“Here Billy, drink some of this, this is tater soup. It will make your throat feel good and your belly warm,” Joy Atkins said to her six year old who had the flu. “Drink it son and maybe tomorrow you will feel good enough to go back to school.

“Momma, Momma, I got to go. Momma I got to go,” came the wail from her other son, seven year old Joe, who also had the flu.

“Just a second Joe. Momma will be there, just a second.” She turned to adjust her son's covers, but staggered as her fever was high. She too had the flu. “Lord, please don’t let Paul catch it,” she said as she helped Joe to the bathroom. She cleaned the little boy, got him some clean pajamas and led him back to bed. Billy was sleeping.

She went to the kitchen and opened the fridge. There was only a quart or so of milk and two shriveled apples. A bag of carrots and a pound package of hamburger. She had not been able to work with both boys sick. She hoped she would still have her job at the plant when they were well enough to go back to school. Paul, her husband, worked for the county on a road gang. He drove a dump truck and if he got sick what would they do? It was Christmas and she had only bought a few things. There was no money for the kind of Christmas she wanted. She made a cup of tea and added two tsps of sugar and some lemon juice. Oh, she felt horrible.

“Momma, reckon Santa will get to our house this year?” Joe asked. "Momma since you can’t work, we don’t have many groceries do we?”

She arose and slowly moved to her oldest son. “It will be OK Joe, God will see us through this.” She smoothed his covers. Billy was still sleeping. She went back into the kitchen, got down on her knees and asked God to look over her boys and to show her a light so they could have some Christmas. They were good boys.

Finally, she arose and put the piece of hamburger in the skillet and started to fry it. She peeled some taters. She was cooking slumgullion as she called it. Just whatever she had and could find. She turned on the oven and mixed up a pan of cornbread. Paul liked cornbread.

While their supper cooked, she looked around the house, hoping she could find something to pawn or sell. Something with which she could get some money for groceries and maybe a little Christmas do-dad for the boys.

Her flute! She had completely forgotten about her flute...the sterling silver flute she had won in the state music competition. She, Joy Lee Sanderson, had been the outstanding high school musician in Ward County. 1994. She had been walking the yellow brick road that year, because along with the sterling silver flute she had been given a four year scholarship to the University. Her parent had been so proud of her, that is until she became pregnant. She had married Paul Atkins, who had always been in trouble. He had only attended school part time, but he had had a car and he had been so much fun.

The baby had been stillborn and they had lived in a small basement apartment at Judd Hearth’s place for four years, until they got this place, this small house they bought. Paul had settled down and become a good father, but since he only had a ninth grade education, his horizons were limited.

“Hi honey. You feeling better?” Joy heard Paul ask as he came in.

She ran to meet him. “How was your day, Love? Did you get cold, did the truck run OK?” Paul’s truck had some sort of malfunction that the men in the shop could not solve. It would stop on him, then and after about fifteen minutes he could start it and go on his way. His boss kept telling him there was nothing wrong with it.

They embraced and Paul gave her a passionate kiss.

“Joy, honey, you should be in bed. You have a fever,” he said as he put his hand on her forehead. “Go sit down. I can get us some supper. You look frazzled.”

“You have any money Paul? We are about out of milk and the larder is about empty.”

Paul looked at her, but did not answer.

“Oh, I made slumgullion and it will be ready by the time you wash up.” She arose and set the table for two. “The boys don’t feel like eating. Joe has the runs and Billy just lies there, saying nothing. I did get him to eat some potato soup,” she added.

“Today is Tuesday and I don’t get paid until Friday,” Paul said when he returned. They ate and chatted...chatted about everything but money, for Paul did not like to talk about money. As they always said, “A day late and a dollar short.”

“Joy, I can let you have thirty dollars. Sorry but is the best I can do.” Clive Dooley said. “I know it's worth a lot more, but in this town my chances of selling a silver flute are mighty slim.”

