The Christmas Card – IOTW Report

The Christmas Card

A short story by Mary M. Isaacs.

     It’s like herding cats! Linda thought with a smile. Fortunately, she loved cats—almost as much as she loved the little children standing together in front of her. She was trying to line them up on the low platform that had been set up for them, and get them into order by height. They were wiggling and giggling, as always—both eager to begin and a little shy of the strangers who were coming into the room.

     Her Sunday School primary class (3- to 5-year-olds) had come to this nursing home to sing a few Christmas songs. For several weeks they had practiced and had also been busy making Christmas cards to hand out. The cards were made from all colors of construction paper, folded over, with stickers and drawings and their names, too, in various stages of legibility. Linda would have liked to add glitter—both she and the children loved it—but the nursing home had requested its absence. Linda recalled the first year she had come with her class for this singing, bringing along well-glittered cards. She clearly remembered how the glitter had mysteriously multiplied and spread itself all over the nursing home. She had volunteered to help clean it up. It had taken hours…

     This year’s unglittered cards were stacked in a basket on the floor near her. After the children had sung their Christmas carols, they would hand out their cards to the residents of the nursing home, who were now taking their places in the large room. The children’s parents were already sitting in folding chairs along the wall at the back, but the residents were still walking in, using canes, walkers, or moving slowly on their own two feet. One side of the room had many armchairs. Some were already occupied; it looked like they all would be, soon. The other side of the room had been kept clear. Orderlies were pushing in other residents who were in wheelchairs, filling up the empty space in rows.

     Linda had been bringing her Sunday School children to this nursing home for several years, at Christmas and Easter. The classes looked forward to it. It was an exciting trip to an unfamiliar place, and they loved singing together. And of course, they fully enjoyed making their cards.

     Finally, one of the administrators told her that everyone was there who was able to be there. Linda thanked her and then spoke to the children. She told them that it was just about time to begin. Several of them got scared looks, especially the youngest ones, but Linda smiled at them. “You all look so nice, and they will love to hear how beautifully you’re going to sing!” She meant it, too—she was so proud of them. They had all dressed in their best for this visit. The boys were in shirts with ties, some even with suit jackets. The girls had fancy Christmas dresses, and some had sparkly bows in their hair. Linda felt a rush of love in her heart as she looked at them.

     She turned and introduced them to the residents. “We hope you will enjoy our songs!” she added. “If you know the words, please sing along with us!” She then turned back to the children, whispered “Jingle Bells”, and raised her hand for a 1-2-3 countdown.  The program had begun!

     Of course, most of the residents sang “Jingle Bells” along with the children, and of course the children sang it as they always did, with a lot of enthusiasm.  Linda had picked that song to be first for those very reasons. She had the children sing it through several times, to give all the older people a chance to join in if they wanted to. The children were thrilled to hear their audience singing with them. Linda had anticipated that, too.

     When they finally stopped singing “Jingle Bells”, many of the residents clapped and made comments about how nice it was (some of them kept singing a little longer, but Linda knew that would happen. Let them enjoy themselves—they’re having a good time!) The children’s parents clapped, too.

     The children were delighted by the reception they got and sang the rest of their songs with spirit: “Away in a Manger”, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, and “Silent Night”. The residents loved every moment, and joined in singing every song.  Linda felt that they would appreciate an encore, so she had the children sing “Jingle Bells” one more time. This time everyone sang, including all the parents. Their combined voices filled the room with warm feelings.

     After all the voices had quieted down, Linda picked up her basket and addressed the residents. “The children have been very busy making Christmas cards for you. And they are going to give them to you, right now, and wish you a Merry Christmas!” She picked up the card on the top of the pile and read the signature. “Allie?” she called out and looked at the group of children. One of the pretty Christmas dresses stepped out of the lineup on the platform and took the card. Allie walked over to an elderly woman in a wheelchair and handed her the card. “Merry Christmas!” she said and smiled shyly. The older woman took the card but looked right into the girl’s eyes. “Thank you, dear—and Merry Christmas to you, too!” Then Allie skipped to the back of the room and stood by her mother.

