12 Plays of Christmas: The Christmas Heart

‘Twas the night before the night before Christmas when a stranger entered a prewar building that in its heyday used to be a ballroom for the hoi polloi, a place where the common folk who couldn’t afford the ritzier establishments came to dance their cares away. The section of the city in which it was built was in a constant state of flux, so the ballroom eventually transformed into a department store warehouse, then a community center, and when funding and interest ran out and the neighborhood became a place police wouldn’t go after dark for fear of their safety, the abandoned and condemned property served as a makeshift shelter for homeless children.

Inside, it reeked of the stench of hopelessness and was packed to capacity with children covered in the grime of neglect, their young, despondent faces smudged with the soot of abandonment.

The stranger was a portly, bespectacled man wearing a red coat with white fur collar and cuffs, white-fur-cuffed red trousers, red hat with white fur, and black leather belt and boots. His nose and cheeks were red as roses and his white beard was full and seemed to roll in upon itself like a fluffy cloud. Despite his size, he maneuvered through the sea of children as quiet as the hush of evening.

Children who were up at the late hour woke those who were asleep but such was the aura of the man that none of them were alarmed or threatened by his sudden presence, and the sensations of starvation and being chilled to the bone were temporarily replaced with a sense of awe. It was akin to coming face to face with a real live unicorn or some other mythical creature.

Regardless of their ages, the children all gathered around and whispered his name, Santa! Kris Kringle! Papa Noël! Father Christmas! because it was apparent who the man was. Not an imposter from a mall or a bell-ringer from the street, this was the genuine article.

“Are you real?” asked a bedraggled boy in the middle of the crowd.

“Why, yes, Jude Herbert, I am as real as you are,” the one and only Claus answered to the boy’s delighted surprise.

“You know my name?”

“Of course, I know all your names,” the Keeper of the List nodded and began pointing to and naming every child in the room. “Alisha Moss, Finley Hopkins, Sienna Simmons,” and so forth and so on.

“Where’s your bag?”

“My what?”

“In all the pictures I’ve seen you always carry a bag full of presents,” said Dinesh Mehta. “That’s what you do, right? Give presents to kids?”

“The gift I have for you wouldn’t fit inside a sack.”

“He ain’t gonna give us no presents,” said Gabriel Ford. “When has he ever? I ain’t never got nothing from Santa Claus, have you?”

Glad and hopeful expressions dropped from the surrounding faces in rapid succession.

“It is true,” the Christmas Man, admitted. “I haven’t been able to get to all of you before today, but not because you are unloved or undeserving. I know this is a poor excuse but my resources are limited and I sincerely apologize for not making an appearance before today.”

“So, you’re gonna give us presents?” Hope Allison asked. “Really and truly?”

“Indeed I am, but first I want to ask you all a question: Where does all my magic come from?”

A multitude of hands shot into the air to a chorus of Ooo! Ooo! I know! I know! And those too impatient to wait to be called on, yelled, Magic food! Magic bell! Your magic hat! Pixie dust! Nicholas the Saint delighted in seeing them forget their worries for a moment and just be children.

He waited patiently until all the guessing had been exhausted before he cupped his red-mittened hands together and held them out.

“All good guesses but here is where all the magic stems from,” he said and opened his hands. Floating in midair just above his palms was the image of a heart, not a biological one but the type that people drew in pictures, but this heart was made of golden shimmering light.

“What’s that?” asked a young blond-haired girl.

“This, Shelina van der Schaaf, is a Christmas heart.”

“I want one!” exclaimed a small boy.

“You have one, Vasyl Vavera,” Sinterklaas said.

“I do?”

“Everyone has a Christmas heart.”

“I don’t have one,” young Yobanna Chukwumoge said, pulling all his filthy pockets inside out. “I don’t have anything, see?”

“That’s because you’re not looking in the right place,” Grandfather Frost said. From a pouch tucked in his belt, he produced a handful of dust and blew it into the air above the crowd. Instead of settling like normal dust, the shimmering particles hung in the air around the children. “What you need to do is open your hand, palm side up and place it in front of your chest. Now say to yourself, Show me my Christmas heart.”

