SMALL MIRACLES---A Christmas Story
By L. Jean Snow VanOrden
Sharon grabbed the glass of milk just in time to keep it from toppling over.
“Mark, quit playing ‘Jingle Bells’ on the glasses! This is probably the last meal you’ll have for quite awhile so you better make sure you don’t spill it all over.”
Mark dropped his spoon. It clanged to the floor and he dove under the table to retrieve it. Their waitress, her name tag said “Jen”, refilled their water as she passed by. She set a paper cup full of crayons and three kiddie placemats on the table. Jen stroked the baby’s white-blond hair and cooed,
“Oh, she’s such a doll, what’s her name?”
“Actually, his name is Michael. We just can’t bring ourselves to cut off his beautiful curls.” Sharon slid the high chair closer to the table to get it out of the way of the restaurant traffic. “Wouldn’t you know, “she thought. “They would seat us right by the kitchen.”
Sharon fingered the five ten-dollar bills and hand-full of change in her coat pocket. It was the last of their money. One more big meal and then they’d have to wait until they were paid for hauling the load that Steve was picking up. Between now and then it would be crackers and cheese and the last few cans of juice and formula they had in the truck.
They had spent the last week living out of the cab of their semi-truck. Three kids and two adults traveling across country looking for better trucking jobs. Steve heard that there was plenty of work out of Denver. They sold everything they could, packed the rest in the truck, and headed west just in time to leave family, friends, and everything homey and familiar behind right at Christmas time. They had engine trouble outside Oklahoma City. Nothing on a big rig can be fixed without spending gobs of cash. Now, at last, they had been able to land a job just outside Denver.
Andy’s Freeway Diner was draped in shiny green and red garlands. Tiny artificial trees lined the booth walls and silver snowflakes glistened on the branches. Christmas carols played just above the din of clattering dishes. Outside a thin dusting of snow was beginning to fall.
“Well, at least we’ll have a white Christmas,” grumbled Sharon under her breath.
“I want Daddy!” wailed Rachael.
And then all Sharon’s efforts to rescue it failed as Rachael’s three-year-old fist crashed down on her glass of milk. White liquid spread across the paper placemats, under the silverware, and dripped down the edge of the table. Sharon grabbed a handful of napkins and threw them on the growing puddle. She felt as if the whole diner full of people was staring at her unruly brood. She was dead tired and famished. “Where was their food?”
As if she had heard Sharon’s mental scream, Jen came out of the kitchen carrying a huge tray of platters. She balanced the tray on the edge of the table while Sharon finished mopping up the milk. The delicious smells started her stomach growling: crisp, savory bacon, steaming hash browns, scrambled eggs, and piles of fragrant pancakes with syrup. Jen emptied the tray while Sharon quickly arranged the food in front of the children. Pacified by a mouthful of pancake soaked in syrup, Rachael ceased wailing. Mark commandeered a strip of bacon. Sharon felt short five or six arms as she tried to serve, feed and keep disaster at bay. Finally, with everyone satisfied and quietly stuffing their mouths, Sharon turned her attention to her own plate. After she had savored a couple of heavenly bites, Steve burst through the restaurant door and crossed the room with hurried, deliberate strides.
“Daddy!” cried Rachael, reaching her arms up to greet him.
“Give me the fifty dollars.” His tone left no doubt that he was dead serious.
Sharon reached into her pocket and grasped the moist bills protectively. “You have got to be kidding! We’re eating already. How will I pay for all this?”
Steve’s tone softened slightly, “Look, they won’t load the truck until I pay for some kind of loading permit. The permit costs fifty dollars. They won’t wait for the money until I get paid at the other end. No permit, no job, no income. There’s nothing I can do about it. As soon as I get the truck loaded, I’ll come back here and we’ll figure out something. I don’t see that I have any other choice and I’ve got to hurry back or we’ll lose the contract.”
