The Christmas Visit
Shirley Ann Parker
The final day of school before Christmas had arrived cold, foggy and damp. The town was so dark that the street lamps were lit very early in the afternoon.
Inside the dingy, brick schoolhouse, a small fire burned in the stove, throwing off enough warmth to take off a little chill, though not enough for the children to be really comfortable. Yet they dearly loved old Miss Fielding and tried their best to please her, also knowing she was as cold as they were. And she'd promised there'd be a surprise before school was over.
Everyone had been watching the door, only half-listening to lessons.
Suddenly, Miss Fielding looked at the clock on the wall, then listened intently for a moment. "Sssh, children. Listen! Listen!"
Huddled in their thin coats and wraps, they turned their heads toward the door again.
"Someone's singing!" cried blonde Hattie Toone.
The strains of 'Hark, the Herald Angels Sing' came closer and closer.
Now they heard footsteps on the walk, a lot of them. The children began to wriggle with excitement.
"Who is it?" blurted a boy in the back row, bolting for the window to see out.
Miss Fielding moved stiffly to open the door and six happy women sang their way into the room. The children gasped from the sight and from the blast of air, glad the door was closed again right away. One merry carol followed another, lighting up the pale faces in the room. The street lamps seemed to glow brighter than ever, especially at the window.
"They're angels come down from the sky," thought Hattie, shivering. "Ohh, they're pretty!"
She blew on her hands and tucked them into her armpits. Hattie didn't know her family was poor. Oh, she knew they weren't rich because they didn't own a motor car. But none of the other kids had motor cars either.
Big sister Ellen didn't go to school any more. She washed clothes for wealthy families, two days at one house and two days at another. Big sister Josie didn't go to school either. She cleaned house three days a week for yet another family. In between, they tried to take care of Papa and Hattie.
With Papa so sick and Mama in Heaven, it wasn't easy. But Ellen often said they were no worse off than the Colliers with their six mouths to feed, or widow Smith, all by herself. Poor didn't mean much. It just was.
"I never saw a real angel before except Mama. Papa said she's an angel. I just remember she was beautiful and she sang like those ladies. So they must be angels, too," decided Hattie.
Then her lower lip trembled. "Whose school is Mama at today? Why couldn't she come to my school and sing?"
The glow from the window spread in and over her. Hattie felt warm as she brushed away a tear. Tears would make Mama sad when she looked down on them, she knew that. And Mama probably couldn't come here. But they would go where she was someday. Both sisters had said so.
So engrossed were the children in the singing that they were painfully disappointed when it ended, an hour later. "Oh, please, sing some more!" they begged. "Oh, please, please, do!"
Miss Fielding tried to comfort them. "Children, the ladies are going to visit an old people's home in a little while. They need to get ready for that."
"But Miss Fielding . . . ohhh!"
Out of a big basket one of the ladies had carried in, brightly-colored items were appearing . . . red-and-white and orange things.
The ladies handed these to each of the children. Hattie sat staring dumbfounded at her gifts, an orange in one hand, a peppermint stick in the other.
After a while, one of the singers returned to her. "Do you know what to do with those, dear?" she asked.
"Let me show you."
The singer peeled three-quarters of the orange, then carefully unwrapped the candy. She pushed the peppermint stick into the orange. "Now you hold this orange in your hand and suck on it."
Doubtfully, Hattie did as she was told. Then, a rare wide smile appeared on her face. "That's the best-tasting thing I ever had!"
"Good! And it's all yours."
"You're not my Mama but you are a real angel, aren't you?"
"Well, I . . . ."
"My Mama's an angel, up in the sky."
"Oh, I see."
"Do you know my Mama?" asked Hattie expectantly. "She sings pretty, too."
"Do I know her? Well, I expect I've met her, dear one. What was her name?"
"Hattie, like me. Hattie Toone."
"Y-es, I believe I have met her. Did she . . . does she have blonde hair like you?"
"Yes!" exclaimed Hattie. "And big grey eyes, like sister Ellen. And she's beautiful!"
"I'm sure I've met her," said the lady. "But right now, I imagine she's very busy singing to little children who are angels . . . like she is."
Hattie shivered, for once with delight, not cold. "I'm glad you know her, ma'am," she said. "And thank you for these."
Outside the window, the angel smiled and slipped away, a lone tear on her cheek.
© 1980, 2001 Shirley Ann Parker. Reprinted from The Mennonite, 9 Dec 1980. This story may be printed for one-time home or church use. All other rights reserved.