Ch. 59 I Hate Christmas

"I Hate Christmas"
Steven G. O'Dell (C) 2010
There are some things only Christmas can heal.

"Why won't you come have Christmas with us?"

Widowed Melanie Mortenson was puzzled by Ralph Hansen's response to her simple request to join her family for Christmas. He was alone, as were some of the others in the neighborhood. She was alone, too, except for a daughter and her neighborhood friends. It made sense to her to have a get-together so no one would have to sit alone and mope over the holidays.

"Because I hate Christmas."

Something in his manner belied the words themselves.

"I don't believe you, Ralph."

"What?" He looked stunned.

"You heard me. I don't believe you."

Her hands were on her hips now and she looked genuinely perturbed.

"How can you...."

"Oh, stop it, Ralph! You're just shy, that's all. You don't hate Christmas."
Now it was his turn to appear perturbed.

"How can you know that? If I say I don't like Christmas, then I don't like Christmas; that's all there is to it. Now, if you'll be so kind as to leave me alone...."

He moved as if to suggest he was escorting her to the door, but she made no effort to follow. Her hands were still planted firmly upon her hips.

"Ralph Hansen, I am shocked and disappointed with you. How can you say such things? Didn't anyone ever teach you it's wrong to lie?"

Ralph opened his mouth to speak and abruptly closed it again, not knowing quite how to respond to her last comment.

"Sit down, Ralph. We're going to sort this out once and for all." He didn't sit immediately and she became more insistent, pointing firmly and abruptly to where she expected him to light. "Now!"

That did it. Ralph sat, knowing he would have to listen to whatever tirade Melanie was about to level at him. It was well known she was a strong-minded woman, having necessarily become so upon the death of her husband. There was nothing but to tolerate her lecture and then get on with his life, making some excuse that might be more acceptable to her. He stared at the floor, waiting for the condemnation to come.

"Ralph, you can't expect me to believe you don't like Christmas, let alone hate it. I know better. I've seen you in action."

He shot her a puzzled look.

"Yeah, you've been found out. All year long I see you doing for others. When I brought you brownies, I found you in my front yard a few evenings later, picking some weeds before they got too large for me to deal with. You thought it was too dark to see you."

His face reflected a sheepish embarassment now.

"Then there was the scraping and painting you did for Helen while she was in the hospital. You hoped she wouldn't know who did it."

"You didn't...."

"No, of course not! What kind of person do you take me for?" She shook her head in disbelief. "And I saw you fixing that bicycle for Tommy Nolan. Then you made sure that Dale's paper was off the sidewalk where the boy tossed it and that it was up on the porch so Dale wouldn't have to chance a fall by coming off his porch. You can't tell me I'm wrong about that."

"Well, no, but that has nothing to do with Christmas, now does it?" He did his best to appear stern and resolute.

"Oh, pish-posh! It's the same spirit of kindness all year long and you have it, Ralph Hansen, in great abundance. And don't you deny it. either. I know your heart. There isn't a mean bone in your body. So, what's the real reason you claim to hate Christmas? Tell me." Her voice became suddenly more tender. "And tell me the truth."

Ralph's eyes began to fill with tears and he found it hard to breathe.
"Christmas was the favorite time of year for me and for Jeannie. I haven't been able to stand the reminder since she passed away." And now he broke down and began to cry for real, burying his face in his hands. Melanie stood and placed a hand on his shoulder to comfort him.

"We all loved Jeannie, Ralph. How could we help but love her? Still, what would she think of you sitting here alone on her favorite holiday? Do you really think she would approve? I don't. She was always out seeing neighbors and wishing them happy holidays and singing carols and baking cookies and whatever elese she could think to do to make Christmas the most special time of the year. She would still be doing that if she were alive...and so would you."

He nodded his head in agreement. It was true. Jeannie would be ashamed of him being such a hermit.

"Alright, then, is it settled? You'll join us?" She raised her eyebrows in anticipation.

Ralph started to shake his head gently, but Melanie tilted her head in a disapproving manner and he recanted reluctantly.

"Good. Ralph, you are a good man and it wouldn't be right for you to be miserable on Christmas. Nor would it be right for you to deprive others of your company. Not only do we miss Jeannie, but we miss you, too, ya' know." Her smile told him it was true.

Once Melanie left, Ralph sat for several minutes with his eyes closed in silent prayer. You could hear a pin drop as he thanked his Heavenly Father for such wonderful friends and neighbors. And then he waited patiently for an answer to a question. When it came, he smiled broadly in appreciation and closed his prayer. Then he got up and began to gather the necessary materials from his backyard and garage to make several gift wreaths for his neighbors' doors. He could feel Jeannie's spirit with him and it made him smile all the more. It was time to heal and time to feel again. And what better time to do so than Christmas, Jeannie's favorite holiday?

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