Monday, June 30, 2008

Laura Jean Hopes for Christmas

Now little one,
Let me tell you a story about my mama’s mama.
She was a little girl named Laura Jean.

Her Nanny used to say to her
“Laura Jean,
don’t let them call you Laura.
Don’t let them call you Jean.
Your name is Laura Jean
because you’re a lady.”

This story takes place in December, little one,
and you of course know what that means.
It was Christmastime.

Mr. Pemberton, the grocer,
had filled his store with all kinds of sweets and goodies.
His store windows were full of toys and treats and presents.

Everyday after school, Monday through Friday,
Laura Jean and her classmates would walk past and look in the windows
hoping to see their parents buying something,
or perhaps to take one more look at the red bicycle,
or day-dream about eating candy canes, salt water taffy, and chocolate.
Laura Jean would stand at the window,
and look at a manger scene with real plaster sheep and hay,
a baby Jesus with moveable arms and a cloth diaper, Mary in blue,
and a shepherd with a real wooden staff.
“Wouldn’t it be just absolutely grand to have that manger, with the real baby Jesus with moveable arms and a cloth diaper and Mary in blue,” Laura Jean would think to herself.

If it was a good day,
and Mr. Pemberton wasn’t too busy,
he himself would come out and lean against the door,
and talk with Laura Jean and her friends
about just what it was that Santa Claus
was going to bring them this year.

Between arithmetic and spelling at school,
Ms. Louisa May Cadwallader,
Laura Jean’s second grade teacher,
Would allow the children to cut out snowflakes,
paste together red and green paper chains,
decorate Christmas cards,
and make salty-dough ornaments
to take home and hang upon their Christmas trees.

Little one, you know Laura Jean loved Christmas.
More than anything she loved making the ornaments.
She loved cutting out Christmas cards with snowmen on them.
She loved the white snowflakes folded and cut and folded and cut over and over again.
She loved the conversations with Mr. Pemberton.
She loved singin’ Christmas carols.
And she loved dreaming about Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Little one, do you know what?
The whole town was preparing for Christmas.
The store was ready.
The school was ready.
The town square was ready.
You could hear Christmas songs on the radio
and coming from people’s homes when you walked home.
Every single child in Ms. Louisa May Cadwallader’s classroom had a Christmas tree
with at least one present under it.

But did Laura Jean?
She did not.
Did Laura Jean’s front door have a Christmas wreath on it?
It did not.
Did Laura Jeans’ entry hall have mistletoe hangin’ from the light?
It did not.
Did Laura Jean’s parlor have a Christmas tree in it?
It did not.
Not one decoration, not one ornament, not one sign that Christmas was coming.

Days and weeks passed by.
Laura Jean kept thinkin’ today I will come home
and my grandaddy will have brought a Christmas tree for our parlor.
Every day it was the same:

One morning Laura Jean, about to explode, could hold it in no longer.
Right in the middle of breakfast,
right in the middle of a bite of hot cereal,
Laura Jean stood up in her chair and raised her spoon high in the air
and cried out, with a little too much sass,
“Nanny when are we going to get ready for Christmas?”

Now Nanny turned to her, paused and then said,
“Laura Jean, it is not Christmas day.
Mary and Joseph had to wait for Christmas day.
The shepherds watchin’ their field had to wait for Christmas day.
The kings lookin’ up at the stars had to wait till Christmas day.
Even the baby Jesus had to wait for Christmas day.
In point of fact Miss Laura Jean,
for a thousand years the whole wide world had to wait for Christmas day,
and for practically a thousand more children have waited for Christmas day,
So, I imagine that you will now quit actin’ foolish,
sit back down,
place that spoon in your mouth,
and finish eating that hot cereal.”

Now Laura Jean didn’t ask about Christmas day again.
But she sure thought about it a whole lot.

On December 20th Laura Jean came home
and opened the door hoping to smell a fresh cut spruce.
Did she smell that Christmas tree?
She did not.

On December 21st Laura Jean came home
and opened the door hoping to be invited in by freshly baked Christmas cookies.
Was she welcomed in by Christmas cookies baking in the oven?
She was not.

On December 22nd Laura Jean came home
and opened the door and looked for one scrap of pretty printed wrapping paper left behind after the gifts were wrapped.
Did she find even a scrap of paper?
She did not.

