The woman opened the box wrapped in brown paper that the mailman delivered. Inside was a much smaller box, yellowed with age. She stood on her porch step and gazed upward as the first snowflake for 2007 danced in front of her.
* * * *
The oldest of three, Patrick was the responsible one. That didn’t change when, during the Christmas season of 1960, he carefully counted out the pennies, nickels, and dimes that he and his younger brother and sister saved.
“A dollar seventy-one,” Patrick announced when the tally was completed. Colleen clapped her hands silently and David sucked his thumb; he had no concept of money and convincing him to give up his twenty-three cents was nothing short of torturous for all involved. But they needed every penny. The three children smiled.
Colleen asked solemnly, “Pat, can we go to Mr. Murphy’s now?” Her big green eyes couldn’t contain her excitement as she hopped up and down waiting for big brother's answer.
“Not now, sis. Mr. Murphy is probably closed for the day. How about we go on Saturday when it’s light outside?” Colleen understood a little about money but had no concept of time. Patrick smiled.
When Saturday came, Patrick carried the change in a mason jar and the siblings walked the half-mile to Murphy's. Murphy’s Variety Store was the neighborhood grocery store that carried an assortment of canned goods, cleaning products, toys, and knick-knacks. Mr. Murphy would also mail letters, and the single gas pump made this enterprise a very busy place in the little town.
Patrick, Colleen, and David walked up and down the aisles even though they each knew they would end up in the “holiday section” of the store. David stopped to play with a truck and Colleen tugged at his sweater, "Davy, over here," as she dragged him to the shelf where Mr. Murphy displayed the Christmas decorations.
They looked over the wide assortment of possibilities. It didn’t take long for the children to agree on how to spend their savings. On the shelf sat a small, ceramic set of 4 angels. Each angel was about four inches high, each holding a red letter of the alphabet. The letters were holders for candles.
“What does it spell?”
“N-O-E-L. Noel,” said Patrick proudly. He knew this word because his second-grade class had begun to decorate for Christmas and they were rehearsing Christmas carols for the school’s Yuletide production.
“What does it mean?” asked David.
“Well, it has to do with Christmas, so it’s a perfect gift.” He did some fast talking to avoid admitting he had no idea what “Noel” actually meant.
Colleen and David nodded. They always agreed with Patrick.
“Ohhhhh, I love them so much.” Colleen chirped as her fingers traced the winged angel holding the “O” wreath. “Do we have enough money?”
“Just barely, it depends on the tax.” Patrick tried to do the math but decided to leave that task to someone older.
And it was enough. Mr. Murphy carefully removed the dollar fifty-nine price sticker and wrapped each angel in paper and then placed them into their respective squares in the little cardboard box. Each child received a jawbreaker with the three pennies left over.
Two weeks later, when their mother opened the box on Christmas morning, she cried.
The Christmas Noel angels decorated their mantle every year. On December 27th in the year that Patrick turned 13, his buddies were at his house for cake and ice cream and, jokingly, they removed the little white candles and put colored birthday candles in the wreaths. The next Christmas Patrick put the striped birthday candles in the wreaths again--a tradition that continued for three or four holidays, when David decided he preferred the white candles.
The years passed. The little ceramic angels began to show signs of aging, but their mother carefully wrapped them in paper at the end of the holiday season and tucked them away until the following year. As Colleen and David got older, they begged mom not to put the shabby angels on display, but mom ignored their pleas. "They are gifts from my three little angels and will be on my mantle forever."
In fun, one year Colleen rearranged the angels, spelling “OLEN.” But mom didn’t notice and “OLEN” stayed on the mantle from December 12th to December 28th. The following year David followed suit and “ENOL” graced the mantle for the entire holiday period. It wasn’t until Patrick came home on college break that “OLEO” appeared. Patrick had cut out an “O” from a magazine and taped it over the “N”. No one, however, remembers who was responsible for assembling the angels into “LEON.”
LEON was the favorite; for the next two decades, it was LEON that graced the mantle when the children, with their children, traveled to mom’s house for the short Christmas vacation each year. The grandchildren didn’t pay too much attention to the worn-out angelic quad; there were electronic games to play and dozens of bigger, brighter decorations to adore.
Eventually, mom couldn’t live at home and so she spent the remainder of her years in a nursing home. After their mother died, Patrick, Colleen, and David began the task of sorting through her belongings, parceling out among themselves trinkets to take to their own households. When they came upon the little ceramic angels, Colleen picked up the box and began to cry. She set it on her pile of memories. And, it was she, who, on December 12th, wrapped the angels and mailed them to David, on whose mantle they sat for the holidays. The following year, David wrapped the angels and mailed them to Patrick.
This year, it’s Colleen’s turn to have LEON in her home for Christmas.
LEON is based on a friend's story.
word count: 972