     Linda picked up the next card. “James?” The tallest boy in the back row grabbed the card and gave it to a man sitting in one of the chairs, with a greeting and a grin. The older man took the card and said, “Merry Christmas! Such a fine young man!” James looked proud as he walked back to his parents.

     One at a time, Linda gave cards to the children and the children delivered them to the residents. She always started with the older ones now. Many of them had done this before, either at Easter or Christmas last year, so they knew what to do. The younger children could watch them and later follow their lead. Years ago, Linda had tried to start with the younger children, but most of them had become completely shy or scared. You live and learn! she reminded herself.

     Soon, most of the cards had been handed out. Linda called one little girl’s name and handed her the card she’d made. But the three-year-old stayed put, shaking her head. Linda bent over her and asked quietly, “Do you want to take your card home, Katie?” Sometimes a child wanted to do that; Linda never forced them to give it away. But the little girl shook her head even harder. “It’s for the grandpa,” she whispered, looking anxious.

     “You want to give it to your grandpa?” Linda asked her in a lowered voice.

     The little girl frowned and said, “No—the grandpa here!”

     Linda said, “Oh, the grandpa here! Is he in this room?” Another shake of the head was the only answer. “Is he somewhere else in this place?” The little girl nodded and looked pleadingly at Linda. “Should we go find him when this is over?” More nods and the beginnings of a smile. “Okay, why don’t you go sit with your daddy now, and we’ll look for the grandpa later.” The little girl smiled hugely as she clutched her card and ran to sit on her father’s lap.

     The rest of the cards were given out, but Linda still had a few in her basket. “A couple of our Sunday School children couldn’t be here today, but they made extra cards—is there anyone who didn’t get one yet?” A few people raised their hands and Linda gave each of them a card, with a personal “Merry Christmas from Robby!” or “from Grace” or “from Andrew”, whichever name was written on the card.

     When everyone had received a card, Linda said, “Thank you all for coming to our program! Merry Christmas to each one of you, and God bless you!” The residents slowly got up to leave or were pushed out in their wheelchairs. Many of them exchanged Christmas greetings with the children and their parents as they passed by them. Linda picked up her belongings and followed slowly, glad to see the interactions. After all the residents were gone, the parents helped their children put on their coats. Linda thanked them for coming. “I’ll see you next Sunday, in church school!” she added, as they left the room with their excited, happy children.

     Linda waited until the room was nearly empty, and then she turned to the small girl and her father. “Katie says she saw a grandpa here who wasn’t in this room, and she wants to give her card to him.” She looked at Katie’s dad questioningly. “Do you know who she means?”

     He looked puzzled for a moment and then said, “Maybe… When we came in the front door, there was a man lying on a movable bed in the entry hall. Katie seemed fascinated by seeing a bed that wasn’t in a bedroom, and she asked a lot of questions.” He looked down at his daughter. “Is that who you want to give your card to, honey? The man in the bed on wheels?”

     “Yes!” said Katie, as she slipped off her father’s lap and took his hand.

     “Well, let’s go find him!” said Linda. She put on her coat, put her purse in the basket, and they left the room.

     The three of them walked down a long corridor. As they came to the entry hall, Katie’s face suddenly glowed. A wheeled bed was parked against the wall; a man was lying on it. His eyes were closed and his arms were tucked under the blanket. His chest rose and fell regularly, Linda noted, thanking God….

    “Is this the grandpa you were talking about, Katie?” Linda stooped down and asked quietly. Katie looked up at her with a big smile and a nod, and then looked back at the man on the bed.

     Linda said, “I think he’s asleep right now, but I know he’ll love looking at your pretty card when he wakes up.”

     Katie’s dad picked her up and brought her close to the bed. She leaned over her father’s arm and put her card on the man’s blanket, right over his heart. Her face was very happy. “Merry Christmas! I love you,” she said in a whispery voice. Then she snuggled against her father and leaned her head on his shoulder, still smiling at the man on the bed.

