A Christmas story based on the events of 1959 in the life of the author:

Mrs. Heiden started her Sunday School lesson with a twinkle in her hazel eyes.

"Boys and girls," she began soberly, "I want you to think real hard about a question I'm going to ask in a minute."

Everyone turned to face their beloved teacher, waiting for her question. "What is the best Christmas present you have ever received?" she finally asked.

There was an unusual silence for several seconds as the children considered how they would respond. Some of the students tried to remember their presents from last Christmas, but for most of them, that information had slipped from their minds. Others were sure that this was a "trick" question and that Mrs. Heiden had a "religious" answer in mind. While her class was quietly thinking, Mrs. Taylor shared with them the story of her most memorable Christmas.

"In 1959, I was 7 years old," she began. "My family lived in Michigan then, where every winter is cold and snowy. We had recently moved to a new neighborhood and I was now attending a new school. I had not had time to make many friends yet, and I missed my cousins and old friends who now lived far from me.

"Just after Thanksgiving my dad lost his job. His employer said that he didn't have enough work to keep Dad on the job. Although he went out looking for work every day, there did not seem to be any jobs that were suitable for him. Each day, when my sister Donna and I got home from school, Dad seemed sadder and sadder. He hardly ever played with us any more, and he went to bed awfully early each night.

"Soon after this, Mom started to give us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for supper each night. We were surprised by this change. Donna asked her why we didn't have chicken or spaghetti for supper any more, and she told us both quietly and firmly that with Dad out of work, she couldn't buy very many groceries. She made it quite clear that we would have to learn to be happy with whatever she could afford to buy. Mom seemed angry with us for asking her about it, so I made a decision not to question her again.

"As Christmas approached, Donna and I were excited about having a vacation from school, but even baby Mary seemed to recognize that our home wasn't as jolly as it usually was at this time of year. Everyone seemed to feel an emptiness. We didn't giggle and have hot chocolate any more—a favorite snack of mine. Mom never baked. Toast with a spoonful of jelly was our usual after-school snack during these days. There was no money to purchase extra treats.

"Two weeks before Christmas, Dad left with his rifle on a hunting trip. He took our only car, which made it a very lonely time for the rest of the family. A kind neighbor took Mom to the grocery store, but the rest of the time we were trapped at home. The weather forecast told us that it would be very cold, and to save on heat we wore sweaters and scarves in the house. With so much time inside, Donna and I argued constantly. Mom tried to ignore us, but much of the time she was very impatient. I was sure that Christmas would be ruined. We couldn't visit Grandma. Mom hadn't baked in weeks. We had no tree, no decorations, and with Dad gone we couldn't even go to Sunday School.

"On Christmas Eve, Dad returned without the deer he had hoped to shoot. There was no money for gas, for food, or anything else. Worst of all, there were no friends to enjoy, and no cheer.

"That evening, though, the most amazing happened. As it was snowing and blowing outside, we were startled by a hard knock on our front door. Before Dad could open it, we heard music. Opening the door, we saw several neighbor families surrounding the front of the house as they sang Christmas carols for us. Hearing them filled my heart with excitement. After they sang, Mom invited them inside the house to get warm. In they trooped with cookies, treats, thermoses of hot chocolate, and a wrapped present for each of us girls—even baby Mary. I saw one neighbor press an envelope into Dad's hand as his wife hugged Mom. Mom cried, Dad smiled, and we girls squealed with delight as we tore our presents open. I received a beautiful doll with long dark curls just like mine. I named her Gloria and took her with me wherever I went."