Naomi MacCabe Manwaring
Christmas was a magic word and a magic time when I was a child. It embodied all things happy and wonderful and joyous. It was a time when I believed almost anything could happen.
For weeks before this festive season arrived I lay in my bed at night and stared into the darkness anticipating the fun of riding in our bob-sled with Father and my brothers and sisters to the canyon to cut down our Christmas tree. It was always such fun to sit in the soft straw with a blanket wrapped around me and listen to the sleigh bells tinkle-tinkle as the horses galloped along the snowy road.
Then, when we came home laden down with our Christmas tree, Mother had chocolate and apple pie steaming on the kitchen table and we always laughed and talked as we ate and planned and wished.
There were nine of us children. I was the youngest and more than anything else in the world I wanted a real live baby brother or sister that Christmas.
"Not a baby doll," I explained to Mother and Father and my brothers and sisters gathered around our kitchen table. For today, we had been after our Christmas tree and it was already standing tall and stately in our parlour waiting to be decorated.
"Anything can happen at Christmas time, it's a magic time you know. I'm going to wish for a real live baby that cries and wiggles and squirms."
Suddenly as I stopped talking everything was so quiet in our kitchen I could hear the kettle humming on the stove. Katie, my sister tugged at my sleeve and whispered, "Silly, you can't get a baby just like that."
I felt like crying right there. The rest of the family seemed like strangers, sitting staring at me so quiet-like. I guess my lips were quivering and the tears started to spill over when Mother gathered me on her lap and stroked my hair as she said,
"Karen, everyone loves babies. It is perfectly natural for you to want a baby. After all, Christmas is a holiday to celebrate the birthday of our Saviour, the babe in a manger."
"But dearie," -Daddy always called Mother that, -"Karen must learn that there are some things impossible, even at Christmas."
I didn't want to, but I couldn't help it-I mean I couldn't help the stream of tears when Father said that.
"Don't cry Karen," Mother said, "Sometimes magic things happen at Christmas. We can't promise you a baby, but perhaps, -well, if God sees fit to send us a baby there'll be one for Christmas."
That night when we knelt in family prayer it wasn't my turn to pray, but after Joel, my brother, had finished and we all had said "Amen," I tacked a prayer of my own on the end and asked God if he could possibly see His way clear, I'd like a baby for Christmas. I told Him I didn't want any thing else-only that.
We always decorated our Christmas tree on Christmas eve and that made it even more magic, with the candles twinkling and flickering over the tinsel and holly berries and popcorn strings. I always made a wish when Father hung the Star of Bethlehem on the very top of the tree. Tonight I wished out loud; I couldn't help it because I wanted my wish to come true in the very worst way.
"God, please bring me a baby--a real live one, not a baby doll, nor a baby puppy, nor a baby kitten, just a real live baby that will snuggle in my arms and let me rock it to sleep. "I was kind of sorry I'd wished it when I looked up and saw my brothers and sisters and Father and Mother all looking at me sadly. I thought I was going to cry and I, had to swallow a big lump that kept coming into my throat while we sang about the "Babe in the Manger" and "Silent Night." I hoped the angels who watched over the baby Jesus that night long ago were watching over a baby for me this Christmas eve, too.
I guess there wasn't much I'd left undone. Besides praying and wishing, I'd sent an even dozen letters to Santa Claus. I'd told him over and over to take all his toys to other children because I wanted only one thing-a real live baby.
Christmas eve I couldn't sleep because I kept trying to make up my mind where Santa would put a real live baby if he decided to bring me one. It would be too big for my stocking, too small for the big easy chair by the fireplace. It would be too heavy to lay among the branches of the Christmas tree. The floor was too cold and hard for a tiny baby. And then--and then---
"I heard the bells on Christmas day. . ." It was morning and I jumped out of bed and knew that the bells I heard was Father playing the organ and that Santa Claus had been here. I rushed downstairs and into the parlour. I knew then that I had been a sleepy head because all the family were ahead of me.
Father started playing, "Away in a manger, no crib for His bed. . ." when I saw it. It was a full size baby crib under the Christmas tree.
I didn't hear the rest of the song as I walked to the crib and looked down on the most beautiful baby doll I had ever seen. I swallowed harder and faster than I had ever done before. Somehow I managed to smile as my brothers and sisters gathered around me singing and smiling at me. Father looked over his shoulder as he played and nodded happily. Mother stood beside me. I thought I saw her brush a tear from her cheek; then she smiled as if asking my forgiveness as she said, "You'll love her darling, she is the most beautiful baby we could find."
