During the Christmas of 1965, my ninth grade class went Christmas caroling. It was one of those clear, cold nights that burns your cheeks and had there been a bit more wind it would have brought tears to your eyes. A bright little girl named Mary was sitting in front of me on the bus. Mary was a happy girl with a serious side to her. She was very popular with the other students and was a pleasure to have around. Mary's family was not what you would call dirt poor, but they had little extra money for the nice but nonessential luxuries in life. Her mom was a single mother raising Mary with the help of an uncle. Mary got all the things she needed. She seldom got things that were frivolous. One little extra that Mary's mom got for her that Christmas season was a green skirt with a matching jacket. On her blouse, where it would not be covered by the open jacket, she wore a corsage that her mom had bought her as a special treat to wear for the caroling.
Mary was so pleased with her new outfit that it really showed in the added zest she gave to her singing that night. I was happy for Mary, but still feeling a bit low that night. Christmas had been my mom’s favorite time of year and I was unable to recapture the magic of the years when she had been there with us to celebrate this most joyous of seasons. Those special feelings and the happiness of Christmases long gone were what I wished with all my heart that I might have again someday.
Our bus pulled up to a brick nursing home. The residents were all very old and their wrinkled faces and hands were covered with age spots. I guess when you are fourteen years old you don’t often stop to think that all these people were once fourteen too, and were no different at that time than the children who were now coming to sing to them. When you are young and healthy it is impossible to imagine that you will ever be old and sick. Some of the old folks were so ill that they were unable to participate in the sing-along portion of the program. We went to the individual rooms of those who had been too sick to attend the caroling session in the large lunch room. One old and fragile looking woman was obviously upset at having missed our main performance. As I remember she had simply been too weak and frail to get out of bed and into a wheelchair and so had remained in bed in her room while we were singing.
Mary and I were the last to leave the old woman’s room. The time had come for all of us to get back on the bus, we could stay no longer. As I left the old woman’s room and turned down the hallway to the exit -- and I shall never forget this as long as I live -- I turned and glanced back.
The heavy wooden doors in nursing homes are supported by massive hinges, which means that there is about a two inch gap between the frame and the door when the door is half way open. Through that gap and reflected in the mirror above the sink I watched as Mary pinned her corsage to the old woman’s robe and gave her a kiss on the cheek. I stood transfixed by the sight, because I understood the depth of the sacrifice that she was making when she made a gift of her corsage to the old woman. I knew how much that corsage meant to her and how long it would probably be before she would have another.
Mary’s little jacket was buttoned tightly when she boarded the bus. She looked radiant. I think almost everyone on the bus thought her joy to be due to her new outfit, her corsage, and the caroling with friends at Christmas. Some expressed concern that she might crush the corsage by buttoning up her little jacket all the way. But no, she shook her head, everything would be all right. And it was......I understood that her corsage could never be crushed now and it was safe from ever wilting because now she wore her corsage in her heart instead of pinned over her heart. And that Christmas season became for me on that night as dear as any I had ever known, as full of wonder and joy as all the Christmases had been when Mom was still alive. Mary had given me a gift, too.