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Stories, Poems and Humor
Left Book O, Holy Night
by Stirsman, Maureen
Right Book

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Group: Stories
Language: English
Copyright ©2004 Maureen Stirsman

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Gifford was not the athletic type. He tried football and although he was built big enough, he was not quick. He was tall but he didn't care much for basketball or baseball, except as an observer. In seventh grade he joined the string class, where he learned to play the violin on a school owned instrument. By tenth grade Gifford was in the high school orchestra and he loved it. His mother never had to hound him to practice.

Mr. Eric Holland, Gifford's dad, was a farmer. He took comfort in believing that if times got tough he would always be able to feed the family from the fruit of the land. Even though there had been difficult years, Eric's credo proved true and his family never went hungry.

The Hollands and Bella's family, the Lucianos, had been well to do, but sadly they both lost everything in the stock market crash of 1929. Anthony Luciano walked the streets for three months, and then the first week of April a heart attack struck him down. He died before he hit the ground while still wearing his good executive suit and black leather shoes. His gold watch was in the pawnshop and Nancy was left to raise two sons and a daughter, blue-eyed Bella.

Bella Luciano and Eric Holland were very much in love when they married and that devotion lasted until the day they died. Hard work was their life, but music played a big part in their leisure hours. The twins, Judy and Connie, took piano lessons while Gifford was becoming a skilled violinist.

Gif mowed lawns in the summer, shoveled snow in winter and delivered newspapers. He was able to buy things he wanted for himself during the year and still have money for his family and his auburn-haired girlfriend, Josie, at Christmas.

Gif was chosen for both district and state orchestra in the tenth grade. One of the guest conductors, who had placed him in second chair, asked, "Gifford, have you ever thought about buying a good instrument? The school violin is fine for beginners but I think with your talent you might be able to get into the junior philharmonic if you have a better instrument." Gif couldn't bring himself to ask his father for money. A prolonged drought yielded a meager crop that year. So Gif began to save his money for a better violin.

It was Christmas 1940. Gifford was sixteen years old. Bella knitted sweaters for each of the children and was baking cookies and breads in earnest. One night in the second week of December, after the children were in bed, Eric and Bella sipped last cups of coffee and munched on sugar cookies. "Are you through shopping?" asked Eric.

"Almost," Bella answered. "I need something more for Gifford. I would like to get him something special. Do you have any ideas?" Bella asked taking a sip of coffee.

"No, not really. Why don't you think about it?" said Eric. While Bella put the cups into the sink her mind started working.

The next morning Bella turned to the classifieds. St. Stan's church was having a rummage sale. Thirty minutes later she was dressed and waiting for her best friend, Gladys.

After supper Bella said, "Eric, I went to a sale today."

"Did you find anything for Gif?"

"I did see a violin I liked the look of, but I didn't really want to spend the money. They mark things down the last day. Maybe I'll go back tomorrow and see if it's still there."

The next morning Bella took the city bus back to the church. She walked around the room and was about to give up. Someone must have bought the violin. Then she saw the musical instruments on a table in the corner. The women had just marked everything down. There was an old snare drum, a stringless banjo, some yellowed sheet music and a violin. Bella opened the case. She didn't know a lot about musical instruments but the rich smell of the wood and the rosin was alluring. She picked up the bow. It needed restrung. It was a fine looking violin as far as she could tell, and it was half price from yesterday. "I was holding that for an elderly gentlemen, but he didn't come back. Are you interested?" the woman in the green smock said. "Brother Giles said it was a good instrument. He used to play a little. He tightened the strings yesterday and played a tune. It sounded nice. But I guess it depends on the person," she said laughing.

When Bella stepped onto the bus she was carrying a black violin case.

Everyone was happy with their gifts on Christmas morning. Each of the children had presents for the others and their parents, paid for with baby-sitting and paper route money. Bella held the violin back to the last. "I don't know how good it is, Gif. Try it," she said.

Gifford Holland tucked the black chin rest under his chin, stretched his arm, smiled at his family and picked up the bow. 'O Holy Night' sounded like a sweet angel voice. .

"I think he really liked it, don't you?" Bella asked her husband when the children had gone to their rooms.

