The Special Christmas

Jenny knew something special was going to happen that Christmas of 1938. She had just been baptized. Her baptism had been so special that she knew Christmas would be special too. But she didn’t know how it would be special.

On Christmas morning Jenny woke up early. She heard Dad and her brother Marcus go out to milk the cows, and she knew she had to stay in bed until they came back. That was the rule on Christmas.

“Mayda,” she whispered to her older sister. “Mayda, are you awake?” Jenny wanted to talk about the special day, but Mayda was still asleep. So was Herbie, who slept in a crib across the room. He was only two years old, but she would have been happy to talk even to him.

Jenny sighed and thought about the day ahead. Maybe the special thing would be something under the Christmas tree.

“A Shirley Temple doll!” she whispered. That’s what she hoped it would be—a Shirley Temple doll with curly yellow ringlets, eyes that opened and shut, and frilly clothes with dainty little shoes! Jenny already had a doll, but it was a rubber baby doll with hair and eyes just painted on. When Jenny put the doll to bed, its eyes stayed wide open, staring up at her. A Shirley Temple doll that was under the Christmas tree would make it a really special Christmas!

Finally Jenny heard Dad and Marcus come back from milking the cows. Mama came into the bedroom to get Herbie. “Everybody up,” she said cheerily. “It’s Christmas.”

The large room that was both kitchen and living room was warm and cozy when Jenny got there. Dad and Marcus were warming their hands over the big black stove.

“It’s a cold one today,” Dad said. “I think it’s going to snow.”

As soon as Mama and Herbie and Mayda came, they all went over to the tree. Jenny and Mayda had decorated it the day before with rings of colored paper and strings of popcorn. Mama had said that maybe next year they could afford a string of lights. But it was pretty, even without lights.

Jenny didn’t let herself look underneath the tree until after they had all held hands and sung “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” She liked that part of Christmas morning.

Finally it was time to look under the Christmas tree. She spotted her gift right away. It was a doll, all right, but not a Shirley Temple doll. It was just another rubber baby doll, although this one did have eyes that opened and shut. Mama had made the doll a set of tiny clothes and a little pillow and quilt. It was a nice doll. But it couldn’t be the special thing.

Mama said she liked the paper-plate comb holder Jenny had made for her in school. Dad was patting his new shaving lotion onto his face. Mayda flipped through the pages of her new autograph book, saying it was just what she wanted. Marcus grinned as he examined his new jackknife, and Herbie galloped around the kitchen on his new stick horse that had a carved head and a rope tail. Maybe the something special will be something that happens, Jenny thought.

The family ate breakfast, finishing up with an orange for each person, which was almost special, but not quite.

Since it was Sunday, Jenny wondered if what she was waiting for would happen at church during the Christmas program.

Dad went out to hitch the horses to the sleigh. They had an old truck, but it always froze up in cold weather. Jenny liked the horses better anyway.

Mama filled the sleigh with quilts, and they all got in. Just as they were starting out, the Sorensens, who lived farther up the road, came along. The sleigh bells on their horses jingled, making it really sound like Christmas. They all waved, except Raymond, who stuck his tongue out at Jenny. That meant he really liked her! It made Jenny happy—but still, that couldn’t be her special thing.

The Christmas program was nice. Aunt Jessie Fugal sang “O Holy Night,” and didn’t miss even the highest notes. Teeny DeMars played a piano solo, and Red Sorensen played a violin solo. Then Bishop Johnson gave a talk about the birth of Jesus. To close the meeting, some of the Junior Sunday School children presented a tableau of the manger scene while everyone sang “Silent Night.”

It was time to go home, and still the special thing hadn’t happened. Jenny felt disappointed.

Snow was falling. Mama put a blanket over Herbie’s head and ran for the sleigh, followed by Mayda, Marcus, and Jenny. Dad helped them crawl in under the quilts. Then he shouted to the horses. “Giddap!”

The snowflakes were as big as popcorn as they wafted down, and were so thick that it was hard to see the Sorensen sleigh only a few yards away.

“Jenny,” Mama said, “this is the way it was snowing on the day you were born.”

The day I was born, Jenny mused. The day I came to live with Dad and Mama and Mayda and Marcus. Of course Herbie hadn’t been born yet.

Jenny looked around at them, at their heads poking out from under the quilts. They all smiled at her.

The day I was born, she thought again. If I had been born to some other family, I probably wouldn’t know any of them!

Suddenly Jenny knew that this was the special something she had waited for all day. It wasn’t a special gift or a special happening. It was a special knowing. It was knowing that she was where she wanted to be, with the people she wanted to be with. It was knowing she was right where she belonged.

Jenny snuggled down under the quilts, knowing. It truly was a special Christmas.

[photos] Photos by Eldon Linschoten