Monday, December 12, 2005


By Marion Kelley Bullock

I opened the door at Helen’s insistent knock. I didn’t try to hide my tears. It wouldn’t have done any good. My puffy, red eyes would have given me away.

“Want some coffee?”

“I’ll get it,” Helen offered. She walked on through to the kitchen and came back with a hot cup of coffee for each of us.

“Want to talk about it?” This next door neighbor had come to my aid many times in the past months. She sat down beside me now on the couch.

“No . . . yes . . . oh, I don’t know. It’s just so lonely. ‘Specially now with Christmas coming. I don’t see how I can get through it.”

“I know it’s hard, Emily. I wish we could have you over Christmas, but since we’re leaving tomorrow to have Christmas with the kids. . .”

“I know. It wouldn’t work anyway. It would just remind me of the times we had together, you and Bob and Clem and I. I don’t think I could take it.”

“You know what I think?”


“I think you oughtta get rid of Clem’s things. Just pack ‘em away somewhere so you don’t see ‘em everywhere you look. Like those.” She pointed at the room, eyeing the Indian wedding pitcher we bought on our honeymoon. And there was Clem’s old guitar leaning against the fireplace where he always left it.

“I don’t see how I could change things,” I said. “It just wouldn’t seem right.”

“Well, you think about it, Emily. And about Christmas, try to forget it. Get yourself a good book or watch TV. It’ll only last twenty-four hours. After that, maybe you’ll decide to put away all those things that keep you torn up.”

“Maybe . . .

“Gotta go now. Lots of packing to do.”

“I know.”

“Hey, take it easy, OK?” Helen gave me a quick peck on the cheek and was gone.

I quickly closed the door against the clamor of the neighborhood children. Their racket still bothered me. I looked out my lace-covered window.

Noisy children! Hadn’t they any respect for their elders anymore? And the snow. Yesterday, it was pure white perfection. And now look at it!

Two boys across the road yelled and rolled a big ball of snow about, making it larger and larger. “Now!” one shouted, and they heaved the big ball onto an even larger one. A snowman, I supposed.
A little girl, probably their sister, carefully rolled a smaller ball. I guessed it would be the snowman’s head. One of the boys scooped up a wad of loose snow and pelted the little girl with it. Before I could feel sorry for her, she managed to retaliate. More bloodcurdling screams and snowballs followed. It made me sick at my stomach.

I moved away from the window. How could I let them get to me this way? They were probably perfectly normal children, and here I was acting like an old biddy.

If having all Clem’s things around was going to make me old and cranky, I’d better pack them away. But not right now. I’d do it later. I concentrated on polishing Clem’s golf medals until they gleamed. Then I dusted the cluttered bric-a-brac on the fireplace shelves. It was something to do.

Maybe Helen was right. Maybe I should forget all about Christmas this year. I couldn’t imagine Christmas without Clem. With no family, why should I have Christmas?

Years ago, when I found out I couldn’t have children, I’d cried. At first, Clem had been patient. But his patience had finally worn thin.

“We don’t have a right to feel sorry for ourselves just because we can’t have children,” he said. “Lots of people don’t have what we have.”

He was right. He was all I ever needed. But now he was gone. If there had been children, I might be sitting here waiting for them to come home for Christmas, or going to have Christmas with them, instead of resenting the neighbor children because of their happiness.

Oh, me. Could children really have eased this ache of loneliness? I curled up in the padded rocker by the fireplace and pulled my knitted shawl closer about me. Blue, the old cat, snoozed contentedly on the hearth. We used to sit this way together, Clem and I, with Old Blue always somewhere close by.

About now, Clem would have been out hunting a little tree. He always waited until Christmas Eve.

“Just a small one,” he’d say. “Let’s save the big ones for someone who needs them.”

“Why, we don’t need one at all, Clem Hargrove,” I retorted, mostly from habit.

“Now, honey,” Clem always answered. “We’re a whole family, just you and me. Of course, we’ll have a tree and all the trimmings.”

Now the tears did spill over. Here I was crying again. Since Clem died, some things just weren’t the same. No question about it, nothing was the same this Christmas. I wiped my eyes and face on my lace handkerchief.

“Stop it,” I told myself. I adjusted the logs in the fireplace and sat down again. Old Blue grumbled discontentedly at being disturbed from his nap.

“Lazy cat,” I told him, scratching him gently between his ears. Clem hadn’t cared much for cats, or so he said. I laughed out loud, just thinking about it. Wonder how many cats we’d have if he’d really liked them. There were three in all, just plain cats. The calico cat had appeared suddenly. Then one day, she had her two kittens under the barn. One was bluish grey and one yellow. Calico, Goldie, and Old Blue. At first, Clem called them barn cats, but somehow their lazy catnaps had gravitated first to the back porch, then the kitchen, and finally the hearth.

One day, Calico had just disappeared. Years later, Goldie was run over on the highway. Now only Old Blue remained—Old Blue and memories.

“I’ve got to stop this.” Feeling sorry for myself wouldn’t solve anything. But Christmas Eve was always our big day, really bigger than Christmas itself. The getting ready . . .

Perhaps next to messing Clem, I missed the smells of Christmas. Clem loved pre-Christmas baking. Like a small boy, he’d always sit tipped back in his old cane chair, sniffing the fragrant air while I baked his special Christmas cookies. He had always helped me pick out pecans ahead of time.