"Oh yes. It was a great idea. Hopefully next year the crop will be better and we won't have to scrounge for gifts. But the violin was a good find, you got it at a good price."

Then Gifford came back downstairs. "Mom and Dad, the violin is just exactly what I wanted. It looks like a

Nice instrument. I will show it to Mr. Swartz. But I want you to take this." He held out a small wooden box that had his initials wood burned into the lid. "It's twenty-four dollars. I have been saving to buy a violin."

Bella put her arms around their son. "No, Gif, this is a present. Keep your money," she said.

"We love you. Now, Go to bed," his father added.

Gif carried the box back upstairs and put it on the closet shelf next to the black violin case. He went to bed with a song in his heart and the violin on a shelf in his closet. It was a holy night!

Bella and Eric turned the lamp off and sat by the light of the Christmas tree. "It was a good Christmas after all. Let's just sit for a minute and enjoy the glow. Who knows what next year will bring." Christmas 1940 was to be the last good year, but tonight was a holy night.

1941-Fire and War

Bella and Eric looked over the scant pile of gifts. "Well, we have always tried to teach them that material things aren't important," Eric said with a sigh.

"I know, but I wish I could have done better." Bella put colorful paper, saved from last year, around each of the three gifts. "I have the purses I crocheted for the girls, too and those sequined pins I made."

It had been a bad year. Eric thought sadly of that early morning on the first day of spring when he awakened to Max' loud barks and scratching on the bedroom door. Then he heard the girls and Gifford shouting!

He tore open the bedroom door to the pungent smell of burning hay. The barns were on fire! By the time the girls were downstairs Gifford was dashing out the door. "Get the hose!" Eric shouted! Gifford was already at the

barn door, pulling a garden hose, vainly trying to get water to the inferno. But it was futile. The neighbors had called

for the volunteer fire department but it was already too late. The barn and silo burned to the ground. The lucky part was the wind was blowing the other way and the house wasn't touched. It was a night they would never forget.

Yes, the house was saved, even though everything in it smelled of smoke. But all Eric had worked for had vanished. A year's labor and profit was gone like a sacrifice.

The crop that year didn't fair well either and by fall the family was suffering. Luckily Bella had canned most of the garden's produce and they were never hungry. By October Eric feared foreclosure. He had insurance but it seems he had underestimated. Gif and the girls took jobs but it wasn't enough. And-a lien was put on the farm. If they didn't come up with something they could lose it all.

Christmas was coming. They would read the Bible story. Gifford would play his violin. They would open their gifts and they would go to church. It would be okay.

Then when it seemed things were as bad as they could get the worst happened. Three weeks before Christmas, on December 7, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared war against Japan!

Gifford Holland was seventeen, in the eleventh grade, and concertmaster in the high school orchestra, first violin.

1945-Losses and Gains

Young men lined up at the recruiter's office in answer to "Uncle Sam wants you!" Three of Gifford's uncles were serving in the Pacific theater. His neighbor's young son volunteered for the Air Corps. And Gifford wanted to go. On the day he graduated from high school he headed directly to sign up, to the pride of his father and Bella's tears.

Gifford quickly made the transition from boy to man. By the last year of the war he had been in three major battles. On the last day of the third one a screaming shell hit him in the arm, just below the elbow. Medics tried to stop the bleeding and succeeded in getting him to the field hospital. Busy triage nurses lined soldiers up according to seriousness of their injuries. Gifford waited in line on the gurney with one of his comrades by his side. Then a young nurse, who couldn't have been nineteen herself, took him to surgery.

The shell hit below the elbow and quite a lot of damage was done. Gifford was considered fortunate to only lose his right arm, the arm that held the violin bow.

Meanwhile on the home front Eric was playing catch up with his bills. Luckily he didn't lose the farm. His Uncle Frank had recovered better than Ed, Eric's father, had after the crash of the stock market. Frank had one daughter. On his death last year when the will was read Eric was left enough money to pay his creditors. Not enough to change the family's life style, but enough to prevent losing the farm and enough to replace the barn and silos.

