By Sonja Biberstine
We all have a Scrooge story to tell. You know the kind I’m talking about. Some scorched heart that feels all alone in the world is reminded of the joy and splendor of the holiday season. I’m no exception to this, as I’ve seen a lot of hearts healed in my time.
However, in all my 85 years, I don’t think any story has touched my heart like the one I had a hand in creating. It’s truly amazing the power a handful of kids can have.
“She’s always so sad,” Ginger sat on the bench we’d build around the bed of Jackson’s old Ford pickup, her feet propped on the side.
All six of us followed her line of vision. About fifty feet away Old Mrs. Häss was crossing the street, so frail she was barely strong enough to hold herself up on her walker.
“She’s all alone,” said Claire. “I’d be sad too if my husband of over sixty years had died.”
“But that was ten years ago! And she doesn’t have to be alone. The whole town still loves her for everything she’s done. That woman has helped nearly everyone in this town at least fifty times.
I watched Mrs. Häss slowly make her way into George’s General Store and thought about my first week in this town. Unlike my friends, I hadn’t always lived here. About eight years ago, I had moved here from a much, much bigger city. My family had only passed through town once since we’d gotten here, but my mom decided one afternoon to take advantage of our new safe neighborhood and send me to the store for something to make into lunch.
I stood at the end of the street feeling just as lost as I’m sure I looked, when an old lady approached me, asked where I was headed, then arm-in-arm she led me to George’s, even introducing me to George himself. I’d never felt welcome back home and that lady had made sure I knew I was here.
“So let’s do something for her,” I said,feeling every eye on me. “Let’s show her she’s still loved. Let’s make her smile at least once before the holidays are over.”
“But tomorrow is Christmas Eve,” Garrett protested. “We don’t have enough time for all that, do we?”
“One smile in the next 48 hours shouldn’t be that difficult,” said Flynn, rolling his eyes.
“We could all send her a Christmas card,” said Claire, whose mom works for the post office. “Mom would make sure they got there tomorrow.”
“Good idea! I’ll bet she hasn’t gotten one in years,” I said. “Tomorrow she’ll get seven all at once.”
“We could set up a tree on her porch,” said Dani. “My mom says she hasn’t decorated since Mr. Häss died.”
“She still goes to the town lighting every year,” said Flynn. “We could set it up while she’s watching that. It would be a surprise when she got back home.”
“Oh! Complete with handmade gifts underneath! Just like she used to make with us when we were in preschool!” Ginger was getting into the idea.
“What if we got the whole town involved?” asked Garrett. “We could have our families walk Mrs. Häss home and everyone else show up fifteen minutes later to sing carols.”
“Great idea, Garrett!” said Claire.
“Instead of mailing cards, what if the whole town brought one when they came to carol?” Flynn asked.
And so our mission began. We sprang into action, running as a group from door to door telling the every one about our plan. Ornaments were donated and Mr. Greggor promised a freshly cut tree. By the end of the day the whole town was onboard and teeming with excitement. Every household was bringing some sort of gift to Mrs. Häss, whether it be a card, a handmade craft from the kids or some kind of baked good.
The next day, the town was bubbling with Christmas spirit. Every word was a little kinder and every smile a little wider. It was almost as if we had reminded everyone of the meaning of the season.
When eight o’clock rolled around, the seven of us met at Jackson’s. Mr. Greggor had already dropped off a tree, lights already strung around it. We piled into the back of the truck and waited for our cue that the coast was clear.
We knew that we’d only have a short time to get everything set up before the festivities in the square were done and Mrs. Häss headed back home, escorted by Claire’s family, but that certainly didn’t put a damper on our fun. Putting the cards we’d all brought into the mailbox, we all got to work.
“I can’t wait to see her face!” exclaimed Ginger.
“She’s going to be so surprised,” said Claire.
“We should have done this years ago,” said Jackson.
“I can’t believe the whole town wanted to help. Everyone was whispering about it all day!” I was still in shock at how our plan for a simple smile from a bunch of teens had escalated so quickly that soon over 500 people would be standing in front of a single house singing to one little old lady. The power of one person, one child at that, was so amazing.
Just as the town square lit up, so did our little tree. It was perfect.
“Wait!” shouted Garrett. “Unplug it! We’ll plug it back in as Mrs. Häss is coming up the sidewalk.”
Giggling like a bunch of six year olds we waited for the town to disperse and Mrs. Häss to return.
“Now!” I whispered as the moon glittered off a walker at the edge of the street.
The tree lit back up beside us and Mrs. Häss froze in her tracks.
“Merry Christmas, Mrs. Häss!” all seven of us yelled in chorus.
Claire’s dad steadied her with his hand on her back while her mother placed a loving hand on her shoulder.
For a moment the old lady looked confused, then shock took over.
“My dears.” A single tear slid down her cheek when her silence finally broke. “Come and give me a hug, all of you!”
Before she wrapped around us, we each handed her our handmade present.
“Oh, Jackson! I still have the first paperplate sun you made me!”
Our mission was complete. You couldn’t have wiped the smile from her face with Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser. We helped her to the porch so she could inspect our decorating job.
“Every family in town donated at least one ornament.” Flynn told her.
“It’s beautiful!” she said. “Oh and look! I have mail!”
One by one, she opened our cards, never noticing the crowd that was gathering in her yard.
“Merry Christmas!” shouted over five hundred voices.
“My heavens!” said Mrs. Häss. “What on Earth are all of you doing out there?”
“We thought you could use a smile,” someone in the crowd shouted.
“And some hot cocoa.” Mr. Greggor, his wife and their two children all stepped forward, each pulling a wagon of cocoa, cups and tiny marshmallows. Mr. Greggor handed the first cup to Mrs. Häss, who accepted with her unshaking smile, then he and his family set up next to porch to share with everyone.
“And what’s Christmas Eve without some carols,” someone else asked.
Mrs. Häss made herself comfortable on the rocking chair she kept on the porch and listened to the town sing. The smile on her face never once faltered and her chair never once stopped rocking, though we sang well into the night.
I’m sad to say that was the last Christmas we got to spend with Mrs. Häss since she passed away the following August. In her last 8 months, though, not one person ever saw her unhappy. We had accomplished more that night than just getting a sad old woman to smile. We had reminded her that she was loved, that she had a place among us, and that she’d touched each of our lives. It seemed as if that cocoa had warmed that ole heart of hers back up to a working temperature.
An aspiring author, Sonja Biberstine has spent the last two decades scribbling in notebooks. A lover of hot tea and cute socks, she tends to have a bit of a strange personality. She just finished her first full manuscript in July, which led to her first win of Camp NaNoWriMo. She’s hoping to have the edits for it completed by the end of the year. Starting 2015 by querying agents sounds about perfect.