A Change of Heart – A Christmas Story
“I’ve decided to skip Christmas this year,” I said to my granddaughter, Angie, as I got on Highway 169 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“Grandma, you did that last year.” Angie dropped her cell-phone-clasped-hands in her lap. Her brows furrowed as she stared at me. Due to the economy, the threat of furloughs, she hadn’t gotten anything from me last year and probably wondered if I’d leave her off my Christmas list again this year.
“Last year was different. I didn’t have any money. This year, I don’t feel like shopping. I’m tired of trying to decide what to get everyone. Besides, I can’t think of a thing you don’t already have.”
“Tickets to the Miley Cyrus concert.” Angie smiled, raising and lowering her eyebrows.
Miley Cyrus. The young lady who’s trying to prove she’s not a little girl anymore. I saw pictures of her on the internet. She made the headlines and even got a spot on the evening news. I gnawed on my lower lip as I merged onto the Broken Arrow Expressway. I tried to imagine being in front of a camera half-naked when I was Miley’s age. That wouldn’t go over well. Though legally designated an adult at age twenty, my mother wouldn’t hesitate to slap me anyway. She’d ask questions later. I rubbed my face to feel the heat of the encounter, but my cheek was cool from the dry winter air. And momma had died fourteen years ago.
“What are you buying grandfather?” Angie asked, interrupting my thoughts.
“Nothing.” By the pensive look on Angie’s face, I understood she had difficulty processing my response. “What are you buying me?”
“Nothing.” Angie giggled. Her fingers moved on the keys of her cell phone at a rapid pace. I don’t remember ever typing that fast during my years as a legal assistant.
“Seriously. What am I getting?”
Angie’s hands dropped to her lap. “I don’t know. What do you want?”
“Hmm . . . Let me see. How about a pair of UGGs.”
“Really, grandma. I can’t see you in a pair of UGGs.”
“How about a pair of diamond earrings?”
“But grandfather buys you diamonds all the time.”
“Then why don’t you surprise me.”
“But I don’t know what to get you. You have everything.”
“My point exactly.” I smiled, proud that my point had finally come across.
“But I don’t have tickets to the concert.” Angie sported a sly grin. She defeated me at my own game.
“So, we’re back to that again?”
“Wouldn’t it be cool?”
“Think I might get them?”
“We need to come up with something more meaningful . . . less controversial. Your dad won’t be happy with me if I buy those tickets. And your grandfather would be appalled. Besides, I’m not comfortable with who Miley Cyrus is becoming. I mean— Can you imagine her walking into worship service after that wrecking ball photo?” Angie and I both laughed. “Think she’d convince everyone it was just a stunt to prove she’s all grown up?”
“It worked didn’t it?” Angie declared.
“So, you approve of her being half-naked in front everybody? Think that’s the way your daddy wants you to behave?”
“Daddy would have a fit, grandma. He’d probably drag me off stage and make momma ground me for a year.”
“Why do you suppose Miley’s daddy didn’t drag her off stage?”
“Duh! She’s an adult, grandma. All he can really do is be mad at her.”
“I wonder what God thinks about Miley’s behavior?”
After a moment, Angie moved her fingers across her cell phone. “He’s probably not happy.”
“So, why should you get tickets for Christmas? Can you run that by me again?” Angie remained focused on her phone. I got off the Broken Arrow Expressway and headed toward Fifth and Cheyenne. I had an idea.
“Grandma, where are we going? The Tea Room is on Harvard.”
“I know, but I thought since we’re this close to downtown, we might as well stop by the John 3:16 Mission.”
“The Mission? Why?”
As we turned into the parking lot, homeless men and women stood huddled outside the complex. The cold biting wind forced them to bundle themselves in whatever they could find—ragged afghans, army jackets, soiled blankets.
I turned off the engine and got out. “You coming?”
“How long are we going to be here?” Angie sounded apprehensive. She looked over the crowd with a worried look on her face.
“Not long,” I promised. “I just have a few questions for the administrator. Come on. We have to make it to the Tea Room so we can eventually get to the movies on time. Hurry! It’s cold.”
Inside, the long hallway had a hint of Clorox in the air. The clean floors gleamed against the midday light streaming from an office window. At the end of the hall, someone stepped out of a room then disappeared around a corner. Another stranger walked toward us, left out the front door, and didn’t think to shut it. Fierce wind kept the door open for a moment, sweeping in leaves and an empty grocery bag, before it finally slammed shut.
“Good morning. How can I help you?” a woman asked from behind a glass window.
“Good morning. I was wondering if you guys needed any help this year.” I followed the grocery bag rolling down the hall, grabbed it, and returned to the window.
“What do you have in mind?”
“Not quite sure. My granddaughter and I were talking about Christmas and wondering what we should get everyone. I’m not in the shopping mood this year. Not up to spending money on last year’s repeats. Know what I mean?”