Gifford came home on the first day of spring, but there was no spring in his step. He was still a young man, only twenty-one years old and the sleeve of his right arm was pinned up. For two weeks he kept to the house, pretty much in the bedroom with the cowboy wallpaper and the window overlooking the driveways and the new barn.

His high school friends came to try to comfort him. Arnie Banks, who had lost both legs in battle, came the third day. He was really able to talk to Gif. He had been home for six months and was learning to work with wood. "Hey, I can work from my chair. You'll be okay, kid. Just wait. There are still things you can do. Maybe you should think about getting a prosthesis"

Gif learned to do everything left handed. It was hard to tie his shoes, so he bought loafers. It was hard to learn to write with his left hand, but through trial and tears he did it.

Josie came after he was home a week. Connie said she always asked about him. "I think she doesn't know what to say." But she came. She had an armload of lilacs. Bella opened the door and greeted her cheerfully.

"Gifford, will you please come down? There is someone here to see you." Gif had seen her car through the bedroom window. He didn't really want his high school sweetheart to see him, but he combed his hair and slipped a clean shirt over his head. Taking a last glance in the mirror he came down stairs.

"Gifford!" Josie said, a tear starting down her cheek. "Gif, I missed you so much." And she was in his arms. Gifford held her so close he could feel the beat of her heart. She was as gorgeous as he remembered and she was holding him tightly.

"I missed you so much, too," he said. "You haven't changed at all. You're just as beautiful as when I last saw you at the train station." He didn't know that Josie had five different outfits lying on her bed, before she settled on what she wanted to wear today. She had labored taming her stubborn curls and getting her makeup just right. She hadn't changed. But he had. He was no longer a kid. He was a man, a half a man, anyway. But when Gifford saw her his heart pounded and they never noticed when Bella slipped away leaving them at the kitchen table. Two hours later when she came in to start dinner Josie stood up. "Oh my, look at the time. I didn't mean to stay so long. Gif, will you come to my house tomorrow? Mom wants to welcome you with a homemade dinner. You know her famous lasagna and her chocolate cake." Gif looked at his mother. She smiled.

That night Gifford climbed the stairs with a lighter step. He looked into his closet to see if he had any civilian clothes that fit. Then he saw the brown box that contained the money he saved on his paper route next to the violin case. He opened the black case and held the violin up by the neck with his left arm. He looked again into the mirror and put the violin under his chin. Then he slowly and deliberately put it back into the case and put the case on the highest shelf in the closet. He wouldn't need that violin now, not now-not ever.

"You should have sold that fiddle, Mom, when things were so tough. I know it wouldn't be a lot but it might have helped a little. It's not a Stradivarius, but who knows?"

"We would never do that, honey. That's your violin. We gave it to you for Christmas, remember?"

"I know, Mom, but what does a one armed man need with a violin?" Then for the first time Gifford Holland cried. Bella held her son in her arms like she did was he was a little boy, not that many years ago.

Gifford and Josie were married on New Year's Eve, 1945. Christmas was full of final plans for the wedding dress, the rehearsal dinner and tuxedos. Connie and Judy wore Christmas-green velvet dresses. Eric attended his son as best man. A string quartette played the bridal march. The musicians had practiced early in the day and left the instruments in the front of the church. One of the children ran through and knocked Danny's instrument off the chair. It would be repairable but he was without a violin. At Gifford's request Judy quickly got his violin from his bedroom and Danny never missed a beat.

That would be the last occasion the violin would be played for a long time.

1960-Debts and Traditions

Josie was frantically finishing shopping for Joshua and the twins, Carol and Marlene. The girls were fourteen and Joshua twelve. The girls were all girl, make-up, boys, and clothes. Josh was the athlete that his father had never been. It was a hard year-again. It seemed all of their fifteen married years had been hard. Josie never dreamed what lay ahead on their wedding day. All she knew was that she loved Gifford completely, unreservedly. After the war he was fitted with a prosthesis and wore it when he went out but he never really got used to it when he was in the fields. Josie quit pushing after the first six months. Gif worked on the farm with his father, helping as much as he could with one arm, still feeling a little sorry for himself.

One day that first summer, Arnie came back to visit. The vets talked. "Don't you ever feel wronged, Arnie? You gave yourself for this country. Does anyone care?"

