When Christine entered the roomy kitchen and drew up a chair on the yellow floor tiles, she had only a hazy notion how she would tell what she had in mind. She had just had a shower, dressed herself and felt right as rain that Saturday morning. She put a spoonful of sugar in the cup of tea, which her mother had put on the table for her.
“Mum, could I have a word in your ear?” She had not noticed that her mother was already all ears standing there, near the sink. “Mum, this year I would like to pay special attention to the elderly people of the congregation this Christmas. I mean, those who are lonely, who have no family or relatives who take notice of them. Do you think my idea is a silly one?”
She had already paid a visit to the administrator of the Church and she had obtained a list of addresses. Her mother said, “I think this is terrific, Christine. But, it will run away with a lot of time and money. I suppose you have taken that into account.”
“Oh, I’m not worried about a dollar or two.”
“May I give you a hand?”
“Yes, please! I would like to make some baskets of fruit. We have a big case in the loft with used baskets, ribbons and tissue paper.”
Mother looked at her active, spontaneous daughter with a smile. “If you gather what you think you’ll need, I will clean it, and I will iron the ribbons so that you can make new bows with them.”
This was how it all started. Christine soon discovered that there were a lot of addresses and a lot of baskets to be filled with fruit, nuts and holly.
The greengrocer and the florist were quite willing to help her along her way. She found out a little more about the people she would visit, jotted down some suitable texts out of the Bible, like “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46, 47) and “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).
On Christmas Eve she started early. The first address was right in the center of the old city. She saw a row of well-preserved houses with window boxes for flowers. She rang the bell of number eight. A copper plate on the door announced “Steve Tadema.” When the door opened, she saw a smiling, elderly man in a wheel chair. She put her basket with fruit, flowers, nuts and greenery, attractively decorated with a ribbon, on a small round table, under a fine antique copper lamp.
“Is that for me? That is very kind of you,” he said. “Nobody has ever brought me anything like this. Since my wife died the children have forgotten me. But I keep myself busy painting, you see.”
“I wish you a blessed Christmas,” Christine said, and pointing at the many paintings all around her, “They are beautiful.”
“If you want one, take it in exchange for the basket,” he said. “Christmas is such a wonderful occasion.”
Christine looked at the portrait of a young girl against a background of pine trees; she looked as though she was day dreaming. “I would like that one, but I ought not accept it”
“No, please, it is my pleasure to give you this”, he insisted. “The Lord has given us everything. Eternal life, all kinds of gifts. We must share what we have till we will be brought into heavenly glory.”
Christine felt a lump come to her throat. She did not need to bring the message here; he gave it to her.
The next address was on the second floor of a building, with a shop downstairs. At the top of the staircase Christine saw a lady with a cat in her arms; one Mrs. Arabelle Morrison.
“Madam, may I come in? I have something for you for Christmas.”
“Well, if you’re not here to spy, you can come in.”
Mrs. Morrison looked askance at her, but as soon as Christine gave her the basket she totally changed. Tears came to her eyes. “Oh, Miss, nobody looks after me at Christmas. It is my own fault. I have always been such a busy body. I did find fault with the conduct of my husband and the children, and I used to mind everybody’s business. If only I could live my life again! For me Christmas is just like any other day. Perhaps my grandson, Peter, will pop in.”
Christine said, “But you know what it means, why Christ came for you too.” “Can’t you forget the past for one day? Let there be some joy in your heart, and thankfulness for what He did.”
They went to the living room and drank a cup of coffee together.
After this Christine went to Mr. and Mrs. Whitrow. They were getting on in years, as lean as rakes, but active and bubbling over with life. “Look at that! How marvelous! You are a very kind girl, really! Here, take this chair. We have just mixed the fruit salad in the bowl; have a cup. We don’t put alcohol in it, because my husband and I are on medication.”
“Thank you Mrs. Whitrow. What a cozy room this is.”
“We try to make something of it each year. A little boy came at the door and sold us some branches of a spruce-fir and fir cones. We like the sweet scent of evergreens.”
“What a lot of souvenirs you have from the tropics.”
“Yes, we lived in India for many, many years.”
“Did you live in a city or out in the country?”
“We had a big house on a mountain top. My husband worked there as an agriculturalist and his efforts were richly blessed.”
“Yes,” said Mr. Whitrow. “You should come back another time and we could show you our photographs.”
“I will gladly do that,” answered Christine.
When she came outside it was drizzling and the asphalt of the streets looked like it had just been varnished. There was much traffic and she saw many people on the footpaths heavily laden with shopping for the festive season. The last address of the evening was on the top floor of a new apartment building. Mr. and Mrs. Jirecek. She went up in a small lift. She met a lady who spoke with a heavy accent. She gave a drink to a handicapped man with white hair, who looked fascinated with the basket, which Christine put at a comer of the table in the middle of the room.
“1 wish you both a very blessed Christmas,” she said.
Thank you very, very much,” said Mr. Jirecek. Anyone could see from their faces that they had led a difficult life. He had some old injuries to his head and she had a tic. He said, “Several years ago we escaped Bulgaria. Never before had anyone paid us a visit at Christmas. Will you read the Advent story in the Bible for us? We still have difficulties in reading the English language. I have been a Calvinist pastor but I have spent twenty-nine years in prison.
Mrs. Jirecek laid an old leather bound Bible on the table and lit a candle on either side. Christine read the well-known story that began with the decree of the Emperor Augustus.
The retired minister said, “Hallelujah” once or twice while she was reading and she saw his hands shaking with emotion. Perhaps his thoughts were far removed from the place where he was.
Christine stayed quite a while.
They sang “Silent night” together.
The following morning Christine delivered the remaining baskets. She looked at the sky and saw clouds rolling into place as the blanket of night dissipated. She went first to a little lady who lived behind a pet shop. In her living room, some tame rabbits and guinea pigs walked around.
“Oh, darling, what a surprise. I feel so lonely and miserable today. I have a married daughter abroad and I hope she won’t forget to give me a phone call. She is so busy with her hectic social life.”
Christine put the basket on an old cabinet, out of reach of the rabbits. The room had the characteristic smell of poverty and animals. The little lady looked shy in her shabby surroundings and did not know what to say. Christine promised her that she would come back on New Year’s Eve. They embraced and kissed each other.
The next address – a stately mansion with a ruined garden. At the wall next to the front door was a copper plate with “Dr. C. Clapham” on it. The Doctor opened the door and whispered, “My wife is very ill, but she does not want to talk about it. By the way, I am retired.” He went with her to a back room with a verandah. She saw a fragile lady in an old-fashioned armchair with a Bible open on her knee.
“I am bringing you something because it is Christmas,” said Christine. The face of the old lady was set and deeply lined, yellowish brown, but she had friendly eyes. She said in a soft voice.
“Well, girl, that is very thoughtful of you. What is your name?”
“Christine Ledyard, madam.”
“Are you a patient of my husband?”
“No madam, but I am just a member of the church and I wanted…”
“No, someone will have told you that I am sick. It will not take much longer before I go on a journey, and I will not return. This beautiful fruit perhaps will be the last which I will eat on this earth. I don’t know. I keep going on injections. You understand? Today we celebrate that once, long ago, Christ came to pave the way for us. Also for me. Isn’t that wonderful?”
The doctor put a hand on her shoulder and said, “We are very glad that you have taken the trouble to bring us this basket. Thank you very much.” Mrs. Clapham nodded with approval.
Christine left soon afterwards and delivered the last two baskets so as to be in time for the church service. She ran through the cold streets. Some dark clouds floated overhead. Panting, she reached the building and found an empty place.