“I sure do. You’re wanting to feel useful this year? Do something meaningful for a change.”
I cocked my head. “Yes. Yes, we do. Don’t we?” I asked Angie as I turned and looked at her. She shrugged and frowned.
“Give me a moment. I need to check my books and see where we need the help. I’ll be right back.” The woman disappeared into another room.
“Grandma,” Angie whispered, “why are we doing this? Are we going to come here instead of doing Christmas at home?”
“Don’t you think that would be a great idea rather than spending so much money on stuff we don’t need?”
Angie folded her arms. “No,” she whispered. “How come we can’t write them a check and just leave?”
“Well, if we do that, then we’re not involved . . . not connected.”
“What if you and I were disconnected? How would that make you feel?”
“Here we go,” the woman said as she sat in her chair. “Why don’t the two of you come in and have a seat. Wait until you hear the door click before you open it.” The woman pressed a button, the door clicked, and we went inside her office.
“My goodness, you’re a pretty girl,” the woman told Angie as she removed the grocery bag from my hand and threw it in the trash.
“Thank you.” Angie grinned.
“And such long hair,” the woman said.
“She’s a perfect blend of her mother and father,” I told her.
“You’re not her mother?”
“Oh, no. I’m grandma.”
“Wow! You don’t look a day over thirty.”
“Ooh, I’m much older than that I assure you.”
“If they ever liquefy your genes, I want the first injection.” We laughed. “I have three openings to serve food on Christmas Day,” the woman said as she read from the list on her clipboard. “We expect 500 or more. It usually turns out to be an all-day event. I also need one person to wrap presents on December 23. And I need ten people to help distribute blankets, toiletries, and food under the bridges on December 24. Which one would you like to volunteer for?”
“All of them.”
“Grandma,” Angie whispered.
“Are you sure? We don’t expect anyone to give up their entire holiday. If you want to work just one event, that’s okay,” the woman said.
“Yes, we’re sure. We want to participate in all of those events,” I said.
“Are you coming with grandma?” the woman asked Angie.
Angie shook her head.
“Oh, I’ll convince her. She’ll be there,” I said, reassuring the woman. “I’m also bringing my husband and son with me.”
“Good. If you’ll fill out this form, I’ll give you a copy of the schedule so you don’t forget the dates, times, and where to be.”
“Do you have a restroom,” Angie asked.
“Yes, we do. Go through that door and make a right,” the woman said as she pointed across the room.
After we signed up, we drove to the Tea Room in silence. I didn’t want to speak first. I wanted to hear Angie’s raw reaction to our serving others on Christmas, but she remained quiet.
Her mother and my son had divorced in the middle of the pregnancy. Though her mother remarried—Henry is his name—Angie’s an only child and is accustomed to receiving everything on her Christmas list. She collects presents from four different families each year. She receives so much her classmates tease her. I knew if I wanted Angie to be less self-absorbed and more centered on God, we’d have to change.
The Tea Room had walls of exotic teas, teapots, teacups, tables for chess and checker games, books, and Christian music. Angie enjoyed sampling the teas until she found one she liked. As we sat and sipped tea, I pulled out a blue envelope and handed it to her.
“Because you have been a diligent student this semester and haven’t caused your mother any fuss, this is for the four As and two Bs. I’m proud of you. Grandfather is also proud of you.” I leaned forward and whispered, “He’s bragging. I don’t think there’s a person in his office who doesn’t know about your grades this semester.”
Angie laughed. “Thanks, grandma.”
“With that you can buy any of these teas or teapots,” I prodded. “Or maybe you can put the money in the bank and save it for your school trip to Germany this spring.”
Angie opened the envelope and counted the money, her grin getting wider by the second. “Oh, grandma, this is enough to buy the Miley Cyrus tickets I wanted.”
I was sick. Sixteen and old enough to make her own decisions, I felt tempted to scold her and explain the money wasn’t given so she could go see half-naked people on stage. Though I understood the greatest lessons learned were the ones experienced firsthand, I didn’t think Angie needed to experience this one. I worried about her choices. In my mind, she was still a baby, grandma’s little girl. Deep in my gut, I knew I had to let her grow up. I wished this time hadn’t come so soon.
In the end, I decided to keep quiet about the concert tickets. No lectures. No guilt trips. However, I had one last thing to add.
“If you insist on buying those tickets, I want you to remember something.”
“Does everyone at school know you’re a Christian?”
“Yes, grandma. Why?”
“What reasons will you give them for going to that concert?” I paused, hoping the question would linger in her mind long after our day was over. “Look, why don’t we forget about the concert for a while. We need to get going so we aren’t late for the movie.”