Arnie leaned forward in the wheelchair and put his hands on the arms. "I did in the beginning, Gif. Sure, I asked myself that question. But look, my children, they're worth it all. Carla and the kids live in freedom, go where they want--to church, to shop, on vacation. That's what it's about, man. Freedom! I would have given not only my legs but my arms too for my family, my country to be free. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and live, man!"

That was the day that changed Gifford. He didn't just help his dad; he worked along side of him and became a farmer in every sense.

Arnie's business was booming. He had the right idea. Freedom is not cheap.

Then in the spring of 1950 Gif convinced his parents to take a vacation while he took care of the farm. He was more than a little surprised when they agreed. Gif was able to manage everything without his father, even though the days were long. Joshua would be there after school and on the weekend as Gif had been with his dad.

But on Wednesday of the vacation week two police officers came to the door. Eric and Bella had been hit head on by a drunk driver and died instantly.

A dark cloud of grief hovered over Gifford's home, next to the farmhouse. Now the farming was all up to Gifford. The farmhouse was sold for a fraction of it's worth to a retired couple that moved there to be near their children. Houses were hard to sell and Gifford was probably lucky to sell it at all. Eric had recovered from the difficult years behind him but evidently he had made some financial mistakes and the estate was small by the time it was settled.

By Christmas 1950 the outstanding bills were paid and Eric and Bella's children had received their inheritance. Connie and her husband, Dave, both taught high school. They had no children. Judy was divorced, mother of little Taylor Grace, who had her father's blue eyes and red hair. Chris decided he was not ready for marriage; a thought that occurred to him after he and Judy celebrated their sixth anniversary. Connie used the money to remodel their home and Judy took some college courses.

Gifford was left with the farm and little else. The farm had never thrived and at times he wondered if he should just give it up. But what else could a man in his situation do?

They would survive. He was thirty-six years old and strong, in spite of his war injury.

The family went to candlelight service on Christmas Eve. The girls had spent the afternoon in their bedroom giggling. After the gifts were opened and the scripture read Joshua said, "I guess this is tradition, isn't it, Dad?"

"Yes, I guess so, son."

"What other traditions did you have when you were kids, Mom and Dad?" Marlene asked.

"We always made our gifts and wrote a prayer for each person, then we put the prayer in the present," Josie said. "Tell them what your family did, honey," she said to Gifford.

"Pretty much the same as we do now," he said. Then he thought a minute. "Except I did play the violin after the gifts were open."

"Cool, Dad. Why don't you do that now?" Joshua said.

"Josh!" Carol looked at her brother as if to hush him.

"Because I can't play with one arm, son. It's okay, Carol. It doesn't bother me anymore," Gif told his daughter.

Then Josie left the room quietly and returned in a few minutes with the black, leather violin case. "At least we should put this on display for Christmas." She lovingly placed the old violin on the stereo. And that became a new Christmas tradition in the Holland home.

The next year was another hard one financially. Not only were the crops scruffy but also the old Ford and the tractor gave out and had to be replaced. That was before the furnace died of old age. It was hard to get ahead. If only there was someway to get a loan. Last year Gif put a second mortgage on the farm. He had nothing else to sell. And the girls were almost ready for college.

Things had not improved by the end of 1961. Gif struggled to pay the bills at the end of every month and sometimes had to put off paying someone, making humbling phone calls-making promises he hoped he could keep. Then Gifford saw the violin and wondered if it could possibly bring any money if he packed it up and took it to the pawnshop in the next town. He went into lunch with a heavy heart. Afterwards he had to make a trip to town and when he came back Josie had the tree down and the decorations back in the attic. Gifford put the violin in the back of his mind.

1999-Recollection and Hope

It seemed it had always been a constant struggle to keep up with the bills. Gifford was seventy-nine. Four years ago he and Josie celebrated their fiftieth anniversary. He remembered her on the day he married her. She had always held her weight in check, and consequently was still a lovely woman, even now almost eighty. She was in good health, as was Gifford. They both took numerous pills everyday, although a lot of them were vitamins. They both wore eyeglasses and Gifford had a hearing aid. Now he was beginning to resort to a walking cane. He had worked the farm until his seventy-fifty birthday, although Joshua never allowed him to stay too long in the fields. Gif said the sun kept him young.