     Linda looked over at Katie’s dad in surprise. He smiled at her, and then kissed his little daughter. “Come on, honey, it’s time for us to go home.”

     Katie took her eyes off the man and looked at her teacher. “Bye, Miss Linda!” she said with a little wave.

     “Good-bye, Katie—I’ll see you next week!” Linda replied. She watched as the man and the child walked across the entry hall and out the door.

     After a moment, she turned back to look at the sleeping man. He was still breathing quietly; Linda carefully repositioned the card so that it wouldn’t fall off his chest. I wonder what he’ll think when he wakes up and finds the card, she thought. Will he know that a tiny little angel has been here?

   She smiled gently to herself–and then she, too, walked to the door and left.

Mary M. Isaacs — A NEW Christmas story—copyright 2022, from a forthcoming book.

To enjoy and support works by Mary M. Isaacs, visit our left-hand sidebar and click on the image of the book, “Christ Child’s Lullaby” and “Holy Innocence“. Mary M. Isaacs has six volumes available at present.

6 Comments on The Christmas Card

  1. Merry Christmas to everyone here at iOTWr!

    With special thanks to BFH for graciously allowing my stories to appear here for so many years—and also to Claudia, for all her work in choosing great images and formatting and posting the stories.

    May God bless us all, and keep us safe, healthy, and strong in 2023.

  2. Ms. Issacs, you always seem to be writing from experience, experiences that ring true to me from my own.

    Nursing homes are incredibly lonely and boring places whatever else they are, generally filled with folks that are warehoused like defective goods, visited infrequently and often by people who seem anxious for them to die. Children on visits are often disarmingly sincere in their love of their grandma (MUCH more commom for superannuated ladies than men to occupy thus) and poignant and almost frightening in their naivete (“When are you coming home, grandma?”), but often intimidated by the unpleasant sights, smells, and sounds of the walking and often demented dying elderly that populates such spaces.

    I’ve been part of church groups bringing a service to these twilight dwellings. These services are very popular, but you start to realize that it is as much for the diversion as it is to make peace with the Lord they expect to meet in person soon. The group you meet for the Pentecostal service often was in the same room for the Catholic service just before, and stays for the Baptist service to follow. Some of this is mobility issues (you had orderlieS moving the chair bound, I often just saw one or two health aids for a roomful), some is buying traveller’s insurance (as though three communions in three different sects can ensure Heavenly passage ’cause ONE of them might be right), but mostly because what ELSE is there to do?

    But one thing about working in ANY capacity in a nursing home, especially with children, you touch on is;

    Don’t get too attached.

    The teacher was right to be relieved that the man wasn’t dead. The line between life and death can be crossed pretty undramatically in such places, and go unnoticed for quite some time due to understaffing, under training, and that most residents have no real emotional bond with their keepers or their fellow patients. This plays into you having “Grandpa” out on a rolling bed in a common area for an extended time, because people do get pushed aside and forgotten in such mileuss. I could totally see both this forgotten man and this concerned child existing in any assisted living facility any where.

    Seeing wizened folks busily engaged in losing their health, their minds, and their lives in a slow motion train wreck takes a minute as a concept for a child to get her arms around.

    We don’t know about Katie’s own grandparents. At her age, they are likely still hale and independent. I thoght for a moment “THE Grandpa” might be “HER grandpa”, except her father’s confusion about “the man in the moveable bed in the entryway” suggests it is no one known to him and, by extension, his daughter; and certainly the dad would have been far more vocal had The Grandpa have been King

    i half-expected some twisf ending, but no, just an old man slowly appraching his end literally set aside is too real, and sufficiently pathetic to need no embellishments. He doesn’t even wake up to tell us if he CAN wake up or no.

    Seems terribly real to me.

    Just remember that those folks didn’t stop being human when they became too weak to fend for themselves. That’s someone’s wife, husband, father, mother, aunt or uncle there, and a human being with human wants, needs, and desires.

    Thank you for this story.

    It seems all too possible to me.


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