On December 23rd Laura Jean came home
and opened the door and hoped to be surrounded by the flavor of hot apple cider mulling in the kitchen.
Was she surrounded by the aroma of hot apple cider?
She was not.

On December 24th, Christmas Eve,
Laura Jean passed the home of the neighbor, Miss Augusta Pucker.
It looked as if Mrs. Claus had decorated it herself.
Laura Jean longed to see just one Christmas wreath hanging from her own front door.
She did not see any such thing,
not one single solitary hint that Christmas was tomorrow.

Laura Jean walked inside the door,
head down.
She let her books drop to the floor
and began to sulk all the way upstairs, shoulders slumped over,
hands nearly draggin’ the ground,
all out of unmatched disappointment.

Nanny called from the kitchen and said,
“Laura Jean get yerself right upstairs and get on your Sunday dress.
We are goin’ to eat dinner when your grandaddy gets home
and then go to church.
Pastor Morrison has promised a grand sermon tonight.”

Laura Jean went upstairs and put on her dress.
She ate dinner without one word.
Little one, do you understand the gravity of this situation?
Laura Jean, who can talk from here to tomorrow and back,
sat at the dinner table and said not one word the whole time.

You see, Laura Jean had done got it into her head
That Christmas was never comin’
not even on December 25th.
Now little one, you and I both know
that when Laura Jean gets somethin’ in her head
it is stuck there good.
And it takes an awful lot to change it.
As if you ever could.

Well, dinner passed
and Luara Jean was accompanied by Nanny and Granddaddy to church.
Pastor Morrison’s sermon was long from where Laura Jean sat.
“After all how long does it take to say, ‘Baby Jesus was born in a manger and that made the whole world happy,’” Laura Jean thought to herself.

The choir sang their hearts out
and you would’a thought you were in the very field itself
when the shepherds heard those Angels sing their brave delight:
“Gloria in excelsis Deo.”
Miss Augusta Pucker cried when the choir sang “Lo how a rose e’er blooming.”
Mr. Pemberton the grocer bellowed out: “God rest ye merry gentlemen.”
Miss Louisa May Cadwallader organized the little children into a manger scene.
And Laura Jean decided that “Away in the manger”
was just the kind of lullaby she would’a wanted to hear
if she was the baby Jesus himself.

After church Granddaddy carried Laura Jean all the way home.
Now, maybe she was pretending to sleep
so as she wouldn’t be disappointed with the lack of Christmas decorations,
presents, and cookies upon arriving home.
But little one, I doubt it.
I think Laura Jean fell asleep out of a right joyful sense of love.
She fell asleep in Granddaddy’s arms
filled and satisfied with a love that comes from being surrounded by
family, friends and neighbors.
Granddaddy loved his little one so very much.
He carried her up the stairs.
Nanny put her night gown on.
And they both kissed their number one child good night.
She slept till morning.

In the morning Laura Jean woke up
to a smell of delight.
Hot apple cider mulled away in the kitchen and its aroma filled Laura Jean’s room.
Laura Jean breathed in deeply and smelled the sweet scent of cookies baking.
She put on her slippers and ran down the stairs.
As she came down the stairs
Nanny and Granddaddy where there to meet her.
They were standing in front of the parlor doors.
Just about the time Laura Jean caught sight of the mistletoe
Nanny and Granddaddy cried out,
“Merry Christmas.”
And flung open the doors of the parlor.
There stood
the most beautiful,
the most perfect,
the most green,
decorated Christmas tree.
The candles made it glow like dancing fireflies.
It was hung with foil stars, shiny ornaments and, paper chains.
There were presents under the tree too.
And a manger in the window with real plaster sheep and hay,
a baby Jesus with moveable arms and a cloth diaper, Mary in blue,
and a shepherd with a real wooden staff.

Now little one,
Can you believe it?
That was Laura Jean’s favorite Christmas.
I wonder why?
Maybe it was the gifts.
Maybe it was the tree.
Maybe it was the cider or the cookies.
But perhaps, just perhaps,
It was something else entirely.
I wonder.

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely,
Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.
Christina Rossetti
The Hymnal 1982, Hymn 84

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