Josie was the only survivor of her siblings. Gifford's sisters and Josie went to Ireland several years ago. Gifford never wanted to go back to Europe. He had spent enough time there in the trenches, and he left part of his body there. Connie and Dave had retired from teaching, but both still did some tutoring. They never had children. Judy never remarried, but Taylor Grace was grandmother of four. She had been married to Jon for ten years when Johnny was born. The family planned for Christmas 1999.

"Polly wants to have Christmas Eve at her house," said Josie. "It's fine with me, but I would like them all to come here first for a glass of punch. Is that all right with you?" Josie put her small wrinkled hand over Gif's big one.

"Only if you like the idea. I wouldn't allow those girls to hurt you, honey," Gifford said.

"No, no, I'm fine with it, as long as they come over here first. Polly has made the house so beautiful and Christmassy. It will be fun."

Gifford sighed, "I know. They have changed the house so much. I am proud that Josh wanted to buy it when it came up for sale. My mom would have been glad to see my son's wife in her kitchen. But they never could have done it if her father hadn't left her all that money. Joshua sure couldn't do it with what we make on the farm."

"Gif, aren't you happy for them?"

"Of course I am. It's just that the farm never really made it. I will never have anything to leave to my kids." Gif put his face in his hands. "I never really did anything. I never had enough money to buy you anything really nice. I could never take you on trips. It was always 'put everything back into the farm'. Sometimes I just hate this land." The old gentleman's shoulders began to shake.

Josie put her arms around him, "Gifford, Gifford, please don't say that. I have always had everything I needed. I never asked for furs or jewels, have I? You gave me everything I ever wanted. You gave me your love. Don't you know how much I love you?"

"I'm seventy-nine years old. What do I have to show for my life but struggle, working in the fields from daybreak to sunset, always fighting to keep the wolf from the door?"

Josie sat back down in the chair and looked into her husband's eyes. "What do you have to show for it?"

Gifford shook his head still looking down. She said, "Now just you listen here. Look at me when I am talking to you," she said sternly. "Look at this house. Have we been happy here? Have we given our children a good life with Christian values? Did you ever question your father and what he left to you? I don't mean the farm now, Gif."

Gifford smiled slightly. "You're right, honey."

Okay, now you listen to me," she said. "Yes, you might have had more to leave them-if you hadn't given the hundred dollars to the people who were burned out, or the money you gave to the missionaries over all these years, or all the needy people who crossed your path who needed money for medicine, or rent, or what ever. Yes, you might have had an inheritance to leave to the kids if you hadn't insisted on putting all that in your 'God's money' envelope."

"Oh, Josie, you know I had to do all of that stuff. Maybe some people took advantage of me sometime but I would rather be taken advantage of than the one doing the devious thing. Besides if I never had a penny I wouldn't rob from God."

"Exactly, and I am with you one hundred percent, you know that. Look what you do have to leave our kids; integrity, honesty, kindness, a love of God and family. Look at the three of them."

"You're right, as usual. They are all three of them that. Still."

"Now, drink your coffee. Today we bring the Christmas decorations out of the attic."

Joshua's sons, Luke and Matt put the lights up on the two big pine trees in the front yard. The girls, Annie and Matt's twin, Ruth, helped Josie decorate the tree in the living room and the rest of the house.

That night Josie said, "Let's just sit here for a minute and look at the tree before we go up to bed." She turned the room light out and they both sat down on the sofa and looked at the tree. Gifford put his arm around his wife. "It has been a long time, hasn't it Mrs. Holland?"

"Yes, dear, and a lot of trees." She began to laugh, "Do you remember the year we got that cardboard pink stove and frig set for the girls that you thought you could wait until Christmas Eve to put together?"

"Yes, how hard could it be? And the year you and I tried out that game on Christmas Eve and the kids heard us laughing and came out to see what we were doing?"

"It's been a great life, Gifford. It's been a great life and I wouldn't have changed a thing."

