Beth grew up feeling like she never really had a memorable Christmas.
She couldn’t recall hanging bulbs on a tree or a stocking on a hearth. It just wasn’t like that at the home of her foster parents. She left home when she finished high school and worked with Laura, another waitress three years her senior. Laura assisted her friend by getting her into a tiny apartment on a “pay-back” plan.
The two single women were sure they would find themselves alone at Christmas, so they decided to share coffee and muffins at Beth’s apartment on Christmas morning.
“Let’s get a faux tree and have a story-telling time,” Laura suggested.
They pooled their pocket change and there was no argument who would own the Charlie Brown tree.
Laura arrived around 8:45 a.m. on Christmas morning. She was startled to find a little girl the size of a three-year old whimpering on the cold front steps of the apartment building.
“Why are you out here? You must be freezing.”
“I’m cold and I don’t know where my mommy and daddy went.”
Laura was disturbed the child may have been abandoned. She got down at the wee one’s level and cuddled her.
“Come inside with me.”
“…and who have we got here?” Beth asked.
“I found this baby alone on the steps, Beth. Can you believe it?”
The girls learned her name was Joanie and they queried her as she gravitated to muffins near the Charlie Brown tree. She answered them with two simple sentences. “Mommy told daddy I was in the car. I like playing behind the dumpster.”
Relieved to hear the innocent truth, Beth assured the shivering girl that her parents were probably already on the way back to get her. Moments later, the Johnsons pulled up in front of the apartment. Beth met them on the front steps and invited them inside to collect their scared little girl and chat a bit about the unfortunate incident.
The more the parents talked to the young women, the more a spirit of Christmas love and gratitude swelled their hearts.
“You two must come up to the lodge with us! You don’t want to be all alone today.”
There, in the rustic setting, for the first time, Beth sat among decorations and a tall sparkling Christmas tree. Plus, she gobbled down her first turkey dinner with all the trimmings.
Everyone at the table gave the sweet child their candy canes.
Parents and dear friends repeat stories and, in photographs, I recognize the little blond girl who wondered if her parents would come back for her — who was found but not really lost.
As the story is retold, the tradition of a festive dinner in the ski lodge carries on. The fireplace crackling with yule logs brings thoughts of one memorable Christmas day a long time ago.