December 24th, 1943
Some miracles are easier to understand than others. Life is definitely not easy to understand, however. I suppose that’s why so many people today struggle with trying to explain life away from an intelligent Creator, namely God. And they manage to, sometimes. Humans are funny that way. They can accomplish quite a lot on their own brainpower, even if it is just a lot of mistakes. Of course, they’re also pretty stupid when it all comes down to it, but I’m not one to say that. I’m human myself.
Sometimes I wish God would just come down from Heaven and show Himself to everyone. But I suppose He is here; people just like to turn the other way. Most will do anything to ignore the truth.
Still, life is a miracle, and I won’t hear anyone tell me differently.
Example A: my niece, Pearl E. Ashton. The “E” stands for “Esther.” That’s me. I’m only nineteen and already so swell that people are naming their kids after me! Okay, that’s really not why - I think my sister-in-law Ann just wanted to please me and Mark’s not here to stop her - but whatever the reason, Pearl is my namesake and I won’t hear anyone calling her an ape’s descendent.
What brought up this whole train of thought? I’m getting to that, I’m getting to that! Patience is a virtue, after all! Back on track (I suppose people say that because of the ‘train of thought?’ Never thought of it like that before, but that’s probably the reason!).
I have a science teacher who I greatly respect, but her opinions on science are a little screwed. How could humankind evolve from apes? That doesn’t make any sense. We don’t look like apes, after all! Besides, that would mean humankind would still be getting better. And we’re not.
If anything, we’re worse than we were when I was a kid, and that was only a couple years ago. I’m nineteen now, and the older I grow, the worse the world gets. Now there’s bombs going off all over the place, and America (and more importantly, my brother) is right in the thick of it! Funny how you don’t think about loving someone until they’re in danger, but I know now that I love my brother.
Pearl opens her eyes and looks at me; I respond by wiggling my fingers at her. She responds by waving her fists in the air. A nurse comes around, scoops her up, and holds her to let me get a better look. I smile my appreciation and laugh at Pearl’s expression, which is scrunched up in a scowl at being disturbed from her comfy little bed. Then the nurse puts Pearl back, and I return to Ann.
She’s sitting up in bed with a Bible across her legs, scribbling in a notebook. She fills pages upon pages with notes on a single verse. I’m not so diligent. I had a journal like that, but it’s collecting dust in a closet somewhere. It’s hard enough to read the Bible as it is! It takes real discipline. I like the Bible fine, but days are so busy now.
I wake up early, dash through a quick breakfast, dash to the hospital to check in on Ann and Pearl (who are always doing well), dash to the department store where I work (Children’s section! Aren’t I a lucky girl?), dash about all day, dash to the hospital to visit Ann and Pearl again, dash back to the apartment to eat and sleep and begin all over again! I have a friend at the store named Dotty. So we’re Dot and Dash! No one calls us that, but I think it’d be fun if they started. I just can’t convince them to do so!
Ann sets her notebook aside and smiles at me. “Well, you’ll be heading down to the department store, now, won’t you?”
“I will,” I reply. “I’ll see you this evening, mmkay? Pick you up as soon as I’m off work, and we’ll have part of Christmas Eve and all of Christmas with you and Pearl.”
“That sounds wonderful. It’s going to be a fantastic Christmas, Esther. I promise.”
Ann can’t promise me anything, and I know it. I’ve been pretty down since my parents died in a car accident last May - just before I graduated - and I don’t think Ann or anyone else can cheer me up. But it’s sweet of her to try, so I smile and kiss her cheek. “I know we will,” I reply.
At the department store, I dash about getting down boxes and putting boxes back and doing everything I can to sell an extra pair of shoes to a frazzled middle-aged mother or a tinker toy to a fond father.
I was exhausted by five o’clock when the store closed. My shoes were nearly worn through and my feet hurt like anything. I walk slowly back home, dragging my feet slowly behind me. Halfway to the hospital, however, I stop. There, in the window of a private dress shop, was the dress I’ve always wanted. It’s been my dress ever since I first saw it two weeks ago. Holly-berry red with furry white trim on the elbow-length sleeves, v-neck collar, and neat, knee-length hem. I know I’ll never have it, but I can dream, after all, can I?
