Memories of a Hand-Me-Down Christmas

Photograph: Courtesy Earth Studio
Photograph: Courtesy Earth Studio

Nine-year-old Annie Hale isn’t excited about Christmas. Tiny and underweight, she’s lost in the shuffle in the family of six. Born on December 23rd, the second of four children, there is nothing special about Annie Hale.

Birthday and Christmas are always combined, and her tag reads, Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas. It’s called poverty, and she lives it everyday. Christmas consists of one present and a stocking filled with an orange and walnuts. Paper chains and popcorn strings adorn the tree. However, this holiday something different was afoot.

This night Annie awoke to a commotion—whispering, thumping, and shuffling of feet. Troublesome, because Annie slept alone in the upstairs bedroom, and the noise came from the hallway of the old two-story farmhouse.

Fear snaked its way to her room—fear of the dark, branches scratching the window, the closet, and voices. She didn’t like it.

Blankets tucked to her chin, quaking; she wondered…Father’s voice? Mother’s? Courage found her. She lifted the covers, touched bare feet to the cold floor, and scampered to the door, eye to the keyhole. Yes, Mom and Dad, coming toward her room, keys swinging from a chain.

What is it? It dawned on her—Christmas. The voices grew louder. She hurried back to bed to wait for morning. Sleep overcame, and before she knew it, the morning sun streamed in the window. She padded down the hall and peered into the keyhole. In the corner sat two new, red bicycles and a blue one. Bicycle’s for all! Nothing so grand had ever been a part of their holiday celebrations. Her sister rode a hand-me-down bicycle, with no seat given Father by a neighbor. He said he would fix it when he had time. Another promise broken.

Christmas morning dawned early, and the noise of a thousand elephants thundered down the stairs, Annie was on the heels of her siblings. She knew about the wonderful presents and they didn’t. Squeals and shouts of delight filled the room, the clamor deafening.

Only three bicycles stood by the tree. Sister claimed hers, a shiny blue. Her brothers, identical red bikes. Beside the bikes, with a big red bow around its neck, sat a stuffed red and white poodle. The familiar tag read Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas, Annie. She saw her parents beaming faces as the others hooped and hollered over the bikes, and tears filled her eyes. Her mother looked at her. “Oh, Annie, we could only afford three bikes this year. Your sisters’ old bike is fine, and Father will fix that seat. So…you got a new bike, too. Maybe next year we can …”

“Dad, let’s go outside and try them,” one brother shouted, and they all trooped outside.

Annie sat on the floor and held the new stuffed animal, dry tears forming salty patches on her face.

Annie never received a new bicycle while she lived at home. Dad never fixed the seat on the old one, either. She rode with the other kids, standing up.

The stuffed poodle was a constant companion for many years, and Annie found a strange comfort in its presence. Bitterness could have found its way in, but it didn’t. Strangely, she understood. She simply was lost in the shuffle.

Before you feel too sorry for this child, let me tell you another story.

Annie knew if life were to treat her with kindness, it would be of her own making. After graduation, she left home and enrolled in college two thousand miles away. She worked, married, and raised two sons…and then divorced. Again, lost in the shuffle. Annie stayed the course, worked two jobs and pinched pennies until the day came when her sons left to make lives of their own. End of story? Hardly.

A man entered her life. A good man, a quiet man. They courted and eventually married, and a good life unfolded for them. He was kind, generous, loving, patient, understanding, and so very, very thoughtful. The pain of the past melted away in the glow of this new beginning, and Annie gave thanks for her good fortune.

On their second Christmas together, a wonderful thing happened. Annie rose early on Christmas morning to start their holiday breakfast. She stumbled into the living room on her way to the kitchen, eyes heavy with sleep. A voice called from beside the Christmas tree. “Merry Christmas, Annie! I love you.”

Her husband stood in front of the tree, grinning from ear to ear, and beside him stood a beautiful, red bicycle.

ref=sib_dp_kd-4Patty Wiseman is author of An Unlikely Beginning. Click here to read more about the novel or purchase a copy direct from Amazon.             

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