Over the years as Carol, Marlene and Joshua had grown and established lives of their own they tried to help their parents with money, but Gifford was such a proud man he would never allow them to do that except at Christmas, and then as a gift, only at the holiday.

"We're okay, honey, we never had a lot, but we had what God has blessed us with and that is a lot more than material things," Josie said.

"You're right of course, as always. I don't know what came over me this morning. Just feeling sorry for myself, like I did when I came out of the army. I'm sorry for causing you any pain, honey." Gifford stood up slowly and held his hand to his wife to help her. He reached for his cane and before he turned the tree light out he saw the violin on the stereo. "Wish I could have played that thing, though." He switched off the lights and said, "Come on, baby, let's go up. It will be 5:30 before you know it."

"Oh you and your farmer's hours. I wish you could learn to sleep in."

And Josie fell asleep in her husband's arms. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve and she had a lot to do.

2004-Grands and Treasures

"Gram, I can't wait for you to meet Alan. You will love him. I' m sorry you weren't here last week when I brought him over. But tonight you will meet him. I can't wait, Gram," Ruth said excitedly. But that was Ruth all over. It was hard to believe Joshua and Polly's twins were twenty-three years old. Ruth was an accomplished artist. Her watercolors were proudly hung in homes of the well to do from here to Chicago.

She had taken her training in Ohio, and now her father had built a studio upstairs in the farmhouse, in the room that had been Gifford's. Joshua put in a skylight and Ruth said it got the afternoon sun perfectly. She had paintings on consignment in the finest shops in Chicago. She had been engaged when she was in graduate school but it fell through before the wedding invitations were sent.

Polly had said Ruth was very interested in someone. "I'm sorry I missed you, sweetie. I was at the hairdresser. You wouldn't want Alan to see me like I was would you?"

"Gram, you're the most beautiful woman I know," the young lady said hugging her grandmother.

"Where is this beautiful woman?" Gifford came into the kitchen, his cane clicking on the floor. He went to the cupboard and got himself a cup and poured some coffee.

"Grampa, I can't imagine how you can do all that by yourself," said Ruth.

"I have learned a lot over the years, how to get along with one arm." Gifford smiled to himself. He had long ago forgotten that he was handicapped. Since that day Arnie told him to stop feeling sorry for himself, he had determined to rise about it. Arnie died just last week at age eighty-two. He had a heart attack at his workbench, just the way he wanted to go. He had been a friend for years. A lot had passed since that day on the farm. Arnie had a very successful business to leave to his sons, who worked along side him all these years. Gifford on the other hand had his house and half ownership of a farm that never really made it. But his family by no means went hungry with the garden and all.

Josie's voice brought Gif back from the past. "They will be here tonight. You haven't forgotten it's Christmas Eve. Our anniversary is next week."

"No, Madam, I have not forgotten. What do you think I am, an old man?" he said smiling and shaking his head.

Ruth kissed them both goodbye and ran next door. During the course of the day the other grands came over to ask if there was anything they could do to help.

Marlene and Basil lived in the city thirty minutes away and Gif and Josie had seen their children raised. Basil bought the feed and grain store when he and Marlene first married. Eric, at age twenty-one, worked with his father. Steven attended the local college and joined them on weekends. Linc was in his last year of high school and about to join the National Guard. The three of them came over at 3:30 on this Christmas Eve. "Dad closed up early and Mom kicked us out." They all sat eating Christmas cookies and chitchatting with their grandparents. As they were leaving the telephone rang, "Hi, Mom, we're at Marlene's. Is there anything I can do for tonight?" Carol said. It was an easy ride from Chicago where they lived. "We just got here."

Josie put the finishing touches on the table decorations. "I think I'll take a nap," Gifford said and went upstairs. "Next house we get will all be on one floor."

"Right, old man, probably just one room, too." Josie said. "Hey, God is good, right?"

"Right, madam, as usual."

If they had been on the other side of the farmhouse they would have seen two cars pulling into the driveway, but that would have spoiled the surprise.

By 5:30 Josie the punchbowl and hors d'oeuvres on the table and turned on the Christmas lights. It was time.