I take a deep breath and push open the door for the first time. Why not? It’ll take the doctors long enough to release Ann, anyway. A little bell tinkles as I enter. Behind a counter, a lady perhaps five or six years older than me smiles. “Good evening. Anything I can help you with?” she asks.
“I just … I just came in to look at the dress,” I reply, motioning to the window.
“Ah. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Unfortunately, my shop’s a little out of the way, and I don’t sell much. I’ll have to go out of business soon, I’m afraid.” Deep sadness fills her eyes as she speaks.
I smile sadly back at her. “I can’t afford that dress. I … I don’t have much money,” I say apologetically. My little purse holds all I have in the world after rent and utilities. Just enough to buy Ann and Pearl a little something.
“Well …” The lady glanced at her watch. “How much you go?”
I open my purse and run my fingers through the coins even though I don’t. “$4.62.”
The lady shakes her head and sighs. “I shouldn’t be doing this … but … well … I’d like to give you the dress for that. It’s worth quite a bit more than that as you can see by the price tag … but oh, well! It’s Christmas Eve, and that’s a Christmas dress! I don’t want to pack it away until next year, and it’ll be out of style by then, anyway. Besides, it goes with your eyes. I’ll take it down and pack it up for you -” She walked towards the window and reached for the dress.
But I know I can’t take that dress. I know I need to get Ann - who’s been so good to me - and Pearl - who showed me a miracle - a present. So I shake my head.
“I’m sorry. I can’t take it. I need this money for a present to my sister-in-law and niece. My brothers off at war and this is our first Christmas … alone … and, well, I hope you’re able to find someone to buy it, but … it can’t be me.”
The lady looks at me for a long moment before she draws back from the dress. “Okay. But I’ll be open ‘til eight. Come back if you change you mind.”
I smile weakly, nod, and make myself scarce.
Ann is grinning like a jack-o-lantern when I get to the hospital. I call a cab to take us back to our apartment; Ann lets me hold Pearl almost the whole way even though I know she really wants to. At home, I give Pearl to her so I can make sandwiches, popcorn, and pour Ann and I a glass of eggnog. We eat ravenously, chatting and laughing the whole time, Pearl sleeping soundly in her bassinet in the next room.
While Ann washes the dishes, I experiment with different formulas. I don’t like the taste of any of them, but Ann laughs and says we’d best let Pearl be the judge of that. I agree, though how anyone could swallow the nasty stuff, let alone a sweet little thing like Pearl, is beyond me.
It’s late now, and Ann is tired, but Pearl starts fussing anyway, so we’ll have to stay up a bit longer. I warm up one of the formulas while Ann brings Pearl out of the bedroom and tries to quiet her. Turns out, all she wants is her bottle. She seems to take to Formula 1A just fine, and we settle down on the couch again.
“You want to open our presents now?” Ann asks after a few moments of companionable silence (except for, of course, Pearl’s noisy smacking).
I’ve placed the packages for Ann and Pearl on the windowsill as we have no tree. “Sure,” I say. “I’ll unwrap Pearl’s for her, okay?”
“No, I’ll unwrap Pearl’s. You’ll be too busy unwrapping your own.”
“My own?” I ask. “But … you’ve been in the hospital.”
“Sure, but I had someone buy me a present for you this afternoon and wrap it up and everything. Mark sent something for you, as well, and for Pearl and me. But we can open those tomorrow. Let’s open our presents for each other tonight, Esther.”
“Okay,” I say. “Is there a package for me somewhere, then?”
“I asked for the shop to wait until we went inside, then leave it outside our door and not ring,” Ann explains. “I had the awfulest time getting it, darling. I had one of your friends from work, Dotty, spy on you and see if there was anything you liked especially. She saw … something, and I sent all the money I had - it wasn’t much; just $4.62 - and Dotty got it for just that! Isn’t it incredible?”
Only half-listening to Ann, I open the door and find a package - long and thin and wide - sitting in front of the door. I lug it into the house - it isn’t heavy, but it’s awkward - and set it down in front of the couch. Then I pick up my present for Ann and pass it to her.
“You open your first,” she says with a soft smile, fingering the wrapping of her little box, which contains a set of hand-embroidered pocket handkerchiefs.
I tear off the red ribbon and open the box, trying to be enthusiastic.
And beneath the paper I find … my dress.
A million questions whirl through my head, but returning to Ann’s former statements, I realized what happened.
This really was the best Christmas ever.