Oh, what a surprise!

Owen, Sissy and rabbit
Owen, Sissy and rabbit

There was one week left before Christmas.

Owen, my young teenage brother was getting ready to go to the community Christmas party that was put on by the instructors for their children at the Shirley Massachusetts Industrial School for Juvenile Delinquent Boys.

They would show Disney cartoons first at the Central Building, a long stately brick building which sat at the crest of a hill overlooking the whole State School. And afterward we would be driven down to the old Shaker Meeting House to see the sparkling Christmas tree and the gifts that Santa would bring to us.

The room would be decorated with spicy smelling strings of evergreens. Christmas carols would play on the big record player, setting a cozy mood. The women would serve homemade cookies and cakes with bubbly punch while Santa would gave out our gifts. It would be like a giant family Christmas.

But this year, because I was sick, Mom said I had to miss it.

I tried not to cry, but it wasn't fair. Owen was getting to go, and I had to stay home in my dumb bed. He'd get to see Santa Claus, and I'd miss him. I'd had enough! I pounded the bed with my fists, and the tears came pouring.

Through my crying, I barely could hear my mother downstairs.

"Owen, are you really going to the party? I thought you'd feel too old this year."

"Yup. I'm going," I heard him say. "Someone has to take the presents from Sissy. She can't go."

"Well, I don't have to serve refreshments, so I could run them up in the car."

"Nope. I'm going."

"Okay, Owen, whatever you want," my mother said.

I placed one last well-aimed punch into the bed and fell into silent crying, the hot tears streaming down my cheeks. Hearing the door close downstairs, I sobbed one last big sob.

The quiet in the house was large. Mother had driven Owen to the party and would be right back. There didn't seem to be anything I could do. I rolled onto my back and stared at the ceiling.

Mom returned and began to get supper. I lay quietly in my bed, in the room above where my mother was working. In my mind, I could watch each step my mother was taking downstairs.

I could tell by the sounds coming up through the floor that Mom was about ready to bring up my tray. The chairs were scraping across the floor as Polly and Daddy pulled them up to the table.

Brrrrring! Brrrring! What was that? Hey, that's the front doorbell, I thought. Who's ringing our doorbell at suppertime? I heard Mom's footsteps move up the front hall to the door. There was laughter and soft talking as the door creaked open.

"Ho! Ho! Ho! Does a little blond girl live here? One of my busy elves told me a little wee girl was sick in bed in this very house! Now let me think, where could she be?"

I heard the heavy boots starting up the stairs. Was it Santa Claus? Was it really Santa Claus come to visit me?

He burst through my bedroom door. Every inch of him seemed to be red and white, big and fat, with a white beard and bushy white eyebrows to highlight his face.

With one grand move of his arm, he poured the contents of his green bag onto the bottom of my bed. A pile of prettily wrapped presents tumbled across my feet.

"I believe these are for you, little one! And what else would you be wanting from Santa, when I get back to the North Pole? Christmas is not far away, you know."

He gave a "Ho! Ho! Ho!" as he pulled at his beard with one hand.

"You need to tell me quick. I can't be staying long. Have to get back to my workshop and my busy elves, if you children are to have a proper Christmas! Now what is it you'll be having?"

For a moment, I stared at him. Santa Claus was really standing in my bedroom at the end of my bed? I tried to remember what I was going to write in my letter to him. What was it that I wanted?

"A jack-in-the-box, please," I said.

"A jack-in-the-box? Well! Well! Well! We'll have to see about that when I get back to my shop. One jack-in-the-box for Sissy Girl! Now you just remember that," he said gesturing toward an imaginary elf, and pointing a finger as if the elf was supposed to write down my wish.

I giggled a silly giggle. Imagine Santa and his elves in my bedroom!

"Come on, open your presents. I haven't much time to be staying here. I've got to get on to the others." Santa bent over, poking a finger into the wrappings of the package I'd picked. "Now, don't be too careful! Rip right into it quick so we can be seeing what you got."

My fingers worked so slowly, but I tried to hurry. As the paper fell away, I held a floppy Raggedy-Ann doll dressed in blue, with white apron and brightly embroidered mouth. I lifted her up to inspect.

"No stopping now. On to the next!" Santa commanded, handing me another package.

This one was even more troublesome. Mother, standing at the far end of the room, an arm draped around Owen's shoulder, said, "I'll run get scissors."

When she returned, Santa stepped back from the bed.

"I've got to be going," he said, picking up his sack. "You have a good Christmas and don't forget to tell your brother to put out cookies and a carrot for the reindeer. He's a good lad, you know, your brother Owen."

Santa waved good-bye and left the room.

After Mother let Santa out, she called to Owen.

"Owen, come and get your supper. It's ready."

"I had cookies at the party!" he called back.

"Well, I think you need some real food with your dessert."

Owen slowly backed away from my pile of gifts and went down to supper.

As I opened the rest of my presents, I could hear the family talking under me.

"You asked Santa to come and visit your sister?" Mother asked.

"Yup. I didn't think it was fair, her having to stay home and miss the fun. She loves Christmas, and I'm too old for Santa and all that kid stuff."

I heard dishes clink as silverware hit plates.

Owen continued, "I thought she needed cheering up. I told him my sister was sick in bed and it would really make her happy to see him. He only hesitated a minute, then said he'd come after he gave out the other kids' gifts."

"You know, Owen, that was a really thoughtful thing to do for Sissy," Mom said. "I'm very proud of you!"

Father's farm central building
Father's farm central building
Shirley, MA Shaker Meetinghouse
Shirley, MA Shaker Meetinghouse


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