The children all followed Pelznickel’s instructions and just above their palms shimmering hearts appeared. Some glowed brighter than others but they were all beautiful.

“This is the power source that keeps my workshops running, that helps my reindeers fly, that allows me to visit all the houses of children in the entire world in a single night, which is the problem. There are so many people in the world, new ones being born every second and the demand keeps getting bigger and bigger and it’s becoming more and more difficult to keep up, so I came to ask for your help.”

“But you’re Santa Claus and we’re just poor kids,” Kisanet Eyob pointed out. “How can we help you?”

“You may not be aware of this but all of you share the same wish. You all want a home, you want to be a part of a family, you want to be loved, and I have come here to give you that, with no strings attached.”

“But you also need our Christmas hearts, don’t you?” asked Zygfryd Zawadzki.

“I would like to borrow some of that energy, yes, and there are so many of you, I would only need a tiny bit from each heart. And you are free to say no, that will not affect my Christmas gift to you, you are all welcomed to share my home with me, and Mrs. Claus has hot baths and meals waiting for all of you.”

“Will it hurt?” asked Erick Santos Gomes. “When you take our hearts?”

“I’ll only be borrowing the smallest bit of energy. Your heart will be fine, Erick, you won’t feel a thing.”

The children began agreeing because they somehow knew Santa was telling the truth, but over the din of the excited children, Santa noticed the absence of one voice.

“Is something troubling you, Ruby Kirby?” Santa asked.

The children quieted down and stared at Father Christmas in befuddlement. They looked around to see whom he was talking to.

Over the heads of the throng he said, “If you said something, I couldn’t make it out. I’m far older than I look and my hearing isn’t what it used to be. Can you please come a bit closer?”

The crowd of children parted like the Red Sea and an emaciated little girl with dead eyes that held a thousand-yard stare, timidly made her way to the Christmas-Bringer.

“What seems to be the problem, my dear?” he asked.

“You need magic,” Ruby’s voice was as soft as pity. “I don’t have any.”

“Of course you do.”

“No, I don’t,” Ruby placed her open palm in front of her chest and said, “Show me my Christmas heart.”

The heart that floated above her hand looked more like the biological kind and it was not made of light but of rough metal with uneven edges, with scars all over it, and in places there were replacement pieces that didn’t fit perfectly, where it had been broken and improperly mended. There were also deep gouges where some pieces were missing.

The Christmas Kringle took a knee so that he was eye level with Ruby and said, “You may see a mess of scars, but I see a heart that has been battle-tested, a heart that has known love and loss, a heart resourceful enough to pick up the pieces of shattered affection and patch itself back together. And do you know how I know your heart is perfect?”

“How?” asked Ruby.

“Because that’s the exact same way my Christmas heart used to look. You may not know it to look at me now, but when I was your age I was a loner. Even in a crowded room, I was alone but it was mostly of my own doing because I did not seek out interactions with other people, in fact, I actively avoided it.”

“Why?”

“I guess because everyone in my life up to that point had let me down and abandoned me, so I made up my mind that I didn’t need anybody. But that wasn’t my destiny, you see. I met a couple who showed me that kindness towards others was such a fragile thing and it was never more than one generation away from extinction. Because it isn’t ingrained in our nature, it’s something that has to be taught and reinforced constantly by each generation, for once it dies, it is gone for good. Those who have known kindness have the propensity to show it to others, but where kindness was never known, only cruelty lurks.”

“So, you changed? But how did you do it?”

“By doing the hardest thing I ever had to do. I ignored all the negative voices in my head and I went out and made a friend, and that friend introduced me to his friends and before I knew it, I wasn’t by myself anymore.”

“But how did you do it?” Ruby asked again, not quite understanding his solution.

“You’re standing in a room full of people holding their hearts in their hands, what do you think you should do?”

