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I was sixteen when my father left. That year there was no Christmas tree, no turkey dinner, no presents. My mother worked two jobs as a cleaning lady. I sold hats at a department store in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. It was Christmas Eve, 1965. The store was closed. The streetlights were decorated with the tinsel of the season. Somewhere church bells tolled out "Silent Night." I stood alone on the corner and waited for the bus to take me home.
The wind whipped my thin coat and threatened to tear off my hand-knit hat. My mother had sewn a pair of corduroy pants to pull up under my dress, but I stubbornly carried them. It was better to freeze than look ridiculous.It was a snowless December night, bitter and empty. I shivered against the wind and considered how one year had changed everything. My parents' marriage was over. My home and my heart were broken. The divorce did not surprise anyone but me. My father's fierce anger had exhausted my mother's forbearance years ago. But he had never gone away before, never abandoned us. It was because of him that there would be no family celebrations this year. I hated him for the destruction of my family. These were the things I thought as I lumbered onto the freezing-cold bus.
I found a seat next to the bus heater and placed my feet on the perfect spot. Hugging my corduroy pants, I cherished the small comfort of the heater as it eased the cold in the bus.
That is when it happened.
A man, perhaps in his sixties, appeared from somewhere in the back of the bus. He smelled of English Leather and Pepsodent, and wore a hat like Frank Sinatra used to wear. A fine Pendleton wool muffler hid half his faceand he held a large shopping bag.
"May I?" he asked as he prepared to sit.
I looked away. I didn't speak to strangers, especially men. He sat next to me and placed the shopping bag between us. I noticed the bus driver watching him in the mirror. Everything would be all right, I told myself. This man won't get away with anything. He sat beside me, studying my worn coat, my desperate hug of my corduroy pants. Bus heat rushed through the soles of my shoes, and I closed my eyes, allowing the warmth to help me forget him. Then he cleared his throat and touched my arm. "Excuse me," he said, "and pardon me for intruding. But I couldn't help notice that you are shivering. Are you all right?"
He peeked at me from behind his muffler and when his eyes met mine, I saw something I had never seen before. It was the face of a kind man. For a moment, I felt the chill of the bus dissipate.
"You look tired," he said. "Have you had a tough day?"
When he spoke I realized that I was watching his concern for me take form. The sensation was new, foreign. My father's face was never filled with worry for me or anyone else. Anger, frustration, and fear were the foundation of his personality. Perhaps being a father made some men anxious and burdened. I wondered if this man had children. The bus made a gassy sound as it stopped, and he rose to leave. He held onto the handrail of the seat before him, and looked down at me for the last time.
"I get off here," he said. "I hope the rest of your Christmas is better than tonight."
I looked into his eyes and felt my throat tighten. For a moment I wanted to take his hand, to hold fast to this rare concern for me.
"Thank you, sir," I said. I heard my voice break.
He was nearly off the bus when I realized he had left his package."Hey, mister!" I called. He turned as the bus doors opened. "You forgot your things." I pointed to the bag.
"No I didn't." He pulled his muffler over his face again and waved. "You keep it." The bus doors closed behind him and he was gone. The bus driver insisted that I carry the package home, so I did. The house was dark when I arrived. My mother was sitting in the living room, asleep in her chair. At first she didn't believe me when I told her what happened, but my story was so marvelous that she came to accept it.
We opened the shopping bag and found three packages wrapped with red ribbon and golden paper. There was a box of Fanny Farmer white chocolate in one bundle, a bright red wool scarf in another. The smallest package held a tiny mother-of-pearl music box.
My mother wrapped the scarf around her shoulders and marveled at the large almonds in the white candy. "Maybe things will work our for us after all," she said. She handed me the music box. The tune it played was "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
When I lifted the lid, its song reminded me that there was one kind man in the world. If there was one, I thought, there must be others. If there are others, the world is not an ugly place and the lyrics to the song are true.
"Next year all our troubles will be miles away."
I treasure my music box still. It holds a gold ring from my husband, an old cameo from my mother, and the memory of a Christmas miracle.
The Magic Of Christmas Miracles. Copyright � by Jamie Miller. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.