I had a special gift planned for the new neighbors. This summer, a new family had moved in at the end of the cul-de-sac. And right away they started taking care of the little pine tree at the end of the street. The tree was brown ‘cause no one had cared for it in a long time. The new people just trimmed it up and started watering it, even though it wasn’t really on their property. Now, as the holidays approached, the sad little pine had bloomed into a pint-sized Christmas tree. Even better, the new neighbors took time to decorate it. It was wrapped with lights, and giant lighted candy canes brightened the entire end of the street.
Every evening as my mom cooked dinner, I would watch out the kitchen window, waiting for the new neighbors to turn on their Christmas lights, and the pine at the end of the street would begin blinking all the holiday colors. So when my teacher, Mrs. Heffron, challenged our class to surprise someone with a special gift this Christmas, I decided to thank the new neighbors.
With my savings of two weeks allowance, I rode my bike to our corner store and bought a tin of hot cocoa, the kind my Grandma always made for me. I wrapped the cocoa best I could. It didn’t look as nice as mom would have done, but I wanted it to be a surprise of my own. Now, it was hidden under my bed. Tonight, on Christmas Eve, when everyone on our street was in asleep, but before Santa and Rudolph came, I would leave the present under the tree at the end of the street.
But first, we visited next door for Christmas Eve dinner with the Marinos. The Marinos invited neighbors every year for their traditional holiday dinner, zupa de pesca, which is soup with seven kinds of seafood. I’m always amazed by the tiny octopus and clamshell things in the zupa. My mom never cooks fish, so to me it’s a strange adventurous feast.
This year, in addition to us neighbors, Mr. Marino invited a friend from his work, a younger man he called Brian, or O’Brian. Mr. Brian was staying the night there, but he was leaving on a big trip in the morning. So the Marino girls would be sleeping in their parents’ room, Mr. Marino and the guest would stay in the girls’ room. The little girls were so excited about the house guest arrangements, they kept moving their toys and pillows between bedrooms like they were going on safari to their parents’ room.
Mr. Marino was sick, and he left the dinner table early to go to bed. Then Mrs. Marino poured a glass of wine and said she guessed that she would have to help Santa all by herself. I offered to help Mrs. Marino wait for Santa, but my mom said we were all tired and had to go home right away. That was fine with me, I had my own plans.
I said Merry Christmas and goodnight to my parents, and went to bed still wearing my clothes. I set my alarm for 11:30. This would give me plenty of time to get my coat and gloves, retrieve the present from under my bed, deliver the gift to the little tree, and be back in bed before Santa came.
Thanks to the warm zupe, I slept really well, despite my excitement. The alarm startled me awake. Maybe I could just stay in the warm bed, get up early and deliver the present before….no. Middle of the night was no time to change plans. I could only find one glove in the dark, but I got the present, and got out of the house without waking anyone.
Christmas Eve was cold and clear. All the neighbors had left their holiday lights on to welcome Santa. It was a perfectly quiet night. No dogs barked, and there was no snow or leaves to crunch under my sneakers as I walked through the neighborhood. Not to fast, footsteps would disturb the quiet. Not too slow - it was cold. Is this how Santa felt? No, Santa would hear jingle bells as he delivered presents. My delivery was silent and short. I left my package under the tree, and then went back up the sidewalk back toward my house.
That was when I saw the odd light by the Marino’s house.......
Part II coming Tuesday, December 20th, thanks to TQPM.
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