Ruby hung her head, squeezed her eyes shut to stem the flow of tears, yet some sneaked past her eyelid defenses and rolled down her cheeks. She held her Christmas heart out in front of her and asked, “Will someone please be my friend and help me fix my Christmas heart?”

One by one the children took turns stepping up and touching their hearts to Ruby’s heart. With all that attention, she expected it to change but it remained metal and different from all the rest.

“It didn’t work,” a crestfallen Ruby said with tears welling once again.

“Didn’t it? Take a closer look,” the Holiday Sleigher suggested.

Ruby brought the heart up to her eye, “All I see is rusty metal.”

“But what about in the cracks? In the bits that are missing?”

And sure enough, Ruby detected a glow pulsing inside a metal cranny, keeping time with her own heartbeat. “Is that…?”

“It’s the birth of your new Christmas heart. Just like you, it requires time to grow but you need to take care of it, nurture and share it for it to reach its maximum potential. Can you do that?”

“I promise,” the little girl nodded and this time her tears were happy ones. “So, when are you taking us to your home?” she asked.

“Why, we’re already here,” said the jolly old saint. “If you don’t believe me, take a look for yourself.”

The children raced to the front doors and flung them open wide, and sure enough, the entire building had somehow crossed the magical Arctic Circle and was now sitting in the winter wonderland village in Rovaniemi in Lapland, Finland, the official hometown of Santa Claus.

“But how?” Ruby asked

“The magic of the Christmas hearts brought us here, even yours, Ruby.”

Ruby Kirby tucked her Christmas heart away and smiled ear to ear as Santa Claus lifted her in his arms and carried her across the field of soft powder snow to her new home.

And that just about does it for the 12 Plays of Christmas series. I want to thank all of you who followed me on this experimental journey. I know I run this phrase into the ground but, it’s very much appreciated. Oh, and…

MERRY CHRISTMAS! Wishing you all a happy holiday season (whether you celebrate or not) and may you receive the best gift of all: a wonderful life full of happiness, love, joy, laughter, tranquility and prosperity!

12 Plays of Christmas: A Letter to Santa

Maurice Weichert never appreciated gifts given to him by strangers as most of them were usually old tat, but once at an office party many moons ago, a forgotten-named someone, as a Secret Santa, heard that he liked to write so she gave him a stationery set which he thought to be quite impressive. It went unused, of course, because he lived in an era where handwritten letters had gone the way of the dinosaur. And how fitting it was that a dinosaur was now on the hunt to retrieve it.

He exhumed the set from the bottom of a box shoved in the back of the bedroom closet, and to his surprise, it was still in pristine condition. Clearing a spot on the dining table, he paired the parchment with two other gifts from long-ago holidays, a Montblanc pen and a glass of Gonzalez Byass Apóstoles Sherry.

Maurice wasn’t much of a drinker, which explained why the sherry remained untouched all these years but he required a bit of liquid courage so he downed the glass in one, poured himself another, uncapped his pen and commenced to write his letter. Having not written for quite a long while, his penmanship wasn’t as crisp as it once was and added to that fact was the tremor in his hand brought on by age and nervousness.

Dear Santa,

It has been ages since I last wrote to you and I realize that I am far too old to start doing it again but I am not requesting anything from you, besides the loan of a moment of your time. As the winner of the unluckiest lottery, meaning that I have somehow managed to outlive my parents, siblings, wife and all my friends, I could not think of another living soul who would care to read this besides yourself.

I am a lonely man.

You have no idea how this desolation of companionship feels, having no one to inquire about what is going on in your life or inside your head, no one to challenge your philosophies in a deep conversation, no one to hold you during the silent hours of the night when the mind buzzes with nihilistic inevitabilities, no one to protect thereby giving your life a sense of purpose, no one to hand control over to on the days when you are not quite strong enough, no one to occupy the dead spots and the void inside of you that books, music, television and movies are not capable of filling.

And then there are the visitations from memory ghosts of loved ones and special people and people who could have been special if only you had not gotten in your own way and run them off, ghosts of better times and better days that you would gladly give anything, even your immortal soul, to step back into and relive just one more time, ghosts of conversations when you said the wrong things to people who did not deserve it and were too stubborn to apologize for.

