It was December in southeast Kansas and a thin layer of snow was on the ground. My stepmother was busy making cookies and sprinkling Christmas colored sprinkles on top of them when my seven-year-old sister, Sylvia, and I came bounding through the front door. And as usual, we were hungry. There’s something about being in school all day that works up a good appetite.
Mom handed us a couple of cookies and poured a glass of milk for each of us. Our preschool sister and kindergarten brother joined us for a snack. As we sat around the table, Sylvia eyed one of her Christmas cookies, examining each side of it, and then said matter-of-factly, “Mary isn’t having Christmas.”
“What? Who is Mary?” I asked.
“You know,” said Sylvia. “She rides our school bus and sits by me sometimes. I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she said she wasn’t having any.” No one knew what to say at the moment, and so Sylvia continued. “Mary has pretty red hair, but I think she forgets to brush it, and her teeth, and the other kids don’t sit by her. I think it’s because she’s … kinda different.”
Our mom questioned us about Mary and her family, and where she lived, but we didn’t know very much. We only knew there were other children in the family and that they got off the bus along the road where there wasn’t a house.
All that evening I was bothered by thoughts of that little red-headed girl who “wasn’t having Christmas,” as Sylvia had said.
The next morning when we left for school, Mary was still on my mind. We had only moved to Wichita from the farm and lived in the area for a short time. However, I knew that our principal knew everyone in the community, so I made it a point to talk to him during lunch.
As the principal walked by me at the lunch table, I asked him, “Do you know of a little red-headed girl named Mary who rides our bus?”
“Yes,” he responded. “She’s one of the Pearson kids who live off the road a little ways. Why? Is there a problem?”
I explained to him what Sylvia had said and asked him if he thought they might be a family that needed some help at Christmas. The principal told me the Pearson family probably did need assistance and seemed glad that someone had thought of them. I then told him that our family would do something and that I would give their name to the Christian Dorcas Society in town, because they always helped others at Christmas time.
That day I found a big box at the grocery store a few blocks from our house. Later that night we all discussed what should go into the box for the Pearson family. It was just a few days until Christmas and we began working to wrap gifts and fill the box. Our sister, Rose Marie, chose some toys and games that were age-appropriate, along with a cuddly stuffed teddy bear for one of the younger children. Even Larry, who was just a toddler at the time, watched what was going on and ran to his own little box of toys and began throwing some of them into the box.
We all chipped in and began cooking and baking things to go in a box of food items that would make up their Christmas dinner. Mom asked Sylvia if she would like to add something special to the box that would be for Mary.
“We could get her a pretty hat with gloves to match,” suggested Mom.
“We could get her green, like her eyes!” remarked Sylvia.
“Green it is!” announced Mom.
That weekend we made a few purchases with money we had saved in our piggy banks. I bought a children’s Bible and marked the story about the birth of Jesus with a bookmark.
The next day was Christmas Eve, and after work, we and our parents loaded the boxes into our car. We had received directions on how to get to the Pearson house from the principal, and we’re putting our coats on to leave when Sylvia said, “Mom, I don’t want to go.”
“Why not?” I asked. “Don’t you want to help take the gifts to Mary?”
“Maybe Mary will hide her face,” Sylvia said with a worried look.
Mom seemed to understand what Sylvia was feeling, and asked, “Are you worried that Mary might somehow be shy or uncomfortable knowing that you told about there not being a Christmas for her family?”
Although our parents didn’t think there would be a problem, they told Sylvia she didn’t have to go along.
We drove up the old dirt road and found a little house in a clearing in the woods. Our dad got out and went to the door while we stayed in the car. A very old, friendly dog met him as he got out of the car, and a man opened the front door as dad walked toward the house. As Mr. Pearson stood at the open door a small child peeked around the doorjamb and waved at us. Dad talked a moment and then handed him the packages. When dad turned to leave, Mr. Pearson said something else, causing dad to turn around and shake his hand.
We all enjoyed Christmas a little more than usual that year and learned that it is definitely “more blessed to give than to receive.”
When school started again after Christmas break, and the bus made its stop to pick up the Pearson kids, Mary was wearing the green hat and gloves. When she got on the bus she sat down next to Sylvia, hugged her, and gave me a big smile, saying, “We did have Christmas!”
That was all she needed to say. Her smile said the rest. And we did learn later that the Dorcas Society took the Pearson family a gift box of food and a toy for each of the children.
Is there any way you can help put a smile on someone’s face this Christmas? Think about some way you might give the gift of love that was given to us so many years ago that first Christmas.
After all, whose birthday is it?