s i l e n t
l i s t e n...
for an elderly woman
in her over soft leather chair
h e a r the s q u e a l s
of now grown children
gaze into the eyes of her grandson
linger on that love
The Christmas tree lights beautifully reflected a colorful glow with hopes of a new day. Cecilia sat in her armchair comfortable to sit and remember the past. It's as if in each ball she could see a face of a loved one. For a moment she heard voices of long ago. "Honey quick before your brother gets home. I want the tree to look perfect."
"Oh mama" Cecilia sighed. I wish you were here. I wish you had decorated our tree."
Cecilia was glad she had the memories but sorrowful that was all she had.
Cecilia looked at the kitchen calendar as she prepared breakfast.
“Only one week before Christmas Eve and his seventh birthday.” You could feel the deflation in her lungs and spirit.
“I only would like the Star Wars Lego set mama,” Jonnie’s blue eyes had said pleadingly a week before.
Jonnie had never been spoiled as a child. His parents showered him with love but had been careful to put money away for college rather than buy an abundance of toys. A wooden wagon complete with a set of wooden blogs had been hand made by a neighbor. Another neighbor had bought him several metal toy tractors to play with outside. He and daddy had built the sand box and tree house last summer. Those were the toys of an almost seven year old boy. They didn’t have videos to watch for there was no TV. The last one had died after the bank account had. Jonnie knew his daddy had lost his job, but he had little concept of the cost of a desirable set of Legos. He thought a dollar or two would pay for anything.
"Daddy has those two dollars sitting on his dresser; I bet I know what they are for."
"Who can help?" Cecilia pondered. Grayson’s aging parents were on a limited funds. Cecilia would never tell them how bad things were. They had lost much of their retirement when the stock market fell. Resources were too limited; they had already offered to pay for Christmas dinner and that was a strain for their budget. Cee knew they would have given everything to help - she would never ask. She was trying to run down the list of Grayson's friends or employees. Grayson had owned a company and before closing gave most of what was left in reserves to those he had to layoff. Grayson never thought of himself; he was just like his parents. Cecilia loved him for that. But right now, she wanted her boy to have the one thing he had hoped for and dreamed of for his birthday.
“It's all he has ever asked for dear.” Cecilia pleaded with furrows that had never been on her face before. “We have to find the money. Don’t you have a friend who owes you something?”
“Honey they are in as bad a shape as we are if not worse. I can ask around, but I know they are struggling to put food on the table just like we are. Gifts will be scarce for a lot of people this year.”
“I hate this economy! This is not our child’s fault.” Cecilia said as she stomped outside and flung the front door shut.
She had grabbed a sweater knowing she needed a long walk in the chilly, evening air. Another of a series of long walks.
She stomped for the first mile. She peeled off a birch limb so she could swish it and slap at the air. A frown plastered on her beautiful, usually cheerful countenance.
Her face softened as it grew tired from the tension. The walk, as it always did, eased the strain of an unbearable situation.
As she turned the corner, she stopped at her favorite lilac colored rose-bush just to take in the last of the season’s scent. She loved the fact that roses still bloomed in their mild December climate. She was startled when an elderly gentleman greeted her.
“Those were always my Angela's favorite. She said they had a “delicious almost heavenly” fragrance.”
“They do indeed”, Cecilia’s voice said sadly. Her eyes gleamed with remnants of her tears.
“Young lady -What's the trouble?”
Usually Cecilia would not have unburdened herself to anyone definitely not a stranger. She was always a private person; after her family died she never revealed emotions except to a willow branch and the air. Somehow her troubles just blurted themselves off her lips and into that same evening air that took the brunt of her frustration.
Yes all of it: her husband, the economy, Jonnie’s gift, the Lego set, even slamming the door.
“I understand times are hard for most folks. I'm sorry to hear about your troubles. We had a grandson who loved Legos too.”
