Little Angela grabbed a tiny handful of coarse, off-white sand and slung it up into the air.
It’s good that she was standing with her side to the sea breeze blowing in warmly on this dull, overcast day. She had to act quickly while her nanny, Miss Elizabeth, had turned away down shore to look back to the beachfront house that served as the winter residence. Angela was not supposed to throw sand.
But she had purpose in her momentary act of defiance of propriety. Angela intently observed the sand as it billowed away toward a tuff of dune. She looked for white sparkles like those she had seen in her picture book that she had brought down with her on the train. But the lack of sun did not provide sparkles.
Angela adored her new Christmas book. She couldn’t read many of the large-type words yet. But she didn’t need to know all the words, for she could gaze at the colorful illustrations, and she so adored them. There’s the page with the tree loaded with decorations and packed with presents underneath. Then there’s the page with a mom and dad and little girl walking on the sidewalk surrounded by snow.
That’s why Angela wanted to pick up a handful of the white beach sand. Her mom and dad always left the big house before Thanksgiving for the beach house down South, and Angela always missed the winter snow. It never snowed here on the beach. But the book made snow look so wonderful and the little picture-book family so happy.
So Angela, daydreaming of her new Christmas book, saw an opportunity with Miss Elizabeth’s back turned and threw the sand high in the air to fall away like the snow in the book.
She was disappointed, though. The sand looked nothing like the blowing snow portrayed in the book. A shining sun might have made some of the sand grains dazzle like the snowflakes in the book for an instant. But even that would have fallen short of the effect Angela was seeking here on the beach.
That evening Angela opened her new Christmas book again as she lay on her white canopy bed. She stared for the longest time at the page with the family walking in the snow. Oh, she burned inside with the desire for snow, even here at the beach. She longed to see snow, to touch snow. And for her and her parents to be as happy the family portrayed in the book.
Suddenly without a knock the bedroom door opened and in came Angela’s mother. The little girl delighted in seeing her mother come in at night after she had been tucked in by Miss Elizabeth. Angela did not get to see her mother some nights.
“Hello, little darling,” the mother said sweetly. Angela had noticed that her mother liked to call her that instead of by her name, except when her mother was angry. “Let’s try on your Christmas dress from last year. I want to take another look at it.”
Angela got out of bed as her mother moved to open the closet doors. Her mother moved hangars looking for the dress that had come from the trunk packed back at the big house a month ago. She pulled from the closet a very nice dress with layers of slick, dark blue cloth below the waist and with embroidery at the edges.
At the party last Christmas, Angela’s mom and dad flowed from guest to guest cooing about how pretty was this special dress. Angela wanted to hear how pretty she was as well.
“Here it is. Let me help you into it,” said Angela’s mother as she strolled over to the little girl beside the bed.
At her mother’s direction Angela turned around in her Christmas dress. Angela awaited more compliments like those she heard last Christmas, but she turned back to face her mother who displayed clenched lips. Angela stood rigid for the longest time; she feared she had done something wrong.
“No, that won’t do,” her mother finally blurted out. “That is so, so – last year. I’ll send you with Miss Elizabeth tomorrow to get something new.”
The first item of the next morning following breakfast in the dining room was for Angela and Miss Elizabeth to ride up to the shopping district. The chauffeur whom Angela called Mr. Fred stood tall and still while waiting for them under the portico as they exited the side door. The little girl knew the drill; it was identical to last year’s.
Angela didn’t care much for this sequel of the Christmas dress trip. She tried on many under Miss Elizabeth’s watchful and rather stern eye. The little girl quickly grew tired of it all, especially with the absence of her mother’s sweet compliment on the final choice. Angela will have to wait for that at the party, now about a week away.
In a blur the two with the box under Miss Elizabeth’s arm were out the store’s front door and waiting at the curb for pickup by Mr. Fred. Suddenly Angela’s trance was broken by the car as Mr. Fred pulled up. After the two got in, with Mr. Fred out and holding the door, the routine was broken with the car’s silence.
“What’s wrong?” Miss Elizabeth asked impatiently. “I don’t know,” replied Mr. Fred, his mind busily churning with possible diagnoses: battery, coil and such. “I’ll have to call for someone to come out.”
Angela and Miss Elizabeth waited back inside the store. Time passes slowly for a little girl, and the monotony was broken when another little girl holding the hand of her mother saddled up beside at the front window. Angela felt intimidated by the big woman who did not look like a nanny. Miss Elizabeth never took Angela’s hand except to drag her somewhere.
The two girls stared at each other. In the silence Angela looked over the little girl’s dress with a piece of the hem torn. She did not wear socks with her scuffed, worn shoes.
When the big woman released the girl’s hand and reached to check a price tag of a pair of women’s black shoes near the back of the store window, Angela saw her chance to break the ice.
“My name’s Angela,” she blurted out. “Hello” came a weak reply. Never a shy one, Angela spoke her mind: “I just got my new Christmas dress. Are you getting one too?”
“I don’t think so,” said the new little friend who surveyed with more than a touch of envy Angela and her clean, new pink sweater.
“Something’s wrong with our car. Mr. Fred said it will take a while to get some help,” Angela started chattering. She never met a stranger. “What are you getting for Christmas?”
“Well.” The new friend looked at the floor. “Momma said she hoped we could get a chicken.”
“No, I mean what toys are you getting?” said Angela, giggling. The little friend fell silent and just shook her head briefly.
During the ensuring silence Miss Elizabeth stepped back into the store following a brief check with Mr. Fred.
In a short time in came a man wearing overalls and carrying a pair of worn work boots. He stepped around Miss Elizabeth and Angela, and Angela’s gaze followed him until she saw her new little friend’s face glowing.
“Got ‘em,” the man with the boots told the big woman, who broke into a wide grin. “And I’ve still got a few nickels left over. Now let’s get me some work after the holidays, and I can put these new soles to some good use.”
The man led a procession back out the door with the big woman holding the hand of the trailing girl wearing the torn hem. Outside, they turned right and disappeared.
Angela, now no longer little, thinks back to that childhood memory these days and warmly remembers that was moment when the Light flickered.
Back on that night, with little Angela in her white canopy bed at the beach, she replayed the scene in the store over and over with the family that looked so sad but at the same time seemed so full of hope and joy.
The little girl back then had not yet known of prayer. She knew God as only a word to use when angry.
So in her bed in the dark Angela just said aloud, “I hope they get that chicken.”
At that moment little Angela began teaching herself a new definition of Christmas. The Light that flickered was the one now in her heart.
Stephen Harris sends out this gift of a Christmas short story to you and yours from State Road.