Joy took the money and slipped the pawn receipt in her purse. Then she went to the Safeway and spent twenty-one dollars on groceries. She bought some medicine. Finally, she went to the dollar store and bought a package of chocolate drops and a couple small toys. When she got home she hid the candy and toys in the back of the closet.

Billy was feeling much better and Joe’s runs had stopped. Maybe tomorrow or the next day she could go to work. She also thought about calling, or going to see her parents. They might help, but she had sworn not to ever speak to her mother again. Those caustic words her mother had spoken to her still ran through her head. Her parents had not spoken to her, sent a card, or even recognized their two grandsons. As far as her parents were concerned Joy, Paul, and their two sons no longer existed.

“You working all day today?” Joy asked Paul one morning several days later.

“Yeah, the boss wants to get that section of road out by the new plant paved today. It wouldn’t surprise me if we worked tomorrow, but it would cost the county too much money to get the batch plant opened,” he replied. “Man that would be neat. Eight hours of double-time tomorrow.”

“I hope not,” Joy said, “You should be home with your family on Christmas Day. You should be with the ones who love you.”

“Aw honey, sometimes you are just too good. You sound off with all of your religious thoughts. What has the lord done for us?”

“Paul, don’t talk like that. Please don’t talk like that,” she said. “We have two bright sons. We have our house and we have each other.”

Got to go. Want me to buy groceries on the way home or shall we go back after I get home?” he asked.

“Safeway may close early. You can come home and stay with the boys while I go,” she replied.

“Whatever,” Paul said as he finished his coffee. He kissed his wife and was off to work.

After Joy fed and bathed the boys, and after they fell asleep, she went to Safeway and spent what money she had. The walk made her tired but she felt much better than she had a few days ago. That afternoon she had helped the boys catch up on their school work. She tried to evade the Christmas questions both asked.

Five o’clock came and went. Six o'clock. Then seven. At a quarter past eight, Paul came home. He was half-gassed and was carrying a case of beer, along with a bottle of Jack Daniels.

“Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas," he yelled. He left the back door open. He sat down in his chair and immediately fell asleep, or passed out, either way he was out.

Joy got his coat and shoes off, then put a blanket over him. She wanted to brain him for staying out drinking. He had spent all that money on booze and most likely had left too little for food.

Joy had put up the decorations, and while the boys slept, she had gone down to the alley and cut a few small branches off a large fir tree. That, and the few toys she had bought, would be their Christmas.

She put the boys to bed and went to bed herself, crying herself to sleep.

“She woke up about two and checked on the boys. Paul was sleeping on the couch. She put the candy and two small presents on the coffee table beside her makeshift tree. Then she went back to bed.

“Momma, oh Momma! Come momma!” Billy yelled.

“Oh Momma, you got to see. Come see,” Joe yelled. The two boys pulled their mother from the bed. With the boys pulling her arms she accompanied them into the living room.

Joy stopped and nearly swallowed her tongue.

“Look at the tree, Momma!” Billy yelled in glee.

“Momma, look at the wagon! Oh Momma, Santa came. Santa was here,” Joe yelled.

All of the noise and yelling woke Paul up. He arose in a foul mood, for when Paul had a hang-over, he was a bear. “What the Sam Hill you yelling about?” he said.

The boys grabbed his arms. “Look Daddy. Look. Santa came. We have a tree and look at the presents,” Joe said.

“Yes Dad. You and mom said we were too poor to have Christmas,” Billy chimed in.

Paul turned to Joy. “Honey, how did you swing this? You rob a Mini-Mart?”

As they hugged, she looked into his eyes. “It was not me. You did it, you were supposedly all drunked up, and you stashed all this. Oh, Honey thank you. Oh, what a joyous Christmas.”

Paul looked at his wife. “Honey, I did not do it. I only made a dang fool of myself by drinking after work.”

They looked at each other. “Then who did?”


 


© By Tom (tomWYO@aol.com)

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Unearned Grace

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