Sharon slowly drew the fifty dollars out of her pocket and handed it to Steve. Then he was gone. She could hear the roar of the truck’s engine as he pulled the oversized beast out of the parking lot. She had planned to take the children to across the street to the mall after they finished eating. They were going to window shop to kill time until Steve met them at Santa’s Village near the main entrance. Now she would have to keep the children entertained right here at the table for a couple of hours. And how would they pay? Could you really was dishes to pay for a meal? They had been through lean times before but never this close to the edge. She felt thoroughly humiliated: noisy children, spilled milk, and now completely broke. She tried to eat but her once ravishing appetite was gone.
“Here, Mark, you can have my bacon.” Sharon slid her plate over.
“Mommy, what’s going to happen?” Mark looked pale and worried. It hadn’t occurred to Sharon that he might understand what was going on, that her five-year-old son tuned into the conversation. Suddenly her distress about paying for the meal fled. It was the anxiety in Marks sweet face that upset her most.
“Mark, help me get the baby and Rachael fed. I’ll have Jen bring us some new placemats and we’ll keep busy coloring and eating until Daddy gets back. And Mark, maybe you could say a little prayer in your heart to help us stay calm. Everything will be all right, I promise.”
“Just great, now I’ve made this a test of my son’s faith,” she thought, bitterly. She was playing a game with God. “Hey, if I’m not good enough for your help, my little son’s faith is on the line here.”
She suddenly felt too tired to worry anymore. “Just take a deep breath,” she thought. “We’ll take this one minute at a time.”
She looked over at the baby. Scrambled eggs covered his face. His eyes drooped and his head nodded. Sharon spread a baby quilt on the booth seat. She gently cleaned Michael’s face then wrapped him in the quilt.“One blessing already, he will nap for at least an hour.”
Mark and Rachael continued eating quietly. Sharon decided she may as well enjoy some hash browns and orange juice after all. It cheered her immensely to have the baby asleep and the other two children settled down. Thankfully, no one seemed to be paying any attention to them now that their noise had subsided.
“Look, Mommy,” Mark nudged her harm. “I drew a picture of Grandma and Grandpa’s house. See here’s Grandpa sitting by the fire and there’s Grandma decorating the Christmas tree.” Sharon nodded absently. Her mind was now caught up in memories of Christmas back home. Whatever had possessed them to take off like this? It had seemed like a great opportunity to get trucking business going better. But now it seemed more like a disaster. Back and forth her thoughts flew.
“Stop!” she thought. “What’s done is done. I’ll go crazy rehashing what can’t be changed.”
She took a deep breath and blew it out. Their plates were just about empty. Rachael stuffed the last of her pancake in her mouth then stretched out on the seat and put her head in Sharon’s lap. Sharon covered her with a coat. She glanced out the window. The snow had changed to large soft flakes. The breakfast rush was over and the diner was quieting down.
“Another blessing: they won’t be unhappy with us for taking up valuable space.”
Just then, Margie swept out of the kitchen and up to their table with another tray. She began setting out three large mugs of hot chocolate topped with tall swirls of whipped cream.
“Wait, I didn’t order these. I really can’t pay for them . . . “ Sharon protested. “Or any of it.” She thought.
“No problem, don’t worry about it.” Jen broke in. “Look outside, right out front. See the white-haired couple getting into that red pick-up. When they paid for their breakfast, they paid for yours and threw in the hot chocolate, some sandwiches and a dozen donuts to go. They said to tell you it’s an early Christmas present.”
Sharon watched as the red pick-up truck pulled out onto the snow-covered highway and disappeared into the storm. She hadn’t wished for or expected anything like this. A miracle for her little family so complete and faith restoring had been beyond her energy to imagine. Perhaps all the more miraculous because of that. She felt a surge of relief and gratitude wash over her. “Thank you,” she whispered out loud.
“Mommy,” said Mark. Can I drink my hot chocolate? I already said a thank-you prayer.”
“Yes,” said Sharon, still gazing out at the falling snow. “Yes, Mark, you can drink your hot chocolate now.”
By L. Jean Snow VanOrden