by Cynthia Reeg
I pressed my face against the living room’s cold windowpane. Behind me, Mom and Dad stood huddled in the kitchen.
“It won’t be much of a Christmas this year, Sonia.” Dad’s heavy words said more. Worry about COVID, his lost job, and no money.
“We’ll make this Christmas special,” said Mom. “You’ll see.”
Dad shook his head and strode out the door.
Mia tugged on my jeans.
“Come on, Tony. Play Christmas with me.” My little sister stood with her hands on her hips, white paper angel wings masking-taped to her back.
“We’ve already played Christmas,” I said.
“You can be all three of the wise men,” said Mia. “And you won’t be lost anymore because I’ll show you the way to the manager.”
“The angel doesn’t do that,” I said. “The star leads the wise men to Bethlehem.”
“The angel could if they asked her to,” said Mia.
“Tony!” Mom’s call from the kitchen came just in time.
The warm kitchen smelled of chicken and spices.
“What do you need, Mom?”
“Here’s some soup I want you to take to Mrs. Hosea.” Mom snapped the plastic lid in place. “She’s still moving pretty slow after her fall. Wear your mask and keep your distance.”
A visit with our neighbor, Mrs. Hosea, was like torture—in slow motion. But I tugged on my jacket and face mask and cradled the warm soup in my gloved hands.
I knocked on Mrs. Hosea’s door. Her scratchy voice commanded me inside.
“Here’s some soup, Mrs. Hosea.”
“Set it down. Here. Beside me.” She motioned to an end table stained with water rings.
A colorful ceramic nativity spread across it. A wooden stable sat in the center with Joseph, Mary, and the most joyful baby Jesus I’d ever seen. Shepherds, sheep, a donkey and a cow joined the holy family. Three fancy wise men stood a foot away, but they looked eager to reach the stable.
“Oh, wow” I said, pointing to an angel more beautiful than Mia could imagine. “Mia would love that!”
“Would she?” Mrs. Hosea tapped her masked chin. “Go look under my bed,” she said, pointing down the dark hallway. “For a gold box.”
Her droopy eyes held me. “I need you to do one more thing.”
“She pointed toward the hallway closet. “Look for a red box.”
A red box. What could Mrs. Hosea hide in a red box?
Slowly, I pulled open the creaky closet door. I pushed aside a cobweb and spotted a few boxes behind a winter coat. I pulled out a dusty red box.
That’s it,” said Mrs. Hosea. She pointed to the scuffed-up coffee table before her. “Put it here. Gently. It’s breakable.”
Without a bit of a smile or a thank you, Mrs. Hosea waved me out the door.
I couldn’t believe it! She wasn’t going to let me see what was inside.
Fine. I shouldn’t stick around this probably germy place anyway. I slammed the door behind me.
The next day was Sunday. Dad still looked sad as we walked to church. We sat spaced far apart from the few others there. We all wore our masks, making our prayers sound muffled and sad.
After we returned home, Mom called me to the kitchen once more. “Mrs. Hosea asked if you could bring her lunch again today.
Mom only smiled and pressed the brown sandwich bag into my hands.
I slumped across the street. My mask hid a major frown.
When I stepped inside, it was the same bossy voice. But what made my eyes open wide was the coffee table.
I rolled my eyes, another mystery quest. But an excited quiver zipped through my belly.
With the virus lockdown, I knew Mrs. Hosea was more alone than ever. And more crippled after her fall. I rarely saw her standing at her front window anymore. For a whole month at least, she hadn’t once yelled at us neighbor kids when our soccer ball kicks sailed wide into her bushes.
I tramped down to the bedroom. The walls were covered with photographs. Three children, two boys and a girl. A man in a military uniform. A smiling bride and groom. Where were all these photo people now?
I peeked under the metal bed. The gold box. Not as big as the red one. Nor as heavy.
“Here,” I said, dropping it on Mrs. Hosea’s lap. I turned to go.
“Wait.” Mrs. Hosea’s cold hand grabbed me. “Do you want to see?”
“Nah.” I shook my head.
Mrs. Hosea’s wrinkles bunched up under her watery eyes. Beneath her mask, she grinned. “Are you sure?”
Unable to resist, I stepped closer than I should. I lifted the lid.
“Wow!” I gasped. A brilliant golden star, studded with fake sparkling jewels. Red, green, gold, and blue.
“It’s a Christmas tree star.” Mrs. Hosea’s voice not as scratchy. “I’ve no tree to put it on this year.”
Or anyone to put it up for you. I thought of all those photos. Another feathery flutter tickled my stomach.
“Here,” she said, pushing the open box against my chest. “Take it. For your tree.”
“No.” I shook my downcast head. “No, thank you.” I blinked hard and set the box down on Mrs. Hosea’s lumpy sofa. I rushed out the door.
I ripped off my mask and gulped in a breath of air. We didn’t have a tree this year either—or much hope of getting one.
My dad sat glumly on our front steps. He looked as lost as the three wise men must have.
A huge sigh formed in my chest. It pushed hard against my heart. I tried to breathe the hardness out. But the ache stuck firm.
Until I saw it.
A scraggly evergreen that grew in front of our house. And in plain view for Mrs. Hosea to see as well. A treasure hidden in plain sight.
I waved my mask in the air. “Dad!” I cried, not waiting a second to tell him my brilliant Christmas Miracle Plan.
“Wow.” Dad’s almost forgotten laugh made me laugh too. “All we need now is for your Mom and Mia to help us.”
Stirring up a mini-cloud of dust, we scrounged through the battered basement boxes. Only snarled tinsel and chipped ornaments lay hidden inside.
“These can still work, right?” I said.
My dad nodded.
“Popcorn will pull it all together.” Mom winked. In a flash, Mia and Mom were stringing fluffy white popcorn. I taste-tested a few kernels. “The birds will love it.”
Mia giggled. “Don’t eat all our decorations.”
Mom hummed carols. Dad and I decorated. Mia and Mom wrapped their popcorn strands around and around. Somehow the scraggly tree didn’t look so awful anymore.
I knocked on Mrs. Hosea’s door. “Look! I found a tree for your star.”
She leaned against my arm as I helped her onto the porch. I pointed to my family, surrounding the newly decorated tree. Above the mask, Mrs. Hosea’s cloudy gray eyes sparkled.
“Oh my!” she laughed. “Go get it. For our tree.”
I grinned from one side of my mask to the other.
But before I could move, she squeezed my shoulder. “Bring Mia over later. To see my manger.” She held up a knobby finger. “Absolutely no touching though.” Her raspy command was sprinkled with a dusting of Christmas cookie sweetness.
“Okay,” I said, too surprised to remember to thank her.
With careful steps, I carried the boxed star across the street.
Mia danced in place, flapping her angel wings. “Tony’s all three of the wise men in one.”
Dad laughed and wrapped me up in one of his famous bear hugs. I handed him the star. Mom waved to Mrs. Hosea—now watching us at her
window. Dad held up a winged Mia. She ever-so-carefully placed the star atop our new-found Christmas tree.
Amid the gray December dusk, the decorated tree stood triumphant and hopeful.
Mom was right. Christmas was special this year. Who knew Mrs. Hosea or us had any hidden treasures? And who knew we’d end up sharing them with each other to make our own COVID Christmas Miracle.
© 2021 Cynthia Reeg