Maybe tomorrow I’d ignore Christmas. But not today. I hurried to the kitchen and looked in the cupboard. There were the pecans. Nothing wrong with stirring up some special Christmas Eve cookies—mincemeat, Clem’s favorite.

I tied on my brown apron, picked the meat from the pecans, gathered the other ingredients, and stirred up the dough. Then I piled fat lumps on the cookie sheets and placed them in the preheated oven.

At first, I thought I had imagined the light tap on the door. Then I heard it again, a little louder.

I rubbed my hands on my apron and answered the door. A ragged boy stood rooted to the porch like some small, frightened animal. I felt that he might turn and bolt.

“Hello.” I smiled to reassure him.

“Hi,” he answered, relaxing a little and showing a wide gap in an otherwise toothy grin. His eyes still looked too large for his small, pinched face. No cap covered his shaggy hair, and his ears were red with cold.

I opened the door wider. “Come in where it’s warm.”

The boy stood firm, gulped, and blurted out, “Would ya like to buy a Christmas tree for a quarter?”

I had been so concerned about the boy in his patched and faded outgrown jeans and coat, I hadn’t noticed the scrawny tree clutched in his hands.

I noticed it now, and if possible, it looked even more scraggly than its owner.

I couldn’t stand the thought of having a tree this year. And this dismal specimen did nothing to enhance the idea. But the small boy—and only twenty-five cents.

“All right,” I said. “You bring it in while I get the money.”

As I handed him the quarter and took the tree, I noticed his eager eyes, his freckled nose sniffing the fragrant air.

“The cookies!” I ran to the kitchen. Mercifully, they were unburned. The boy watched from the kitchen doorway as I drew them from the oven.

I smiled at him. “You look like the kind of boy who likes mincemeat cookies.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Take off your coat, then, while I get you some milk. You do like milk?”


I watched the boy gulp the sweet milk and bite into a chewy cookie. His eyes gleamed with delight. Like Clem’s. I offered him more cookies. It was a joy to watch him eat. Finally, he licked the last crumb off his fingers, and I came down to earth.

“Goodness, I hope your mother isn’t worrying about you being gone so long!”

“No’m, she’s not home.”

“Oh.” I hated to be nosy, but I had to know. “Will she be home soon?"

“No’m, she’s at work.”


“At the factory.”

“My, it’s two, three hours till she gets off work then. Maybe you’d like to help me decorate that tree you sold me. Hm?”


I took the boy with me to what we’d always called the Fibber Magee closet. The Christmas decorations were in the box on top of the quilt scrap box. I lifted off the box of snapshots and handed the Christmas box to the boy. Then I fished out the red and green tree stand from its corner.

We placed the tree in front of the lace-covered window, as usual. I turned it this way and that, finally settling on letting it bend slightly backward instead of sideways or to the front. Great gaps of bare spaces stared out like so many eyes, but the boy didn’t seem to notice. He busily helped tie on all the old bells and balls and tinsel ornaments. Then he wound the red and green ropes around and around the tree.

I reached into the box for the tinsel star. It had been the crowning touch to all those years of tree trimming. Clem and I had a special ritual for the star. I lifted it from the box carefully, polished it, and handed it to Clem.
“You put it up,” I always said. Our trees had always stood up proudly under its shining glow.

“Gee, it’s great!”

“Here,” I said. “You may as well put the star on top.”

Unwilling to watch this mockery of the past, I looked away at the dying embers of the fire and at Old Blue, too old and lazy to notice a stranger’s presence. Suddenly the silence hit me. I looked around at the boy. His eyes, fixed on the topmost limb, held awe. I looked where he was looking.

I know my mouth dropped open. The tree looked absolutely regal. And the tinsel star—I felt it held a promise especially for me, like that real star so long ago. A promise of peace.

The boy broke the stillness first. “It’s time I got to go,” he said.

I handed him his wraps. “I’m glad you came. Thanks for helping with the tree.”

“Yeah,” he said. And I saw the star again reflected in both his bright eyes.

The boy shuffled his feet, once again shy. “Hope you have a real swell Christmas!” He flashed a wide smile and was gone.

“I have,” I said. “I already have.”

*published several years ago in Home Life.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


By Marion Kelley Bullock

Texas weather is a see-saw situation. One day it's 89*, the next, it's 40. Tonight, the temperature is predicted to drop to around 14*. And we may have snow! Once upon a time, we'd turn on the radio early, when snow fell, listening, hoping the announcer would declare a "snow day." That was when we still had children at home. You didn't have to be young to long for a snow day. And when I worked for the school system, I was as eager for a day off as were the children.

It was not a chance to sleep in. No, no! We were already up, checking to see if it was a snow day. It was a time to celebrate, to drink hot chocolate and eat cinnamon toast. Then we put on layer after layer of warm clothes, caps, scarves, and gloves, and out we'd go.

Our children and their friends made snow angels on our front lawn. A group of us, children and parents alike, rolled big balls of snow to stack one on top of another to form beautiful Frosty snowmen. "What can we use for a nose?" someone asked. "Eyes?" We gathered a carrot for a nose, sticks for arms, prunes or big buttons for eyes, caps, mufflers, and everything we could think of to make our creation the best.

In the meantime, we collected pans full of the cleanest snow we could find and when we'd had all the outdoor play we could stand, we made snow ice cream. A few of the neighborhood children ate their first snow ice cream at our house. Um-m-m, good.

Actually, we shoveled walks, too. But somehow that memory melted away, like the snowmen themselves. Isn't shoveling a little snow worth it, to have so much fun?