And they did come, Joshua's family and Carol, her husband Dean with their daughter Melissa, with Marlene and Basil and the boys-the young men. Gifford couldn't help but think of them as boys. Ruth introduced Alan to the whole family. He had brought a five-pound box of Ghirardelli's chocolates for Josie.

Josie took everyone into the living room around the tree. The house smelled of fresh pine, candles and cookies. Josie wore the lovely, flowery, new perfume Gifford had given her this afternoon and a green Christmas sweater that showed off her soft, white, curly hair. She wore a beaded comb that her mother had worn on special occasions.

Gifford was about to close the kitchen door when he heard someone yell, "Merry Christmas, Gif!" Connie and Dave came from Joshua's house along with Judy and Taylor Grace. A wonderful surprise! The whole family was together.

They drank the punch and coffee and ate appetizers. They admired the tree. "Don't eat too much. Polly has worked all day on dinner," Josie warned but she was pleased that her hors d'oeuvres were a success.

"Don't worry, Gram, there won't be anything left when this crowd is through," Luke said and they all laughed.

They talked about Christmas past, back to when Connie, Judy and Gifford were young. "Remember the Christmas Mom made sweaters for all of us and she bought the violin for you?" Judy asked Gif. They talked about the violin and Melissa said, "Too bad no one can play it."

"That's not quite true," Ruth offered. "Alan can. Alan, would you mind? Is that all right, Grampa? You know Alan is a musician."

"I would really like that, honey. Alan would you? I think it is in pretty good shape. Although it will need tuned. Can you play 'O Holy Night'?"

Alan picked up the violin and plucked the strings tuning them. Then he picked up the bow, put the instrument under his chin. The room quieted. Ruth looked on admiringly. He drew the bow across the strings that had been silent for so long. The melody was sweet and clear as a bell. It was as though a messenger from God was playing the old violin. When Alan lowered the violin he propped it on his knee. The women had tears in their eyes, and Gifford smiled. Then his tears came, too. "I could never play like that, son, even if it was a Strad." He put his hand on Alan's shoulder.

Alan put the violin back on the stereo and touched the old man's hand. "Well Mr. Holland, I have something to tell you. Remember when Ruth brought me here last week? Well I saw this instrument then and I couldn't be sure, so I didn't say anything but since then I have done some research. In fact, Mr. Holland, this violin is an old Italian instrument made in the sixteenth century. It is a very rare and very valuable violin."

"My goodness, Alan, are you sure?" Marlene asked.

"Yes, I am very sure. Do you see this mark inside?" He took the violin and showed it to her and to Gifford. My sources tell me this instrument is worth a lot of money."

"My goodness," said Josie, her hand on her chest. "What kind of money, a couple of hundred dollars, do you suppose?"

Alan laughed, "Try fifty thousand, Mrs. Holland."

The family gasped as one. Then some of them began to laugh, "Gramps, do you hear what he's saying?" Ruth asked. "You have a treasure here!"

Gifford scratched his head, "I hear you but I'm not sure I know what to think. Did you say fifty thousand?" He drew Josie close to him.

"Alan, are you positive?" she asked.

"I am. Last week Ruth took some pictures of the violin and I verified everything. It is worth that much, maybe more if you sold it at auction."

"Hey, Alan, can you play, ."

A little later the family moved the party next door to the farmhouse. Connie and Judy stayed behind to put the dishes into the dishwasher. Gifford came back into the kitchen where his sisters were finishing. Josie had already gone over. He sat down at the table, "Come on, Gif, we have to go," Connie said.

"Wait a minute, let me catch my breath. Sit down a minute." He shook his head. "Can you believe all this? Do you think he's right?"

"Yes, I think so," said Judy, "He never would have said it if he wasn't sure. What are you going to do, sell it or not?"

"Think what that money would have meant to Dad and Mama when the barn burned or when the crop failed, to say nothing of Josie and me. She has had to scrimp all of our lives because I couldn't give her things."

"Josie has everything she wants, Gif. You should know that," Connie said.

"What are we going to do now that we know? We don't need anything more than we have. We will have to think about that one."

Polly's dinner was fabulous, the house was decorated like a magazine spread, but had the comfortable Christmas feel of family. The gifts were opened. Alan said he had something else to say. "What could top what you already told us?" Luke asked.

