the neighborhood and had earned enough money to buy Christmas presents for each member of his family back home on the reservation.

He could picture his family on Christmas morning opening the gifts he had sent them. Everyone would be sitting around the table in the small front room at home or perhaps in the hogan next door where Grandmother still chose to live.

Billy tried to imagine how it might be, everyone together—everyone but him.

He ducked his head to stop the tears that tried to come at the thought of being so far away. If only he might go home for a few days, even for a few hours. He wanted to see the red rock cliffs, his dog Rabbit, and hear again the bleating of the sheep and goats.

Billy swung the door open and was greeted by the delicious smell of food cooking.

“I hope I’m not late for dinner,” he apologized. “I took too long trying to choose my gifts.”

“No, Billy, you’re just in time. Scoot and wash your hands,” Mrs. Todd told him.

Billy scooted. He liked the sound of that word she used. Scoot. It brought to his mind swift-moving lizards among the rocks and grass at home.

Dinnertime was always a happy occasion at the Todds with talk and laughter. Even tiny Andrea, who was just learning to say words, entered into the conversations.

Billy glanced up when he heard his name. Mrs. Todd was saying, “Tonight we’ll help Billy get his package ready to mail to his family.”

“Thanks a lot,” Billy said.

After dinner he dumped out onto the table the contents of a large shopping bag. “For Grandmother,” he said, taking out a bright scarf. “It will warm her head when she rides the many miles to town in my father’s truck.”

“For my father,” Billy explained, placing a large key ring with a fob of bright squares and triangles held together in a rectangular shape. “Now he can easily find his key,” he added, smiling.

“For my mother I have chosen this,” Billy said, his eyes sparkling with pride as he opened a small box. He saw Mrs. Todd’s quick smile of approval when bright lights danced back from the shining stones in the form of a flying bird.

For his sister, Anna, there was a pretty doll with long black hair. For John Thomas he had chosen a tiny pickup truck, much like Father’s only shining with newness. And little Rebecca would surely like the bright wind-up turtle that walked across the table with an awkward gait.

Mrs. Todd brought colorful paper and ribbons. Billy hesitated only a moment before inviting the twins to help him wrap his gifts. So pleasant a task was made even better by sharing it with others.

When the last gift was wrapped, Billy’s heart raced as he looked at the pile of bright packages. Then Mrs. Todd placed a large box on the table. Billy said laughingly, “There’s almost enough room for me to go along in that big box.”

“We want to put a few things in the box, too, from our family to yours,” Mrs. Todd explained, leaving the room. She was back in a moment carrying a tray piled high with cookies. There were Christmas trees and bells, fat Santas, and snowmen, all decorated with icing and tiny candies. Billy was pleased when he saw that some of the cookies were decorated like Navajo boys and girls. A sudden feeling of homesickness swept over him, so sharp that he could hardly breathe. He lowered his head, but Mrs. Todd had seen.

“Billy, what is it?” She put an arm around him. “I thought you’d like the cookies.”

“Oh, I do! The little ones will enjoy them so much, but I’d like to keep one boy and one girl cookie.”

“Of course, you may. There are more in the kitchen,” she said with understanding. “You’re bound to miss your home and family especially at Christmastime.”

Billy nodded in agreement. “A moment ago,” he said, “I was wishing that I could see each one’s face again.”

Billy would have turned away, but the kindness in Mrs. Todd’s eyes held him. “For a few moments, I would let my eyes search the bright rock mesas in the north and the desert to the south. I would smell the sweetness of the sagebrush and juniper, warm in the sunshine. I would race like the wind with my dog beside me.”

Billy’s shoulders slumped. “But I know that it cannot be. The distance is too great.” Billy forced his shoulders straight. “I am grateful,” he said, “for many things. What you do for me and for my people. I shall find joy in sharing with you this time of Christmas.”

Mrs. Todd gave Billy a loving hug and after that he did find pleasure in the days ahead preparing for Christmas. He spent as many happy hours choosing gifts for each of the Todds as he had done for his natural family.

When he was alone in his room at night Billy thought of his family and home.

A letter from his father said that everyone was happy and well and that they missed him. Grandmother sent a small picture of a lamb she had drawn. Mother wrote that the package had arrived and that they could hardly wait for Christmas to open it.

Billy’s first thought on Christmas morning was of his family. Have they opened my package yet? he wondered. Do the little ones like the cookies? Has mother pinned the bird ornament to her blouse? Do her eyes really close a little when she smiles?

“Billy!” David called in a loud whisper, “Come and see what’s under the tree.”

Never had Billy seen a happier sight than the Todd family around the Christmas tree. To Billy it seemed as though there was a mountain of bright packages. He didn’t want to tear off such pretty paper from his packages, but David kept reminding him to hurry.

There were pajamas and two shirts, a pair of trousers the color of sagebrush. There was a book about the presidents of the United States and games to share with David and Debra.

“And here is one more package for you, Billy,” Mrs. Todd said as she placed a box in his hands. “Just take your time opening it while the rest of us clear away this clutter of papers.”

Billy carried the box to a chair and slowly removed the paper. Several envelopes lay at the top. He opened the first—and his heart seemed to stop for a few seconds.

His mother’s face smiled up at him. He had remembered right. A smile did close her eyes a little.

He couldn’t hide his excitement as he opened one envelope after another, showing the faces of Father, Grandmother, and one of the whole family together. There was even a picture of Rabbit watching over the sheep and goats on the hillside. Several pictures of the mesas and one of the desert brought back more memories of home.

Billy noticed other packages in the bottom of the box. He laughed when he opened a box containing sprigs of sage, pinon, and juniper. They tickled his nose with the smell of home. Another box held bits of red and yellow and brown and purple rocks that came from the mesa. There was even a bottle containing layers of colored sand.

Billy looked up at Mrs. Todd wonderingly. “How did you get these?”

She laughed. “Since you couldn’t go home, we decided to bring a bit of home to you,” she said. “A friend of ours has a son living in Arizona near the reservation. He took his camera to your parents’ home and they helped him gather the other things for you.”

“It is good,” Billy sighed, “this time of Christmas that brings such kindness. I’ll still miss being with my family, but I can be happy where there is love such as I feel here.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Del Parson