Anxiety gnawed as I walked into the post office to mail one last package four days before Christmas. My inner peace was shattered, for my boss had told me I had to work on Christmas Eve. He had no idea I’d planned to go to my parents’ home for dinner or that my aunts and uncles and cousins would be there in their bright clothes and brilliant smiles. Many of them would have come a long way to join us, and I simply had to be there too.
Instead of catching up on the family news, I’d be delivering last-minute packages for the parcel company that employed me. This was not unfair; I had the least seniority. And the job paid my living expenses while I finished my last year at the university.
Waiting in line while the postal clerk weighed packages, I didn’t feel as sorry for myself as much as I felt sorry for my mom. Mom was still limping a little from her broken leg a few months before, and I knew she wished I could help her in the kitchen. I loved seeing Mom sigh with relief when I insisted she sit down so I could finish the dishes or cooking.
Then a tiny part of me wished to be a young girl again so I could be free of responsibilities for an hour on Christmas Eve.
My thoughts scattered when the smiling red-haired young man behind the desk greeted me.
“Hi,” I returned his hello. “You seem cheerful in the midst of this last-minute rush.”
“Cheer helps people forget their worries, at least for a few minutes,” he said, and his grin grew wider. “What about you, miss? Need cheering?”
“Well, I was sort of glum, but you seem to enjoy working.”
“Once I had to work on Christmas. Now? I want to. And I’m single, so I have more time than those with families.”
His vibrancy got to me. When I turned to go, I almost felt glad I’d be working the holiday.
My last delivery
Snow was falling Christmas Eve, whitening the sooty banks along the side of the road. I saw candles in windows and families walking into churches as I drove around making deliveries.
Then, tired and ready to call it a night, I walked up to a country house with my last delivery. The house sagged under peeling paint; a crooked front porch had slanting steps. Through the front window I spotted a Mason jar holding bare evergreen branches. Somehow this bleak, brave attempt at a Christmas tree tugged at my heart.
Footsteps clattered toward the door even as I knocked. The door opened and a girl about 6 years old, peered at me with wide brown eyes. “A lady is here, Grandma,” she called. “With a package! Will we have Christmas now, Grandma? Come and see!”
A fragile woman hobbled to the door, leaning on a cane. “Come in, girl, it’s cold outside,” she rasped. “You must be chilled to the bone.”
I stepped into a house warmed by a radiant heater in the middle of the floor. Tears blurred my vision at the child’s eagerness before I blinked them back. My one package seemed to be the answer to their holiday prayers.
Grandma squinted at the return address. “It’s from your Aunt Marcella.”
“She’s so, so nice,” the child said dreamily.
My aching legs and feet were forgotten. I felt relieved that my working brought joy to this little home.
“Thanks for the warm-up,” I said, turning to leave. “Merry Christmas!”
The little girl rushed over and wrapped her arms around my legs. “Don’t go. Have a party with us!”
I glanced at the grandmother, who shook her head. I knew the party was the clinging child’s hope.
“I’ll tell you what. I’ve got to go now, but I’ll try to stop by and say hello someday when I’m delivering things in the neighborhood.”
“Goody!” the child piped, still clinging.
I took tiny steps toward the door. The little girl didn’t loosen her grip. It was all I could do to keep from crying. Then I had an idea.
“Look here, I have a present for you.” I reached into my pocket for a candy bar I carried in case my energy lagged.
Brightness lit the girl’s dark eyes. “Grandma! We can split this for a treat.” She gazed at me as though I’d just handed her a beautiful doll. “Thank you. Thank you!”
Opening the front door, I called a teary-tight “Merry Christmas.”
After finishing my work, I stopped at an all-night deli and bakery, then drove back to the child’s house. Quietly I crept up to the door, leaving a box packed with rolls, sliced cheese, blueberry muffins, fruit salad, and a note that read “Merry Christmas.”
Then I got into my car and drove it near a large tree where no one from the house could see me. There were no neighbors, so I felt free to honk the horn until at last I saw light pouring through the open front door and a form bending over the box.
“Merry Christmas,” I whispered. “May God bless you now and always.”