Cecilia saw a tear moisten the corner of the old man's eye
“Something happened didn't it Ben???” The compassion evident in her whisper.
“Randy was in a serious accident, on his bike, when he was ten; he wasn’t wearing a helmet.” The words struggled to emerge from his throat.
Cecilia reached for her new friend and hugged him. All of a sudden, her troubles seemed so small.
This elderly gentleman was alone in the world. His wife of fifty years of marriage was gone. His only grandson – his legacy vanished in a moment. He had a strength in his frailty that she needed.
“Please join us for Christmas Eve dinner it will be simple this year. Jonnie loves new friends and it will take the sting of not getting those Legos for his birthday.” She chattered on as though she had known Ben for years rather than minutes.
"Christmas Eve. Hmm” His face looked a bit brighter at the prospect.
Cecilia was certain that he had some wonderful memories of Christmas Eves in his past.
“We would love your company.”
“Angela would have been 80 on the same day as Jonnie.” A tense smile crested his lips.
“Then you will have the honor of celebrating Angela and Johnnie’s birthday with us - please.” Unintentionally, her eyes looked like a puppy dog’s.
Ben wondered if Jonnie had the same endearing eyes. “It will be my pleasure. What might I bring?”
“Please you will be our guest. Nothing is required but your company.”
“Good enough. I will see you and Jonnie on Christmas Eve.”
Cecilia and Grayson sadly couldn’t scrape together the funds for the Legos. She managed to make a cake, put together their favorite meal for Christmas Eve. They loved celebrating with Christmas Eve Mexican food including homemade tamales; Gray had been able to find a $3 small Lego's starter set on sale. The wrapped package had a big tear spot on the paper. The mother carried the small box with love. The only gift her son would get for his birthday and for Christmas.
When Ben arrived, he brought a container of ice cream (something Cecilia had been unable to squeeze from her food budget) and a card "for the birthday boy." How had he know what their favorite ice cream was. Ben and Jonnie hit it off right away. Jonnie was telling Ben about the kitten he had rescued; showed him his latest bruise. Ben hadn’t had tamales in years and stated that Angie and he loved Mexican food. Tamales being their favorite.
Before the candles were lit, Bent whispered to Grayson and smiled as he saw the words “Happy Birthday Angela and Jonnie.” printed on the cake. Cecilia saw a tiny trickle run down Ben’s face.
After Jonnie blew out the candles, Grayson proudly said with a chuckle “after your cake you will have to see what’s at the front door.”
Grayson knew Jonnie couldn’t wait. “Go ahead son. The cake can wait.”
Jonnie ran to the front door and ogled the large package with bright helium filled balloons attached. He cradled the gift as though it was gold. He walked proudly back and sat down to have birthday cake.
After Jonnie opened his gifts, he pulled his daddy and his new friend to the living room to help build the Star Wars Space Station. “I’ll save the Star Cruiser for later,” he winked at his mother.
She looked at the box that contained the Star Cruiser. It was taped where there had been a rip. The card was signed “from Ben, Randy and Angela.”
A tear welled in her eye as she thought of a wife smiling down from heaven clasping hands with her 10-year-old grandson who was glad he got to share his Legos with a 7- year old boy named Jonnie.
“Mom.” Jonny said with a sleepy voice.
Yes honey. Cecilia smiled
“ That was the best birthday I will ever have. I knew I probably wouldn’t get the Star Wars stuff but after I met Ben it really didn’t matter. Mom. You know what I learned this birthday? People matter not stuff."
“Hmmm” the anxiety of months was finally gone from Cecilia’s voice.
“Do you think Randy and I would have been friends?”
“I think you and Randy will be friends some day and you will have wonderful stories to tell about his grandpa Ben.”
"This has been a wonderful Christmas Eve and Birthday mama"
"Yes we will make it through," Cecilia smiled as she turned the Christmas tree lights off and looked at the scant gifts under the tree. The stuff doesn't matter- the people do."