Christmas is always a great time for stories. Jane Howarth offers a festive yarn to enjoy and share this Christmas.
Rebecca was sad. All the people in the room around her were laughing and chatting and she didn’t know why. Today was not a happy day. They had spent the morning in church and lots of people had said nice things about Grandad but Grandad was gone. So why were they all happy?
“I didn’t want Grandad to die,” she declared tearfully to Mum, as she came to sit with her 10-year-old daughter by the window. “It’s Christmas and he helped us do the tree and now he’s not here. Why did God take him away when we need him so much? And why is everyone laughing?”
Grandad dying had been a big shock, and in spite of the presents around the tree and the baubles, which glinted so beautifully in the firelight, nothing seemed the same.
“What can I do?” asked Rebecca the next day, as her mother worked tirelessly in the kitchen, baking numerous amounts of cakes.
“You can help me with these cakes for the food bank,” came the instant reply. “We’re taking treats to the hostel down the road and everyone’s meeting at the food bank. You can come with us if you like.”
But Rebecca didn’t ‘like’. She couldn’t stop thinking about Grandad. He had helped her specially to put the ‘Jesus’ baubles on the tree and had placed his presents under the fir boughs before he died. What could she do? As she often did in times of uncertainty she wove her way across the busy kitchen and opened the door of her art cupboard. Several items dropped onto the floor and as she picked up the assortments of coloured papers, scraps of material and phials of glitter, she had an idea. She would make a bauble for Grandad. And for Gran, who was now living with them so she wouldn’t be alone.
“I’ll make a bauble!” she exclaimed excitedly, brushing a patch of flour from off the table top and perching herself on her high stool.
“Good idea,” replied Mum, sweeping away the glitter which threatened to mix with the flour and knowing it would be sometime before she could properly grieve for her father.
Time sped by and it wasn’t long before Rebecca had made a sparkling colourful tree decoration to add to the ones already placed there.
“Mum!” cried Rebecca, as she jumped from her stool and hung the ornament haphazardly on the tree in the corner. “It’s Saturday and I haven’t had my pocket money. Can I go to the shop and get some sweets?”
“Yes, of course you can,” laughed her Mum, pleased to see her daughter smiling again. “Go now and then, when you come back you can help me with this lot.”
Donning her hat and coat, Rebecca ran out of the door, her pocket money clasped hotly in her hand. The sweet shop was close by, on the corner of their road and she was used to making this journey alone. Only, this time she hesitated. Sitting on the pavement, close by the shop door, sat on old man who looked cold and sad and hungry. Rebecca knew all about sadness.
“Hello,” she said, as she pushed open the door to the shop and looked down on him with a friendly smile. Other people pushed by without looking at him and one, a teacher from her school, took her arm and hurried her inside. Surprised that no-one was talking to him, Rebecca surreptitiously offered him a sweet on the way home; she was going to tell her Mum when she arrived at the front door, but she was met with so much busyness that she completely forgot.
“Come on, Becs,” chivvied Mum. “We’re going now. Help me carry these tins.”
Dad was already in the car, stacking up boxes of food and her big brother Joe was sitting obliviously in the hall, glued to his phone. She didn’t want to stay with him, she would have to go. Rebecca had been to the food bank once before and had enjoyed her visit; this time she felt tired and there were so many people about she felt completely in the way.
“Can we go home now?” she asked Dad, feeling bored. Dad, who was also bored, agreed.
“Come on, then,” he answered, donning his coat. “Let’s go.”
On the way home, Rebecca once more saw the old man sitting by the sweet shop. She felt sorry for him.
“Go on in to your brother,” Dad said as they arrived at the house. “I’m going to get petrol.”
Rebecca ran excitedly down the path to the front door.
“I know what I’ll do,” she declared to no-one in particular. I’ll make him a bauble like Grandad’s....” But she was brought to a sudden halt. The front door was locked and the house looked quiet.
“Joe!” Rebecca shouted through the letterbox. “Come on, Joe, let me in....”
But there was no reply. Feeling annoyed she felt in her jeans’ pocket for her key. It wasn’t there. Several times she had seen Mum hide a spare under a flowerpot and when she looked she wasn’t disappointed. Feeling pleased with herself she unlocked the door and ran inside, stopping to make not one, but several sparkling shapes. No-one was home, she would deliver them now.
Quickly, because she somehow wanted this to be a secret, she ran up the road and laid her gifts at the man’s feet. She was briefly aware of a look of pleased surprise on his face as she turned and ran home, little realising that her Mum and Dad had seen her as they drove back to the house.
Later that evening, a sorrowful little 10-year-old went to bed feeling very small. Having been grounded for the next few days for leaving the house without permission, and also for speaking to a stranger, her emotions had swung from anger to tears. Didn’t they understand she missed Grandad? The man by the sweet shop was a friend, someone who could make her feel better. Didn’t they understand?
Next day was Christmas Eve and the whole family travelled to the food bank to help with the transfer of treats to the hostel nearby. Rebecca looked as they passed the sweet shop, but the man wasn’t there.
“He’s gone,” she whispered to herself. “I might never see him again.”
The next hour was spent in loading up cars for the journey, with several people running into town for last minute extras. Rebecca was put in charge of placing a Christmas card on each parcel and with every one she did she thought of her old friend. ‘Where was he now?’ she wondered. Had he taken her decorations with him?
Pushing open the doors of the hostel they were met with an onslaught of music, colour and activity. Paper hats were everywhere and Father Christmas himself was sitting in a corner with a big bag of presents. Rebecca was pushed to and fro as she carried in their gifts and was just placing a cumbersome pile down on the table when she turned and saw him; her old friend, sitting to one side and smiling at her. Around his neck were the sparkling decorations she had made; Rebecca cried out in delight and clapped her hands.
“Becs,” said her Dad roughly, pulling her away. “There’s one more parcel in the car....go and get it, there’s a good girl.”
Annoyed, Rebecca ran out to the car in the car park, found the parcel and turned to run back. As she did so a car drove too fast in through the gates; the headlights glared, Rebecca spun round and disaster looked imminent. Looking back, she couldn’t remember the shouts that ensued; all she knew was that she was picked up and thrown to one side, escaping danger by centimetres. People fussed around her, her mum held her in her arms, her dad and brother were profusely thanking her rescuer....and then she saw. The old man they were thanking was her friend. He had come out to help her and so was on hand to deliver her from disaster.
“Thank you! Thank you!” said her Mum, turning to him as the tears poured down her face. “And thank you, God, for your protection.”
“He’s our friend now,” she added to Rebecca, as they drove home. “But you’re still not to see him on your own. Do you understand?”
Shakily her daughter nodded, and clasped her Mum’s hand tightly.
Next day, Christmas, saw a new friend going with the family to church. Rebecca looked at her old gentleman and shyly smiled.
“Come back for lunch,” said her Mum, as they left the bustling congregation behind. “You can be in our family now....”
“And in God’s,” interrupted Dad, with certainty.
Rebecca chuckled to herself. Grandad had gone but God had given them a new friend. As they entered their house decked with Christmas cheer she felt sure she could feel Grandad smiling down on her. God had brought him back home again.