A Will Starr Christmas Collection
The Joy of Giving
“He said at least a thousand, but he doesn’t recommend it. He says there’s not much sense in rebuilding the transmission when the rest of the car is worn out.”
Judy Warden hadn’t worked in ten months, and yesterday, on her way to make yet another job application, her car simply refused to move. Her friend Alice had just treated her to lunch, which they were eating on a bench in the city park. There were several children noisily playing a chilly game of baseball on the diamond and behind them, an old black groundskeeper was quietly picking up the trash around their bench.
“So what will you do?”
“I don’t know. My savings are almost gone, and so is Jim’s life insurance.” She blinked back tears. “I miss him terribly as my husband, Alice, but I also miss his guidance. He would have known what to do. Christmas, is less than two weeks away, and I haven’t purchased a single present. David is thirteen, so he’ll understand, but Julie is just six. She’ll want to know why Santa passed her up.”
“I can lend you a little.” Alice reached for her purse, but Judy stopped her.
“Thank you, Alice, but I don’t want to owe anyone, and I have enough for now. We’ve had to scrape, but we’ve managed. Something will turn up. It always does.” She watched the old man dump his shoulder bag into a trash can.
In front of them, a bat cracked, and the ball soared toward right field. A squealing girl ran toward first base, to the shouts of encouragement from her friends. Judy smiled in spite of herself. There was just something pleasing about noisy, happy children.
Alice checked her watch. “I have errands to run for Mister Edwards this afternoon, so I’ll give you a ride home. Ralph said he’ll bring the old Buick over tonight so you’ll have something to drive. It had a flat, so he took the tire down to the shop.”
“I appreciate you and Ralph, Alice. I’d be in a real pickle without you.”
Alice grinned. “Best friends forever, right?”
They grew up together as next door neighbors, and had never been separated. As high school cheerleaders, they had spotted Jim and Ralph watching them instead of the game, and the next day, they met in the halls. At first, they each dated the wrong guy, but that was quickly sorted out. Julie ended up with Jim and Alice married Ralph right after high school.
Jim went on to get a degree in engineering and married Julie. Then three years ago, Jim suddenly collapsed and died. The autopsy revealed a hidden aneurism, so Judy was on her own and with two children. Just three weeks before he died, Jim underwent a thorough physical because he wanted some life insurance, but the aneurism was not detected. Julie had thought the insurance was unnecessary, but thankfully, Jim had overruled her and he was covered. But even that was about to run out.
“What do you really need, David? Money is a little tight this year, but we’ll get you what you need.”
David Warden had been understandably devastated by the loss of his father, but he sensed a need so he did his best to take his dad’s place as the man of the house. He dropped the usual arguments with his mom, and assumed a new maturity, taking over many of the household chores his father had once performed. Julie was pleased with his assistance, but she worried that he was growing up too fast, so she encouraged his friendships with other boys his age.
“I don’t really need anything, Mom. Well, maybe some clothes. The old ones are kinda small.”
That was an understatement. His shirt sleeves were an inch short of covering his wrists, and his pant legs were far above his shoes. He needed both. Today was Christmas Eve day, so she went looking for sales, and bought three new shirts and pants that were reduced. She also got Julie a couple of new toys, although it severely strained her budget.
The skies were gray and foreboding, and snow was in the forecast. David climbed up to the attic and retrieved the tree and lights, but she said no to the outside lights. She knew nothing about ladders, and she wanted someone to instruct David on their use before he climbed up on one. They could do without outside lights one more year.
She was a little worried. Someone called Ralph and Alice wanting Julie’s address, claiming to be an employer looking for a paralegal, her profession. But that was several days ago, and no one had called or sent her a letter so she wondered if it was a scam. She put it out of her mind, and they decorated the tree.
Later, they made cookies, and David got out the Christmas movies. They settled in for a movie marathon, with fresh baked cookies and hot chocolate. Julie fell asleep in her lap, and the hot tears welled in her eyes as Jimmy Stewart congratulated Clarence on finally getting his wings That was Jim’s favorite part. Lord, how she missed him.
She tucked a sleeping Julie into bed, and kissed her damp brow. Then she got on her knees and thanked God for her children, and the blessings she did have. Many people, she knew, were far worse off than she was.
David was standing in the bedroom doorway.
“There’s a car in our driveway. I don’t know the car so it must be a stranger.”
Alarmed, she went to the living room window and peered out. The snow was drifting down and it was falling on a strange minivan, parked up close to the house. She couldn’t see anyone inside, and it wasn’t running. She could see tracks in the new snow going down the driveway to the street, where they disappeared. They looked like they originated from her front door.
She peered out the front door pane but saw nothing. Whoever it was seemed to have gone away. She hesitated, and then opened the door.
Between the storm door and the front door was a manila envelope. She looked all around through the storm door glass, and seeing no one, finally stooped down and picked it up.