You have no idea how much it hurts to be isolated from the world at large, to know that you still have love to give but not a single solitary soul to offer it to, still have jokes to tell but no one to laugh at them, experiences to share and knowledge to impart that no one cares to hear.

What is a man to do when his life no longer has direction, and his spark has been doused a decade ago? What happens when he can no longer compartmentalize all the sadness, anger, guilt, heartache, hopelessness, and worthlessness? How does he stop his mundane existence from draining and crippling his soul as it makes his world grow smaller by the day and it gets harder to breathe and he can’t clear the fog from his head—

The pen dropped from Maurice’s hand almost as if in protest. This wasn’t the letter he intended to write. The plan was to create a magnum opus, the letter to Santa to end all letters, a missive that succinctly encapsulated his existence, but this…this was soppy cringe-worthy drivel. He would have to start it all over again, perhaps creating an outline this time to better organize his thoughts.

Crumpling the letter into a ball, he tossed it absently in the direction of the wire mesh waste bin…when a hand snatched it out of the air.

Standing behind him in full regalia was Father Christmas himself, jolly old Saint Nicholas, who said, “I’ll take that. It was meant for me anyway, wasn’t it?”

“Santa?” Maurice felt like he was having a hypnagogic hallucination, the kind that occurred during the transition between REM sleep and wakefulness.

“In the flesh, Reese,” Santa said. “Do you mind if I call you Reese? I’ve watched you all your life and calling you Maurice just seems so formal. You can call me Nick if you like, or Kris. Either one is fine.”

 “What are you doing here?”

“You wrote me a letter.”

“And you personally visit everyone who writes to you?”

“Not usually, no, but I had a little downtime and thought, what the heck?”

“But how did you get here?”

“The usual way.”

“No, I mean how did you get here so fast? The letter isn’t even written yet.”

“The final version hasn’t been completed, but I know when someone is writing me a letter.”

“That’s impossible.”

Santa patted his belly and said, “I can fit this bulk through any chimney without getting stuck or catching fire, can levitate back up said chimney by touching my nose and nodding, I know the names of every person on the planet and if they’ve been naughty or nice, among other things…and my instantly knowing when someone writes a letter addressed to me is the thing you’re questioning?”

“I guess you’re right. Well, I think you wasted a trip because I wasn’t asking for anything, I just needed to air a few things out.”

Santa uncrumpled the letter and read it to himself. When he finished, he said, “Your feelings are valid and even though you think I don’t understand what you’re going through, believe me, I do. And you’re not alone in feeling this way, especially at this time of year. You’re also not dead yet, and what I mean by that is stop acting like you are. If you take good care of yourself, barring any accidents, you’ve got, at the bare minimum, twenty good years ahead of you. Years that you can make count for something instead of rotting away in a mausoleum of the past.”

Maurice was about to speak when Santa raised a hand to stop him. “Can we discuss what you didn’t get around to including in the letter, Reese? I’ve been at this a long time and have received millions of letters similar to this…”

There was a knock at the apartment door.

“I thought we’d have more time,” Santa said with a sigh. “You should get that, it’s for you.”

“Why did you sigh?” fear struck Maurice’s heart like a match. “I don’t like the way you said that. Who’s at the door?”

“Only one way to find out.”

Maurice approached his apartment door the way a hazardous devices technician approached a suspicious package. His hand hovered above the knob until he could muster the courage to open the door, and there he saw…

A frazzled woman, roughly his age, maybe a little younger, with shoulder-length silver hair, wearing a red and white Santa cap with the words Merry Christmas emblazoned on it.