After our granddaughter-grandmother outing, I brought Angie home and reminded her that she needed to be at my house at 9:00 a.m. on most of the days we were scheduled to work at the Mission. I promised myself I wouldn’t call her. I hoped she’d show up on her own.
Not knowing if she would actually participate in serving at the Mission, I prayed all day long for two days straight. To work off nervous energy, I baked pies, made cornbread dressing, cleaned, and gathered old clothes to bring to the Mission. Since winter had finally settled in Oklahoma, I concentrated on coats, hats, gloves, leggings, my husband’s old flannel shirts, old work boots, and any extra toiletries I had laying around. By the time I finished, I had two boxes packed and ready to go.
Christmas week, after our son, Michael, came home, we decided to go looking for a Christmas tree. As we backed out the driveway, Angie drove up. My husband, Barry, parked the car and we all got out.
“Hi daddy,” Angie said as she kissed her dad on the cheek.
“Seems we don’t see you until your dad comes in town,” Barry said.
“Grandfather, you’re just jealous.”
“A little.” Barry pressed his thumb and index fingers together to demonstrate. He had a habit of treating Angie as a five-year-old. He spoiled her by taking her shopping, making her do meaningless chores so he’d have an excuse to give her money, and he’d listen endlessly to her frantic dismay over losing one friend or boyfriend at the other. Angie’s teen years amused him, helped him pass the time. When she turned fourteen, I thought she’d ask him to stop babying her. She never did. With high school graduation two years away, I suspected he’d have the hardest time adjusting to her not being around anymore.
“Where are you guys going?” Angie asked.
“To pick out a tree,” Michael said.
“I’m coming.” She hopped in the back seat.
“I thought you’d be off with friends shopping for the holidays,” I said.
“I did that already. Pretty boring.”
“But you like shopping. What’s the matter?”
“It’s not the same this year.”
“I see.” I got in the car and occasionally peeped at Angie in the rearview mirror. For some reason, she didn’t seem as unhappy as she sounded. I was a little puzzled by that, but I decided not to question her. After Barry and Michael got in the car, we headed to the Christmas tree farm.
“Are you coming over and spending time with us for the holidays?” Michael asked. “Or will you be spending all your time with Henry’s folks?”
“I’m going to be here with you, dad. We’re planning to do Christmas at Henry’s parents’ on Sunday. I told mom and Henry I’ll be busy after that.”
“Doing what?” Michael asked.
“Daddy, you know.”
“I know what we’ll be doing,” Michael said as he pointed to me and his dad, “but what about you?”
“We’re all helping out at the Mission, daddy. You know that already.”
“How do you feel about that?”
“I think it’s cool.”
“What about the Miley Cyrus concert?”
“You’re not?” Michael asked, beaming with a mixture of surprise and pride.
“Why not? Changed your mind?”
“What did you do with the money grandfather and grandma gave you?”
“Mom and I went to the thrift store and bought blankets. We also ran across this dollar store where we got canned soups on sale for fifty cents.” She tapped me on the shoulder. “Grandma, I didn’t know you could buy kids’ toys at the dollar store. I thought they just had food. I wanted to buy toys for the kids, but momma said the people at the Mission would probably appreciate food and warm clothes.”
“She’s right,” I said.
“We also bought toothpaste and tooth brushes. I wanted to buy scarves at the mall, but momma said they were too expensive. So, I’m making four scarves—two for the men and two for the women.”
“But, Angie, how are you going to get that done in the next three days?” I asked.
“They’re easy. I use these large knitting needles. I can get two done in one day. I have two already made. I picked up some cheap pillows too. And you ought to see the gloves I got for three dollars. I want to make hot chocolate and bring it with us when we hand out blankets under the bridge on Christmas Eve, but I don’t know how I’ll keep it warm. Wouldn’t it be nice to have marshmallows on top? Oh, and I saw a used microwave for $50. Momma said if I help her around the house for a week, she’d give me the $50 and I can buy the microwave.”
I turned and watched the excitement in my granddaughter’s face. “How did you find out they needed a microwave?”
“When I went to the restroom, I saw a lady fussing over the one in the kitchen. She was really mad. She kept hitting the start button, but the microwave wouldn’t work. We also saw these cute little umbrellas for kids . . . and cheap bars of soap . . . tennis shoes for four dollars . . . .”
I looked at Michael, then at my husband. We had tears in our eyes. I had to turn away before I lost control. In that moment, I knew I needn’t worry about Angie’s ability to make right choices in her life. God had everything under control.
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard. I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
AS ORIGINALLY POSTED FOR “RUBY FOR WOMEN” MAGAZINE at http://rubyforwomen.com. Also see my Thanksgiving story on this same website.
A Fictional Short Story by Donna B. Comeaux
Freelance Writer, Author, Poet
December 6, 2013
Merry Christmas Everyone!