(an old-fashioned Christmas story)
Valorie Bender Quesenberry
Jacquelyn Benson stuffed her hands into the pockets of her blue serge coat and shivered. Of all days for Billie Sue to be late picking her up! Of course, things were likely much more hectic at Haskill’s Dry Goods, this being Christmas Eve. And at least Billie Sue had a dependable car. Jacquelyn was very thankful for the ride. That old truck of Pop Benson’s would never make it into town every day.
She supposed she could have waited inside the newspaper office, but after Mr. Townsend’s words today, she felt a little awkward being around him. Oh, he was a perfect gentleman, of course, but his offer to help her with Christmas for her family just didn’t set well. Probably it was more the way he looked at her than the words he said. She’d sensed that he was interested in more than a good employer/employee relationship, and she wasn’t ready for that. Maybe she never would be. And she didn’t think she could ever see him in that way for that matter.
So, Jacquelyn stood on the sidewalk and shivered for a few minutes before she realized that she could just walk over to Haskill’s and wait there for Billie Sue to finish her day. The snowflakes were falling faster than they had been while she worked this afternoon. They were starting to accumulate in the waning light. It really would be a good idea if they got started for home soon; the country roads were bound to be treacherous if this continued.
Pausing in front of Haskill’s store, Jacquelyn looked at the displays in the window. It was crammed full of toys – red wagons, bouncy balls, teddy bears, shiny fire engines and electric trains, and of course, several dolls.
She’d love to get one for Janie. She imagined her little girl’s delight and it almost hurt. The paycheck just didn’t stretch that far; the little tea set she’d selected from the catalog would have to do. Maybe there would be a doll next year. But, as she turned away from the window, her disappointment squeezing the breath from her, she knew next year was another step away from little girlhood. Janie was growing up so quickly; soon she wouldn’t even want dolls. Still, it took all of them working to keep the farm going and food on the table. It was taking the whole family to replace Joe. And yet, they couldn’t really even do that. He had been so many things to all of them, and now there was only emptiness in his place.
Jacquelyn straightened her back and turned the knob to Haskill’s, walking inside to the jangling of the bell on the door. Billie Sue looked up from behind the counter.
“Hey, Jackie. I’m just counting what’s in the cash drawer. I’ll be ready in a jiffy.”
“Oh that’s okay. I decided to walk down here instead of waiting at the office.”
Billie Sue sighed. “Has it been busy here! You’d think nobody shopped for Christmas until the day before!” She grinned. “Of course, we all know that’s exactly what a lot of them do!”
Jacquelyn smiled back. “I suppose you’re right.” She fingered the sleeve of a soft gray coat. It was beautiful and looked so warm. She glanced at the tag and let the sleeve drop. The blue serge would have to do for a while longer.
Billie Sue was pulling on her coat and scarf and gloves. “You ready then? We’d better move; I hear there’s quite a bit of weather coming.”
Sergeant Lewis was going to kick a fuss when he got back to headquarters. The police car was not only cold; it was also in great need of new tires. Supposedly the department kept up with the maintenance on the cars, but Frank Lewis was sure someone wasn’t doing his job. Of course, it could always be a shortage of supplies. Rubber was at a premium for war material; new tires were probably hard to come by, even for the police department.
As he skittered and skidded down still another country lane, Lewis blew on his hand to try to warm it. He leaned over to flip the heater switch again. No use. The heater wasn’t going to give in.
He beat his hand on the steering wheel, momentarily distracted when he heard a loud pow. He touched the brakes to prevent losing control from the blowout, but the road curved sharply to the right and in his moment of frustration, he hadn’t maneuvered correctly. With a sickening thunk, the vehicle dropped over the edge of the road deep into the ditch. Snow enveloped the windshield as the car sank down into the drift.
Sergeant Lewis sat in disbelief. One thing was sure; he wasn’t going to make it to the officer’s Christmas party.
Janie and Gramps were stomping around in the barn as they settled the sacks of feed. Since moving here in the spring, Janie worked a lot with Gramps, before and after school. Some people thought that barns were stinky and dirty, but Gramps had always told her that a barn smelled like Christmas. The baby Jesus was born in a barn, right there by the cows and sheep and donkeys. So there must be something special about being close to the animals, feeling their warm fur and watching them munch on the hay. Though Janie was glad she had a bed with a thick quilt to bundle up in at night, she was certain she could get use to a bed in the barn if she had to.
Gramps had pulled his old Chevy close to the barn doors and he was pushing the feed sacks out and Janie was trying to tug them closer to the pile inside. The sacks needed to stay dry during the winter, and Gramps was very particular about where they were stored.
She was leaning down to grab a corner of burlap when movement down by the gate caught her eye.
“Helloooooo. . .. “
A big man in dark clothes was walking toward them, waving his hand.
She cupped her hands. “Gramps.”
He looked up, panting from the hard work. “Huh?”
Janie pointed. “Somebody’s coming.”
Gramps held onto the side of the truck bed and jumped down to the ground. He brushed his pants off and straightened up to meet the stranger coming up to them.
Janie saw now that the man had on a police uniform. But he wasn’t one of the sheriff’s deputies that she’d seen around the county. She watched him go up to Gramps and put out his hand.
“Lewis, state police.”
Gramps shook his hand hard. “I’m Harry Benson.”
The officer nodded. “Mr. Benson, I wonder if you have some kind of vehicle to help me get my patrol car out of a drift. I had a blowout and wound up in the ditch. I’d be glad to pay you for your trouble.”
Gramps shook his head kindly. “No need to pay. Be happy to help you out. What do you say we go inside and have a cup of coffee, then I’ll see what I can do. You look a mite cold.”
The officer smiled. “You won’t have to ask me twice. Thank you. The car is having a bit of heater trouble too.”
“Sounds like you need more than a tow then.” Gramps turned toward the house and put his hand on Janie’s shoulder. “This is my granddaughter, Janie.”
“Hello, Janie.” The officer looked down at her. He was pretty tall, but he seemed nice, though to Janie, he looked a little sad.
“Janie, run tell your Granny to put out two cups for coffee.”
“Okay, Gramps.” Janie scooted off toward the farmhouse. Wouldn’t Joe David be excited to see a policeman in their own kitchen?
To be continued next week . . . .