“Hi, my name is Davina, and don’t worry, I’m not a crazy person, well, maybe a little, but fun-crazy not scary-crazy, I even wore the Santa hat to prove that I’m basically harmless, see?” Davina offered a toothy grin and pointed at the hat. “Anyway, I’m new to the building, your next-door neighbor, actually, and I hate to be a bother, especially so close to Christmas because you’re probably wrapping expensive presents or preparing some fantastic meal or binge-watching your favorite show on Netflix, or something important like that, but I really need to use your phone. It’s not a long-distance call or a phone scam to steal your identity or a call to some expensive sex chatline or anything weird like that, I just moved in today and I’ve got no electricity, gas or phone. It was all supposed to be on when I got here, but you know how these utility companies are, they get around to it when they get around to it because you’re always on their time and not vice-versa. So, would that be okay? Using your phone?”

Davina’s introduction was as rapid as machine-gun fire and Maurice stood in stunned silence for a long moment attempting to process it all. When his brain finally caught up, he said, “Um, sure. The phone’s just this way.”

He let her into the apartment and his brain began working overtime trying to invent a reason for Santa Claus to be sitting in his home, but when they entered the living room, Saint Nicholas was nowhere to be found.

“I’m so glad you’re home and you’re nice, you are nice, aren’t you? I think you’re nice and I’m usually a good judge of character, except when it comes to boyfriends, but why would you need to know that? I’m sorry, I tend to be a chatterbox when I’m nervous which is practically all the time, anyway, what was I saying, oh yeah, I’m so glad that you’re home and you’re letting me use your phone. I would have used my cell but the battery died while I was on hold with the electric company and I couldn’t recharge it because, you know, no electricity. Speaking of which, would it be okay if I charged my phone here?”

“Sure, the socket’s right by the phone.”

“You are a lifesaver, and I promise I’ll be out of your hair in no time.”

“It’s fine, take your time, no rush,” Maurice said still in a haze but he was present enough to remember his manners. “I’m not a coffee drinker but if you don’t mind tea, I can put the kettle on, or can I offer you a glass of water or juice, perhaps?”

“Oh, no, I don’t want to put you through any additional trouble.”

“If it was trouble, I wouldn’t have offered.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive.”

“Then tea would be lovely, but nothing with caffeine, please. You wouldn’t want to see me all jittery, trust me.”

He had absolutely no doubt about that. “The phone’s all yours, pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable.”

In the kitchen, Maurice found a note taped to the tea kettle, written in perfect cursive on his stationery, which read:

Much like yourself, Davina has always remained on my nice list, but she’s gone through a bit of a rough patch recently and could use a friend who specializes in kid glove treatment. I know it’s a huge imposition and I wouldn’t dream of asking if I had any other options available to me, but I was wondering if you could help me out on this one as I simply don’t have the time or resources to handle this matter in the manner which it deserves. I would owe you big time and you never know when calling in a Santa favor could come in handy.

Oh, her utilities will be turned on in two hours, which should give you plenty of time to make her acquaintance.

Thanks for the assist, Reese, and Merry Christmas!

Love,

– Santa

PS. If you decide to write me a letter next year, please put out some cookies and milk. The Missus has me on a strict diet and the only time I get to snack is when I’m out on business.

12 Plays of Christmas: When The Snow Fell

When the snow fell, a man and woman became lost and wandered into the village where I was born. They were aware of just how fragile the planet was with too many people packed too close together. Human beings were hurting Earth and this village was one of those tiny and oh so very poor places in the world unknown to cartographers that was struggling with overpopulation.

The couple had been on an excursion to find their souls and instead found a half-frozen little orphan girl whom no one could afford to take in, and that day I found a family because even though the man and woman hadn’t planned on having children themselves, they believed in their hearts that it was the right thing to do.

They’d both been bitten by the wanderlust bug at early ages, so when I became old enough to truly appreciate presents, my adoptive parents gave me the two greatest gifts they could think of: a passport and an ear for languages.

From a young age, I trekked across the globe several times over, first with them, and then on my own when I became mature and worldly enough to claim the freedom to make my own pathway. And it was an exciting adventure for a while, but I eventually reached a point where the only place left to visit was home, or more precisely, the place where I was born.

Thanks to Google Earth, uncovering the location of the village, whose name was not translatable into English in written or verbal form, was easier for me than my folks but even in this age of digital information, the only reference I was able to pull up was a Christmas urban legend regarding a mysterious woman, a snow witch called, Dame Donatore, the giver of gifts.