I reached into the crib and took the baby doll in my arms and hid my face against her. I didn't want to let Mother and Father see me crying and I just couldn't help it. I walked quickly on the other side of the tree. I knew I must pretend I wasn't disappointed. I asked God to forgive me for acting a falsehood, but I just couldn't let my wonderful family know that I was hurt more than I had ever been before.
I knew we weren't rich and when I saw my brothers and sisters with less beautiful gifts I realized they had done this for me. Only last year, Kathy had wanted a doll this beautiful when she saw it in a store window- but Father had said Santa Claus couldn't afford it.
So you understand why I had to pretend. I smiled and played house with my doll and rocked her and did my very best to pretend she was a real live baby while Father roasted chestnuts in the fireplace. I was really glad to put my doll back in the crib when Father said,
"We have time before dinner to take our gifts to our Lamanite brothers and sisters." And I ran to get my hood and coat.
The snowflakes drifted down on my coat and face as we rode with my brothers and sisters in our bob-sled to the Indian Reservation to deliver cakes, pies, toffees and toys. This was a family ritual and Christmas could never be such without sharing our goodies with the Indian children, I knew that these little red-skinned children were descendants of our Lamanite brothers. I'd heard the story in Primary and around our own fireside.
Little White Wing Clara put her baby sister down on the rug of their home so that she could take the stocking full of toffee. How I wished she would hand me the baby in exchange. I would have given her my baby doll and crib gladly.
All the way home I could feel the tears ready to tumble over and I was glad when the snowflakes melted on my face. My Father and brothers and sisters wouldn't know which was a tear and which a snowflake. Then I felt ashamed and tried all the harder to show Father how happy I was by singing with him as we rode home, but by dinner time the lump had grown so big in my throat I was afraid I'd choke on the roast turkey, dumplings, salad and mashed potatoes Father put before me.
"Karen," he said kindly teasing me, "if you're going to take good care of that new baby doll, you'll have to eat every bit of this dinner."
"Please God," I prayed silently, "help me to swallow my food, don't let me choke or they'll know how disappointed I am." I could see all eyes looking at me and faces smiling and nodding. I felt just like the time when I'd eaten too many peach pits and they were ready to come up. I wondered if God had forgotten me, and I became more and more scared as the lump in my throat got bigger and bigger.
Then I heard it-faintly at first. Knock-knock, knock-KNOCK-KNOCK. Someone was knocking at our front door. I jumped down from my chair.
"Please Mother," I pleaded. "please let me answer it." She nodded and I hurried to the front door. Maybe it is someone bringing me a baby, I thought. But when I opened the front door I knew it wasn't, for there standing on the doorstep, was an Indian woman. I recognized her as one from the Indian Reservation.
"Me sick, me sick," she groaned.
"Mother, Mother," I called, running back to the dining room, "Come quickly."
I ran back to the door and as Mother took her arm and helped her inside the house I remembered giving her children toffee and pies that very morning as she stood smiling and nodding her thanks.
Her pretty moccasins were wet and the red bow in her hair drooped, heavy with snow. She was shivering as Mother took her into the parlour to the warm stove. I ran to get a blanket, forgetting all about my disappointment for the first time all day as I helped Mother make her comfy and warm by the stove.
The Indian woman shooed her hands at me the way Father shooes chickens out of the vegetable garden and said, "Papoose go 'way.'
"Go back to your dinner, dear," said Mother, "Iíll take care of her and make her comfortable. I'11 find out what is wrong. She must have gotten lost in the snowstorm trying to find her way into town."
When I went back to the table I felt as if a magic spell had suddenly been cast upon me. I no longer had the lump in my throat. I forgot about the peach pits. I even forgot about the real live baby I didn't have. Now, as I look back I know it was just forgetting about my own grief and thinking about the unfortunate Lamanite woman. And suddenly I remembered how lucky and blessed I was to have such a wonderful Christmas, a nice home and family, and a-crib and baby doll. I ate every bit of food from my piled up plate, even the dumplings.
Sally, my next oldest sister, came singing through the kitchen door carrying a steaming plum pudding when the door from the parlour opened and there stood Mother. I shall never forget the radiant look on her face when she looked at me and said,
"Darling, come sit in your rocking chair. I have a Christmas gift for you."
I heard her whisper over Father's shoulder as she came toward me, "The angels are hovering over our house tonight."
Father looked up quickly, then came to stand beside me as Mother handed me something soft and wiggling, all wrapped up in my baby doll blanket.
And the magic of Christmas was again restored in my heart as I pulled back the blanket and looked down at a real live baby, a Lamanite baby, sleeping snugly in my arms.
Published Dec. 1957 The Millennial Star England.