"That was great news before, but now this is wonderful news for me. Ruth has agreed to become my wife." Everyone hugged the newly engaged couple and welcomed Alan into the family.

As they all began to settle down with cups of coffee Dave asked, "Well, Gifford, what are you going to do with your new found wealth?"

"Josie and I have not had a chance to talk," he smiled at his wife and put his arm around her shoulder. "We don't really need anything, but I am inclined to sell the violin. There are places the money could go. Our church is in a building program. Beulah Nordson in going to the mission field. The homeless shelter needs money. Lincoln is about to start college."

"Stop! We get the picture," Connie said putting her hands up.

The young people separated into the parlor; the older generation around the tree and Polly went into the kitchen for more coffee. "He's right, we'll have to talk," said Josie. "I'm still stunned but I am inclined to agree with Gifford. But it's his violin and it will be his choice. However it would be nice to keep it in the family. We'll have to pray about his one."

Polly came in with the coffee on a tray and a box under her arm. "When I was cleaning for Taylor Grace to come to stay in that upstairs room I came across this box, Dad. I meant to give it to you before, but I forgot when we redecorated and I never thought of it again until today." Polly handed Gifford a box with his name wood burned into it. Gifford opened the lid and there were his treasures. There were some Boy Scout badges, an Indian arrowhead, a violin tuner and some money. This was his twenty-four dollars that he had saved to buy a violin. He took it out of the box. "Isn't this a weird thing? I was saving to buy a violin when my mother bought that one for me at a rummage sale. Imagine!" He put the money back.

Dave took the box. The money was in bills and change. He lifted out some of the coins, examining one. His face turned pale as he asked. "Gifford, are you ready for another shock? Do you know what this coin is? It may be worth half as much as the violin." Dave's hobby was coin collecting. "I have seen people pay big money for one of these."

"If what he says is true, maybe we can keep the violin and still have the money." Gif said his voice cracking. The crowd in the kitchen began to laugh. "All of a sudden we, who had the least of anyone may become wealthy people! Could you ever imagine it?"

They laughed so loud the young people interrupted their game and came in. "What's going on in here? You people are getting way too loud," Annie said.

Ruth was snapping pictures of the elders with her new digital camera. "For posterity," she declared. "Gramps, you and Gram, smile. I want to get a picture of the day you got rich." Ruth continued to snap.

Joshua said, "This has been quite a day. I still feel as though I'm dreaming. First the violin, then Ruth and Alan engaged, now the money in the box. What next?"

"Anyone else need a picture for posterity?" Ruth invited.

"Does expecting a baby qualify?" Johnny asked.

Again-hugs, tears, happiness. This was quite a Christmas.

When everyone was settling down, the young people went off their own way and the middle generation brought out an old monopoly board, 'just for fun' "I'll get you for all those rents on Park Place, Joshua," Marlene said laughing.

"Never you mind, just put the money on the board," he replied shaking the dice.

Judy and Connie and Dave went upstairs to the familiar old bedrooms and Polly and Joshua finally retired to the sound of laughter coming from the kitchen.

Next-door Gifford sat on the bed in his pajamas waiting for his wife. "I always liked that nightgown on you, honey," he said smiling.

"So are we I guess. We are old as dirt."

"Yes, but rich, don't forget that, Gifford. We are rich."

"We have always been rich, honey, maybe we just didn't know it."

Josie turned off the lights except for the candle in the window. She climbed into bed next to her husband. "It was a good Christmas after all, wasn't it? Who knows what next year will bring."

"Christmas 2004 was good. Tonight was a holy night." Gif said, then, "But the best is yet to be. Good night, baby."


Remember to seek the real treasure.

2004 Maureen Stirsman

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Additional Information

Maureen Stirsman has just published, (self-published) a Christmas book of short stories. The two on our site are in it. The following story is the first one in the book and a great deal longer than the others. The name of the book is, 'Once Upon a Night in December'. The last chapter of the book was written by her husband, Tom, "The Ultimate Gift of God." It is the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom Christmas is about. "The Paper Route" is, incidently a true story about her husband when he was a boy.

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