According to myth, she was an eight-armed sorceress who had been tragically separated from her offspring during a snowstorm on the night before Christmas. Grief made her wander aimlessly into the mountains where she became a hermit. One of her many talents was that of a skilled craftswoman and in order to cope with her loss, she built knickknacks and toys by hand, things she would have made for her children. When these items began cluttering up her cave, she carried them down from the mountain and handed them out to the poor girls and boys, which happened to be on the anniversary of the loss of her children. And so began the tradition. It was said that she would spend the whole of Christmas Day with brooms in her many hands sweeping the snowcapped mountains clean, showering the village below in a blanket of white on that most special of days.

***

Reaching the village had proven more arduous than I thought, requiring passage on several modes of transportation over land and sea and air. I wound up having to travel farther than I initially planned and when I ultimately arrived at my destination, it was the twenty-fourth of December, a surprisingly mild weathered night, and to my great fortune, I bore witness to the arrival of the legend herself, Dame Donatore, who sat her gift-laden sack on the bench-like flat stone in the village square.

The snow witch appeared to be in her sixties, possibly older, and was cloaked in the infamous magical red robe that made six of her supposed extra arms invisible to mortal eyes. Beside her sack, she placed a pile of coal and as the children approached one by one, she asked,

“Have you remembered to be good?”

and upon hearing the child’s answer, she would sometimes fake reaching for a lump of coal, much to the child’s dismay, before pulling one of her bespoke presents from the sack. After the children had collected their gifts, she handed the coal lumps to the parents to be added to their home fires.

I spied all this from afar, hidden in the shadows, and only decided to approach the woman when everyone had retreated to their homes. Upon seeing me, Dame Donatore said,

“Oh, hel—beg pardon,” she caught herself. “I thought I knew you for a moment. You have a face like a forgotten memory, but clearly, we have never met.”

I had no idea what that meant but before I could question it, she continued, “I am afraid I have no gift for your little one.” Her tone was regretful as she held up her empty burlap sack. “They have all been given out.”

I waved away her concern, “I have no children.”

She sighed, and more to herself, said, “A pity that. I can think of no greater tragedy than to be childless, especially during the holidays, for children are the greatest gifts of all.”

From a distance, this mysterious giver of gifts seemed an almost ethereal being conjured by Christmas magic, but up close, with no children present, she was the saddest person I had ever laid eyes on and her magnificent cloak was nothing more than a ratty old blanket draped over her shoulders and held in place with a rusty pin.

“I don’t think being a mother suits me,” I said for no apparent reason. Why would this woman be interested in knowing that having children wasn’t part of my life plan?

“Well, what you think and what I know are two different things,” she offered a weak smile. “I could tell you.”

“Tell me what?”

“Girl or boy,” she answered. “Motherhood is indeed a part of your destiny. I have a sense of these things.”

“So, you’re a fortune-teller?”

“Everyone has a path which has been mapped out on their bodies from birth. I do not tell fortunes but I can see auras and have been known to trace the roads yet untraveled on a palm.”

Although a disbeliever in a great many things, I was standing in the presence of an urban legend, so how could I not extend my palm and accept the challenge? “Tell me.”

Donatore clasped my hand in a feeble handshake, closed her eyes and explained, “First, I must make your acquaintance.”

“Oh, of course, pardon me. My name is—” I started.

“Unnecessary,” she interrupted. “Your vibrations will tell me everything I need to know.”

Her hand began to tremble as if palsied but her grip grew tighter and tighter. Trance-like, she said, “I sense turmoil…a maelstrom…” and as she spoke the words, I caught flashes in my mind’s eye of a very heavy snowfall and I could actually feel icy winds cutting across my face.

And suddenly I am in a storm…

and the snow keeps coming…

it never stops…

until nothing exists except the snow…

and that isn’t right because I’m missing something…

something I lost in the snow…

was I holding a hand?

Was that real and if it was…

whose hand was it…

and where was it now?

