Waiting … Waiting for Christmas
By Elizabeth English
Herman and I finally locked our store and dragged ourselves home to South Caldwell Street. It was 11:00 p.m., Christmas Eve of 1949. We were dog-tired.
Ours was one of those big old general appliance stores that sold everything from refrigerators and toasters and record players to bicycles and dollhouses and games. We’d sold almost all our toys; and all the layaways, except one package, which hadn’t been picked up.
Usually Herman and I kept the store open until everything had been picked up. We knew we wouldn’t have awakened very happy on Christmas morning knowing that some little child’s gift was back on the layaway shelf. But the person who had put a dollar down on that package never appeared.
Early Christmas morning our 12-year-old son, Tom, and Herman and I were out by the tree opening up gifts. But I’ll tell you, there was something very humdrum about this Christmas. Tom was growing up; he hadn’t wanted any toys—just clothes and games. I missed his childish exuberance of past years.
As soon as breakfast was over, Tom left to visit his friend next door. And Herman disappeared into the bedroom, mumbling, “I’m going back to sleep. There’s nothing left to stay up for anyway.”
So there I was, alone, doing the dishes and feeling very letdown. It was nearly 9:00, and sleet mixed with snow cut the air outside. The wind rattled our windows, and I felt grateful for the warmth of the apartment. Sure glad I don’t have to go out on a day like today, I thought to myself, picking up the wrappings and ribbons strewn around the living room.
And then it began. Something I’d never experienced before. A strange, persistent urge. “Go to the store,” it seemed to say.
I looked at the icy sidewalk outside. That’s crazy, I said to myself. I tried dismissing the thought, but it wouldn’t leave me alone. Go to the store.
Well, I wasn’t going to go. I’d never gone to the store on Christmas Day in all the 10 years we’d owned it. No one opened shop on that day. There wasn’t any reason to go, I didn’t want to, and I wasn’t going to.
For an hour I fought that strange feeling. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer, and I got dressed.
“Herman,” I said, feeling silly, “I think I’ll walk down to the store.”
Herman woke up with a start. “Whatever for? What are you going to do there?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I replied lamely. “There’s not much to do here. I just think I’ll wander down.”
He argued against it a little, but I told him that I’d be back soon. “Well, go on,” he grumped, “but I don’t see any reason for it.”
I put on my gray wool coat and a gray tam on my head, then my galoshes and my red scarf and gloves. Once outside, none of these garments seemed to help. The wind cut right through me and the sleet stung my cheeks. I groped my way along the mile down to 117 East Park Avenue, slipping and sliding all the way.
I shivered, and tucked my hands inside the pockets of my coat to keep them from freezing. I felt ridiculous. I had no business being out in that bitter chill.
There was the store just ahead. The sign announced Radio-Electronics Sales and Service, and the big glass windows jutted out onto the sidewalk. But— What in the world? In front of the store stood two little boys, huddled together, one about 9, and the other 6.
“Here she comes!” yelled the older one. He had his arm around the younger. “See, I told you she would come!” he said jubilantly.
The two little children were half frozen. The younger one’s face was wet with tears, but when he saw me, his eyes opened wide and his sobbing stopped.
“What are you two children doing out here in this freezing rain?” I scolded, hurrying them into the store and turning up the heat. “You should be at home on a day like this!” They were poorly dressed. They had no hats or gloves, and their shoes barely held together. I rubbed their small, icy hands and got them up close to the heater.
“We’ve been waiting for you,” replied the older. They had been standing outside since 9:00, the time I normally open the store.
“Why were you waiting for me?” I asked, astonished.
“My little brother, Jimmy, didn’t get any Christmas.” He touched Jimmy’s shoulder. “We want to buy some skates. That’s what he wants. We have these $3. See, Miss Lady,” he said, pulling the money from his pocket.
I looked at the dollars in his hand. I looked at their expectant faces. And then I looked around the store. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but we’ve sold almost everything. We have no skates—” Then my eye caught sight of the layaway shelf with its one lone package. I tried to remember what was in it . . .
“Wait a minute,” I told the boys. I walked over, picked up the package, unwrapped it, and, miracles of miracles, there was a pair of skates!
Jimmy reached for them. Lord, I said silently, let them be his size.
And miracle added upon miracle, they were his size.
When the older boy finished tying the laces on Jimmy’s right foot and saw that the skate fit—perfectly—he stood up and presented the dollars to me.
“No, I’m not going to take your money,” I told him. I couldn’t take his money. “I want you to have these skates, and I want you to use your money to get some gloves for your hands.”
The two boys just blinked at first. Then their eyes became like saucers, and their grins stretched wide when they understood I was giving them the skates and I didn’t want their $3.
What I saw in Jimmy’s eyes was like a blessing. It was pure joy, and it was beautiful. My low spirits rose.
After the children had warmed up, I turned down the heater and we walked out together. As I locked the door, I turned to the older brother and said, “How lucky that I happened to come along when I did. If you’d stood there much longer, you’d have frozen. But how did you boys know I would come?”
I wasn’t prepared for his reply. His gaze was steady, and he answered me softly. “I knew you would come,” he said. “I asked Jesus to send you.”
The tingles in my spine weren’t from the cold. God had planned this.
As we waved good-bye, I turned home to a brighter Christmas than I had left. Tom brought his friend over to our house. Herman got out of bed, and his father, “Papa” English, and sister, Ella, came by. We had a wonderful dinner and a wonderful time.
But the one thing that made that Christmas really wonderful was the one thing that makes every Christmas wonderful: Jesus was there.1
“Christmas … is love in action. When you love someone, you give to them as God gives to us. The greatest gift He ever gave was the person of His Son, sent to us in human form, so that we might know what God the Father is really like. Every time we love, every time we give, it’s Christmas.”—Dale Evans Rogers
1 https://bolstablog.wordpress.com/2010/12/25/boys-skates. This story was originally printed in Guideposts magazine sometime in the 1950s and reprinted in the 1989 book New Guideposts Christmas Treasury and the 2000 book, Christmas in My Heart, Volume 9. … I choose to believe it happened. After all, Christmastime is a magical season and, well, believing in stories like this makes it that much more magical!—Phil Bolsta