The Golden Angel
When the phone rang for what must have been about the hundredth time, the old woman hesitated before she answered it. Her heart was already flooded with so many memories she couldn't stop herself from seeing an entirely different living room in her mind, a newer, fresher one that was buried beneath wrapping paper and ribbons. And outside that window right there, a snowman stood somewhat lopsided on her front lawn, surrounded by laughing children adorning it with old clothes. Poor April could barely stand, yet she insisted on being the one to stick in its carrot nose! Little April….
It was April's daughter, Kaylee, on the phone now. She was so young, barely older than her mother had been in the memory that seemed as crisp as the December air. Kaylee had never met her grandma. Grandma was just a rough voice on the phone, a rough voice that laughed at old stories made new again by the fanciful imaginings of a little girl experiencing them for the first time.
Kaylee asked if she was Santa's wife. She lived so far away. Was she in the North Pole?
"No," Grandma said, though somehow it felt like maybe she did live way up there, or maybe even farther, maybe all the way on the other side of the world.
A small sob caught in her throat. She masked it with a cough.
Another voice said "merry Christmas," then another said "good-bye," and the link was severed; the specter of closeness that may only have been a dream vanished as cleanly as if it had never been at all. There was no hug to warm her, no kiss to soothe her. Just "good-bye" and a click.
She stared at the phone for a long while, her hand touching it softly, as though she were waiting for it to sprout fingers and wrap them around her own. Then, with a sigh and the soft groan that had become habit since arthritis had started attacking her knees, she carefully pushed herself up to get some coffee from the pot in the kitchen.
When she returned to the living room, she felt like herself again. This was her home, whether it was crowded or empty. And that small tree in the corner was as special as the giant they'd gotten the year Johnny discovered hockey and lost his front tooth in the process. Harry had let the girls pick out the tree that year. It had been so big they had to cut two feet off the top, and then Sam and Michael put it upstairs in their bedroom, decorating it as though there was no floor separating it from the rest of the tree.
Yes, this year's tree was almost as beautiful as that one had been. It might be tiny in comparison, but it had to be small so she could string the lights on her own and place the uppermost ornaments.
She loved each and every one of those ornaments. Some had been made years ago by her children, others more recently by their own children. Some were special little treasures she had picked up through the years. Though she might not recollect all the details—whose hand had crafted it, or where or when she had obtained it—each was precious to her. Yet there was one that was the most precious of all.
In a small box beside the tree, amidst a few antique, glass ornaments that had somehow survived through seven children, four dogs, six cats and the few grandchildren she had been able to spoil, lay an angel in a gown of sparkling gold sequins. Looking at it now, she felt a glow within her that was so warm it rivaled the steaming cup in her hands. She could almost believe it was forty years earlier and her children were sleeping sweetly, just upstairs.
Setting down her coffee cup, she lifted the angel with the gentle care it deserved, and then she reached up as high as she could, feeling a bit like April struggling to give the snowman its nose—although unlike April back then, she didn't need someone to lift her up to nestle the angel into its perch at the top of the tree.
Afterwards, she turned on the lights and stood back to behold her treasure. The angel shone down on her with more heavenly light than electricity should allow. Finally, caught in that glow, she let her tears flow freely. She had to; her heart was too full to be contained.
* * * * * *
After the winter thawed and the children found Christmas to be ahead of them again, the old woman's house was full of all the voices that had come to her on the phone that Christmas Eve only a few short months before. Some laughed uneasily, some cried openly, others were quiet, looking about, remembering.
Most of the children had retreated to the attic, where they were not restricted in their playing. There they found boxes—dozens of boxes that opened up worlds of treasures to inspire their imaginations. One young girl found a small, yellowed box in a corner, away from all the others. When she opened it, she found something so wonderful her heart would not allow her to leave it behind. She picked it up carefully, as though it were the most fragile thing in the world, and then, cradling it in her arms, she carried it down the stairs, concentrating as hard as she could to keep her feet from racing along.
In the living room, her mother was standing by the window looking out at the front lawn and dreaming about snowmen.
"Can I keep her, Mom? She's so beautiful! Would Grandma let me keep her?" She held it up facing the glass, where the sparkling, golden angel reflected the sunlight streaming in—sunlight that also caught the tears forming in her mother's eyes in a sparkle of their own.
"Oh, sweetie!" April smiled and knelt down beside her daughter. "A treasure as special as this isn't meant to be kept. It's meant to be shared. Don't you think?"
The girl's eyes widened at the importance of her mother's words. She nodded slowly, earnestly. And then she walked around the room, showing that special treasure to all the quiet grown-ups.
And suddenly it was forty years earlier, on a snow-covered Christmas morning.
* * * * * *