When I came home from the grocery store yesterday I found an envelope taped to my front door. It was blank but sealed. I assumed it was a bill left by my landlord, so I laid it on the coffee table and went to work cooking supper. But about the time the beans came to a simmer curiosity got the better of me.
I retrieved the envelope and sat down in my recliner (I’ve learned that it’s best to be sitting down when I open bills lest I faint away and do myself some manner of bodily injury). However, when I opened it, instead of balances due and debts accrued, I found big bright letters scrawled in a child’s hand.
“Dear Santa,” it said, in waxy red crayon lines, “I have been good this year. I even made the honor roll. Mamma can’t be here for Christmas this year. She got in trouble. If you’re not too busy can you come early? Please bring me a puppy or a pony and a ipad to watch Paw Patrol on. Love, Riley.”
Riley is the 6 year old daughter of the girl who lives next door. A sweet girl, despite her circumstances. Jamie, the mother, can’t seem to kick her drug habit. And that recently got her jammed up with the law. Last week she told me that she had to do a six month stretch for violating the terms of her parole.
I put the letter down and picked up the phone and dialed Jamie’s number.
“I found a letter from Riley to Santa stuck to my door this evening.”
“Yeah, sorry about that. I didn’t really know what else to do. I figured if you saw it you might could help me.”
“Looks like I will have to report to jail early next week and I wanted a chance to have Christmas with Riley before I left.”
“What did you want me to do?”
“Well, I told her that if we put up Christmas lights on the house, decorated the tree, and sent a letter early that Santa might be able to come this weekend.”
“Oh you did, did you?”
“Obviously, I can’t get a pony, but my friend Jennifer’s dog just had a litter of puppies. She said I could have one if I came and picked it up. I just need a ride. And I found a tablet at the thrift store for $40. Do you think you could give me a ride? Oh, and maybe help me put up the lights on the house?”
“Yeah, I think I can do that.”
“Thank you so much.”
About half an hour later Jamie showed up at the house with a cardboard box and a blanket.
“This is to put the puppy in. Would you mind keeping it tonight? I want it to be a surprise.”
“I reckon so. But if we are going to hang lights we best get started on that before we run out of daylight.”
And with that we walked over and strung up a few strands of blue and white bulbs on the porch of her trailer house.
Riley was beaming.
“Do you think Santa will really come?” she asked.
“He just might,” I said.
I went home and fetched the pot of pinto beans, the skillet of cornbread, and a half-eaten pack of Oreo cookies.
“I brought some supper and cookies for you to leave for Santa,” I said when I walked back into Jamie’s house.
“Santa likes beans?!?” asked Riley.
“Well, the cookies are for Santa. The beans are for us.”
“I like beans!” she said.
Then I sang that ancient song that has delighted children for ages:
Beans, Beans are musical fruit,
The more you eat, the more you toot!
The more you toot, the better you feel,
So have some beans with every meal!
“Don’t toot too much!” Riley said, “Or it may scare the reindeer away!”
Miss Tammy, Riley’s grandmother, broke up the revelry.
“Riley, let’s go get you a bath and get you ready for bed. Santa won’t come if you ain’t asleep.”
Then she winked at Jamie and I as we made for the door.
When we got in my truck, Jamie turned to me with tears on her cheeks, “Thanks so much for this. I was worried that I ruined Christmas this year. I’m gonna do better. I’m gonna be better.”
“That girl needs her mamma on more than just Christmas, ya know. I’m hoping you can get clean while you’re away.”
“Me too. I have to.”
And with that, we were off to fill Santa’s goody bag.
That little tan pup didn’t sleep much last night, which means that I didn’t either. So at just after sunrise I grabbed the box and blanket and toted it across the yard to the neighbor’s house.
I knocked on the door and Riley, dressed in pink Barbie pajamas, opened to greet me.
“He came last night! He really came!” she hollered. “He brought me a ipad and a princess dress and a whole stocking full of candy!
“I know he did,” I said. “I think he got confused because he left something for you at my house.”
“He did?” she said, looking at the box in my hands through wide brown eyes.
I lowered it so she could see inside. The blanket was alive and wiggling.
“Is that…” she said.
“I don’t know. You’ll have to reach in and see.”
As she lifted the corner of the blanket, a wet black nose touched the back of her hand and she let out a scream, “It’s a puppy!”
Before I could even get in the house she had grabbed the dog out of the box, thrown it under her arm, and headed into the living room to show it off.
“Look, Mamma! Look, Mamaw! A puppy! I’m gonna name it Daisy!”
“I think it’s a boy dog,” said Miss Tammy.
“Well, his name is Daisy,” Riley said matter-of-factly.
“I guess that settles that,” I said.
Jamie went to the kitchen and retrieved what was left of the Oreos and whispered her thank you’s again in my ear.
“My pleasure,” I said. “Merry Christmas.”
I left the three of them sitting on the floor in front of a second-hand Christmas tree, smiling like they had just won the lottery. I am sure there will be plenty of hard times ahead for their little tribe, but at least they were happy for a while this morning. And so was I.
When I got back home, I retrieved the letter and wrote a few lines at the bottom before sticking it back into the envelope:
You sure have been a sweet girl this year. I hope you enjoy the puppy and the tablet and the beautiful princess dress. And all the candy in your stocking! But most of all, I hope you remember that your Mamma and your Mamaw are the best gifts you have been given. Give them lots of hugs and kisses. Especially your Mamma. Tell her she’s the best–she needs to hear that.
Then I slipped over and stuck it on her front door.