Essays on Faith: An unusual Christmas surprise

My mother taught me early on to appreciate what others did for me; therefore, I always expressed my delight with gifts I received from loving relatives so they’d know I was grateful.

And so I wouldn’t get into trouble with my mother!

But one Christmas, when I was 11 years old, there was an unusual surprise that I wasn’t sure I appreciated.

My parents brought home a little boy from an orphanage to spend Christmas with us. They didn’t ask for my input, which I resented, and I was uncertain how I felt about it.

All of my relatives will share in making a wonderful Christmas for this little orphan boy, I thought. What if he gets more presents than I do? Will I be able to be thankful and appreciative, or will I be envious? I’ve never had to share before.

I said nothing, but was secretly concerned that this peculiar venture might turn out badly for everyone.

Especially me.

Tommy was 8 years old. He had pale skin, blonde hair and was so skinny he looked like a stick with ears. I felt a little sorry for him. The few clothes he brought were in a large paper bag. My mother put them in drawers in the room where he’d be sleeping.

We hit it off pretty well. I taught him how to play one of my board games and we played until dinner was ready. He seemed alright. This might work out after all, I thought.

Two days before Christmas, my mother took Tommy and me shopping to buy a gift for my dad. We watched as she chose a nice wallet and had it gift wrapped and topped off with a big, red bow. Then she took us to a soda shop for ice cream. It was a fun afternoon. On the way home, my mother cautioned us, “Now, you must not say anything to anyone about what we bought. It’s a surprise!”

“Okay,” we said simultaneously.

The next day was Christmas Eve — the day my relatives came by to say “Merry Christmas” and deliver presents. My mother made cookies, candy and other goodies for the occasion. Much fun was in store.

As relatives started arriving, Tommy became increasingly excited. Everyone smiled and spoke to him and, as presents were placed under the tree, he noticed his name on some of them. He could hardly contain his excitement!

After everyone was gone, Mother treated us to eggnog and cookies and then said, “It’s time for bed. Santa won’t come until you’re asleep.”

I fell asleep quickly, weary from all the activity and excitement.

Someone said my name. I opened my eyes and saw Tommy standing by my bed.

“It’s Christmas!” He said, his eyes twinkling like stars.

“Tommy, it’s not even light outside. What time is it?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Let’s go see if Santa came.”

I can honestly say this was the first Christmas ever that my presents weren’t as important to me as watching someone else enjoy his. Tommy ran from one thing to another, not stopping long at one place before moving on to something else. He had cars, trucks, board games, GI Joe army men with a tank and an airplane, and other toys, but what he needed most was clothes. And he got them. There was a winter jacket, pants, shirts, socks, shoes, pajamas and underwear. He even got a little suitcase to carry his clothes in instead of a paper bag.

When my parents sat down to open their gifts, Tommy and I settled nearby to watch, clapping our hands excitedly each time a gift was opened. When my dad picked up the familiar-looking gift with the big, red bow and began to tear the paper, Tommy couldn’t restrain himself. With an impish grin on his face, he blurted, “Somebody’s gonna get a billfold!”

Waving her hands in the air frantically, Mother shot a nasty look his way, but the damage was done. My father, who loved a good gaffe, laughed heartily.

Christmas Day was wonderful! My mother cooked a turkey dinner with all the trimmings and Tommy and I played games and enjoyed our gifts all day long.

That night, when Mother tucked us into bed, Tommy surprised her with, “Goodnight, Mom.”

The next morning, I asked Mother if we could keep Tommy — adopt him as a member of our family — my little brother? “I’m sorry, honey,” she said. “It was a nice Christmas for Tommy and we enjoyed it, too, but we have to take him back now.” I knew better than to argue with my mother, so I nodded and choked back tears that were brimming in my eyes.

Mother packed Tommy’s new clothes into his suitcase and boxed up his new Christmas toys. After a leisurely breakfast, we drove him back to the orphanage. The whole 15-mile trip was silent — Tommy, looking out the window on one side of the car, and I, on the other.

Inside the orphanage, we took turns hugging Tommy and telling him goodbye, then he ran off to show his friends what he’d gotten for Christmas. He didn’t even look back as we were leaving.

I cried all the way home.

Deep in my soul, there lived a hope that someday he’d remember us and get in touch. But we never saw Tommy again. Nor did we ever hear from him. I often prayed that God chose the perfect parents for him. Parents who wanted a little boy to love; parents who gave him a good home, an education and everything he needed for a good life.

My mom and dad’s objective to teach me a valuable lesson was successful: to show me how fortunate I was to be loved by so many and have so much given to me; to show me how differently some not-so-fortunate children lived.

I definitely got the message!

Though many years have passed, I still have bittersweet moments when I recall the enthusiasm that lit up Tommy’s face on that long-ago Christmas morning when he stood beside my bed while it was still dark outside, and eagerly said...

“It’s Christmas!”

Peggy Toney Horton lives in Nitro.

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Funerals for Monday, January 27, 2020

Davis, Valerie - 11 a.m., Cunningham Memorial Park, St. Albans.

Hamrick, Leonard - 1 p.m., Waters Funeral Chapel, Summersville.

Hughes Jr., Denver - 1 p.m., Curry Funeral Home, Alum Creek.

Keen, Cora - 2 p.m., Tyler Mountain Memory Gardens, Cross Lanes.

Lazear, Elizabeth - 7 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Masters, Delores - 1 p.m., Glen Ferris Apostolic Church, Glen Ferris.

Milroy, Miller - 11 a.m., Simons-Coleman Funeral Home, Richwood.

Petro, Edith - 11 a.m., Cunningham-Parker-Johnson Funeral Home, Charleston.

Phelps, Herbert - 2 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Stanley, Gary - 1 p.m., Pryor Funeral Home, East Bank.

Stewart, Donna - 1 p.m., First United Methodist Church, South Charleston.

Walker, Iva - 1 p.m., Roush Funeral Home, Ravenswood.

Wilkinson, Catharine - Noon, Raynes Funeral Home, Eleanor Chapel.

Williams, Joseph - 3 p.m., Tyler Mountain Memory Gardens, Cross Lanes.