All across the mantel were pine greens and cones and red bows.
The bows were not velvet as seen in some of the more affluent homes but were made with more love and cheer than most of the velvet ones. These bows however, were of a simple
cotton and heavily starched so they looked crisp and bright.
To one side of the fireplace was a wood-box freshly piled
with split wood for warmth through the night
and for the morning water pot.
That's the same wood box where little toes perched
in order to reach the nail where a little stocking was hung.
Next to that little stocking was a slightly larger one,
but no perch was needed to hang it.
And between those two stockings, there was a happy feeling
that wasn't there the day before.
To know what brought that happy feeling about,
we must back up to the day before.
That little stocking usually warms the foot of a little girl
named Alice who has all of 6 years to her name.
The larger of the two stockings is that of her brother Billy
who is a very grown up 8 years old.
Billy had worked hard all year trying to save
for a cake with white sugar and icing on it.
He was studious but had a sweet tooth and been saving all year
so that he might buy a ten-penny treat.
As hard as he worked, he was but able to save 7 pennies.
He was just a boy after all and those willing to pay a child
for his labor were few.
The day before Christmas with scorn in his heart for himself and the disappointment of not having a ten penny treat by Christmas
as he had planed, Billy sat on the front step in the cold feeling sour and rolling the pennies in his hand. As he was feeling such, his mind eventually wandered to Alice and what she might be thinking about Christmas. She never seemed to mind
that there might be so little for Christmas.
It was then that an idea occurred to him.
He arose and headed into town.
He went directly to the stationary shoppe where old Mr. Watson
tended to customers wishing for specially cut cards and notes with script his young eyes could not yet read.
He spoke to Mr. Watson with some hesitation and explained his situation. He thought if he couldn't have what he wanted, at least Alice should have some happiness on Christmas morning.
She loved to draw and Billy knowing she had some papers
hoped to find some colored pencils for her. Every chance she had, Alice would walk through the store gazing in awe at all the finery and colorful papers. After divulging his narrative rapidly for fear of it being rejected, he waited to hear a response.
With large knowing eyes, Mr. Watson stood looking at young Billy silently for a moment.
He paused then said he thought he had just the thing
for a young budding artist and showed him some pencils that were 1 penny each.
Billy bought seven of them, one black and one each of the six basic colors. He thanked Mr. Watson as he put the pencils in his pocket and left the shoppe to return home.
Mr. Watson watched Billy as he walked down the street.
It wasn't until another customer broke his thoughts with a question that he returned to his present task.
That evening Father read from the Bible how the baby Jesus
was born in a stable and wise men came to visit then he and Mother sent Billy and Alice to bed with Christmas in their hearts.
Ever so quietly as Alice was doddering to her bed, Billy
quickly pulled the pencils from his coat pocket and dropped them in her little stocking then followed quickly after her to his own bed. They both shut their eyes with great anticipation for the following morning.
It was still dark when their eyes did open. Only a faint light marking the beginning of the shortest day created shadows of trees and mountains out the window.
The two raced to Mother and Father's bedroom to wake them
for it was Christmas morning.
Pulling themselves out of bed with the help of two excited children,
Mother and Father also rose.
They entered the parlor and Father got the fire going while Mother lit a lantern since it was earlier than they usually awoke.
She put the water on as Father said, "Well, let's see what we have here." He took the stockings from the mantel and handed them to their perspective owners.
In each, there was an orange and a peppermint stick.
Oh but there was more.
Alice put in her small hand and drew out a whole handful of beautiful new pencils. And Billy drew out three pennies.
Mother and Father looked at each other since
mothers and fathers have a way of knowing certain things.
The children looked bewildered.
Alice appeared more shocked than pleased causing Billy to question whether or not she liked the pencils.
"Don't you like your pencils?" Billy asked with a sinking heart.
"Oh Billy, they are perfect."
"Then why don't you look happy?"
With the awkward grace of a six year old, she blurted,
"I took my papers in to town to trade them so you could get 3 more pennies and have your ten penny treat."
Billy now had the same expression as Alice.
They both looked at Mother and Father.
Father is the one who spoke, "Well, I'll be. You two seem to have read each others mind. Maybe just as the baby Jesus couldn't yet use the gifts He was given, you aren't meant to use your gifts just yet. They are gifts of love just the same."
Still slightly bewildered how it all worked out but happy in their hearts, the family dressed and prepared for the day.
As they were finishing their breakfast,
there was a faint knock at the door.
Father rose to answer it, but when he did, there was nobody there. Instead at his feet was a small bundle. He looked around once more, but there being only a cold wind and no snow, he could not even see tracks as to which direction the package might have come from.
He took the bundle inside and placed it on the table to open it.
The family gathered watching in wonderment as Father revealed sweet potatoes, some papers, and a ten penny treat. Now this part stumped Mother and Father for they could find no sign of who left such a gift.
But back in town, there was one wide eyed old man with a very happy and knowing heart.
And that Christmas day,
there was great joy for both sides of the mystery.