A Gift for Avia
Originally published on December 1981. Illustration by Nancy H. Hoover
The blue mist that screens the Great Smoky Mountains is now frozen on the trees, causing them to sparkle like diamonds. The air is clear and bitter cold.
I shove my bare hands deeper into my coat pockets. I think about all the kids at school that wear nice warm mittens and coats that fit.
I picture myself walking into the classroom dressed in a princess-style coat, maybe bright red. Around my neck hangs a fluffy white muff. My feet are clad in stylish black boots.
My father’s voice interrupts my daydreams, “Avia, hurry up or you won’t get to help pick out the Christmas tree.”
My steps hasten. I trip over my own feet, feet that are wearing grandmothers overshoes held on by canning lid rubbers. I pick myself up, brush the dead leaves and dirt from my hand-me-down coat and rush to join the others. I find my father and younger sisters, Anna and Emma, standing around a plump pine tree. “What’s ye think, Avia,” my father asks. I look up at the tree. “Won’t do, you know we didn’t make enough decorations for a tree this big. Besides a tree like this need an angel for the top.”
Shadows of disappointment cloud the faces of my younger sisters. Suddenly, Annie, the older of the two, explains, “I know how to make a paper angel. Our teacher showed us at school last week. I can make one for our tree. Please!” She begs.
My father looks as though he is going to refuse, but instead says, “Annie I think that would be nice. I’ll bet there won’t be another tree in the whole community with a paper angel.”
No, I think, my friends will have tinsel angels, and the ones that have electricity will have angels that light up.
My father begins to cut down the tree. My heart sinks as I think about how bare the tree is going to look with our few home-made decorations, and, worst of all, the paper angel. I just won’t think about it. I think about tonight and the doll I hoped Santa would bring me.
We tie the tree to the girls’ sled and start our trip home.
The smell of gingerbread and home-made fudge greets us as we arrive. The rush of warm air makes my cold nose tingle. I reach out my hands to warm in front of the wood stove. Soon, I am warm enough to help decorate the tree.
Anna, who has just turned six, is already at work on her paper angel. Emma is trying to hang the homemade balls made from jar lids and pictures from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Dad ropes popcorn strings on the tree. I pick up Emma and hold her so she can hang the balls higher. The giggles of a three-year old fill the room. “Pretty, Santa. Pretty! Perty!” She claps her hands in delight.
My grandmother sits in the corner; the click of her knitting needles is music to my ears. The clatter of dishes coming from the kitchen means mother will soon be in to send us to bed.
I wander to the window and look into the darkness. My heart races with excitement. It won’t be long now!
I pray, “Dear God, please let me get my doll. The girls at school have dolls, and sometimes they would let me hold them, but not for very long. If I get a doll I am sure I will share more than they did.”
My mother’s voice brings me from my dreaming. “Time for bed girls. You don’t want to keep Santa waiting, do you?”
I whisper into the darkness once more.
“Please, Dear God, please.”
My mother calls again, louder this time. “Avia stop your daydreaming and come to bed.”
I cross my fingers behind my back and follow her into the cold bedroom. She tucks in the younger girls and then she smooths my covers. “Sleep tight, sweetheart, and tomorrow you won’t need to daydream anymore.” She tiptoes from the room.
I lie there in the darkness listening; maybe if I am quiet enough I can hear the reindeer on the roof. I drift off to sleep. Suddenly, I see a fat little man squeeze down our chimney. He wiggles a last wiggle and hits the hearth. I awake with a start.
I listen; nothing. Then through the silence come whispers. I strain to hear what the voices are saying.
I hear my mother’s voice filled with emotion. “I have saved my egg money all fall to Avia this doll, and she is going to have it. You know she will soon be too old for a doll.”
I can’t hear what my father is saying. The whispers seem to go on forever. I try to hear, but all I can catch are scattered words. As I lie there trying to hear what is being said, I know my dream world has come to an end. Yes, I would get a doll, but it would be from mother’s hard-earned money, not from some magical little man wiggling down our chimney. I also knew that the gifts my other sisters got would be made by my father. Finally I slept. No dreams this time, just sleep.
“Come on, Avia, wake up,” beg my sisters. “Santa has been here.”
I sit up and rub the sleep from my eyes. Santa, I think. If they knew what I did they wouldn’t be so happy. I stumble out of bed and follow them into the living room. We sit in a row on the couch as our parents take the unwrapped gifts from under the tree.
“A little wagon for you Annie. I hope it will help you keep the wood box filled,” jokes my dad.
“A little broom for you Emma. Now you can really help mommie with the sweeping,” explains my father.
Mother reaches behind the tree and pulls out the prettiest doll I have ever seen. She is dressed in a bright red coat, and on her feet are black boots. Down her back hang yellow curls, and on top of her head is a white fur hat.
I hold her at a distance, admiring her beauty. Won’t the girls at school envy me. Then I remember how I have gotten her and hung her tight. Maybe I won’t take her to school after all.
Something tugs at my nightgown. I look down. Emma is looking up at the doll. I kneel so she can have a better look. She gently touches the long blonde curls. I see the wistful look in her eyes. Two tears are making roadways down her chubby little cheeks. I hold out the precious new doll to her. “My baby,” she coos, “my baby,” and toddles off to bed.
My father reaches and picks up the broom and hands it to me. “Avia you have just discovered the real meaning of Christmas,” he says.