Someone is calling to me…

“Keep up!”…

and as I try to push forward…

I realize that I have no shoes…

and the cold is everywhere…

even inside me…

hollowing me out…

and I am being buffeted by the wind…

turning around again and again…

I try to keep moving forward…

but I know I am going the wrong way…

I no longer know the right way…

because the entire world is killer frost white…

where am I now that I have turned the wrong way…

I can’t call out because the wind steals my voice…

I am lost and alone…

and the only thing I know is that I am going to die…

And just before I was about to cry out in pain, the witch of the snow allowed my hand to slip from her grasp. The all-encompassing whiteness that was so thick as to choke me…began to evaporate and time held its breath as reality reset itself around me.

“…a face like a forgotten memory…” Donatore muttered sotto voce, and a look of dawning recognition crossed her features. I was certain that I mirrored her expression.

“Are you…are you…my mother?”

“Ameliatta,” she whispered, and I lost my footing in the present, falling back through the calendar of my life to the misty days of forgotten memories when a younger version of myself that I barely recognized delighted in having my mother’s undivided attention.

“I go by Amelia now,” I said, unable to stop the spread of a smile for this woman whom I bore little resemblance to and who was and was not a stranger at the same time.

The giver of gifts struggled to find words and when she finally did, all she could muster was, “How did you find me?”

“I wanted to see where I was born.”

“I knew in my heart of hearts that you would return to me,” Donatore said as she turned away to hide the tears welling in her eyes. “In my quiet moments, I talked to the heavens to let you know that I was still alive and waiting for you at home.”

I hadn’t the heart to reveal that I hadn’t come in search of her, at least not consciously. Truth be known, I had never given much thought to finding my birth mother. I knew that sounded cruel but I wasn’t suffering from abandonment issues. I accepted that life happened the way it did, and I had a happy childhood surrounded and supported by people who loved me.

“You must think horrible things of me,” she said, her eyes unable to land on mine.

“I don’t, honestly.”

“It was my fault that I lost you, but you must understand I was doing what I thought was right.”

“I don’t blame you.”

She wasn’t acknowledging what I was saying and appeared to be lost in remembrance. “We owned nothing but poverty but that did not stop your father from scrounging around for materials to build us a home. If only his heart was as strong as his intention. He died before the house was finished. It was only you and I alone and a violent storm was on its way. I needed to find materials to patch the holes in the roof. It would have been faster if I went by myself but you were so terrified of being left alone after your father died, so against my better judgment, I took you with me. We collected bits of wood and tree bark and raced back home, but we were not faster than the storm. Trying to hold on to the wood that the wind was whipping out of my grip, I lost hold of you. If you believe nothing else I tell you, know that I searched for you day and night for how long I cannot tell, digging through the snow until I could no longer feel my hands, but you were gone.”

“I believe you.”

If she heard me, she gave no indication. “I wanted to curl up in that snow and die, but I kept pushing on. It was what my parents did and what they taught me to do, day after day, you just pushed on. In the same year, I had lost my husband and my precious daughter. There was nothing to keep me here but I stayed because I had a belief that if I left this place, I would never see you again, and I would not have been able to survive that. I needed to keep my mind and hands busy so I began building things, which turned out to be toys, probably because your return was always on my mind.”

At that moment I was able to see beyond myself and considered the stages of her life, of our lives, before and after the storm. There were paths each of us had taken that would fill in the gaps of our individual travels and maybe, just maybe, we could start walking a new path together.

“This might sound strange but can I hug you?” I asked.

“For as long as you like,” Donatore smiled and the years seemed to melt from her face.

We threw our arms around each other and it seemed so natural and so right, so much like a home I never knew existed. She whispered in my ear, “Life is filled with little miracles and I knew one day I would receive one.”

We stood there locked in an embrace, taking turns weeping. It was strange to discover just how much I missed this woman, my mother. When we eventually separated, she folded her empty sack and tucked it beneath one arm. “Would you like to see the house? It took me longer than I thought but I finally finished it.”

“That would be nice.”

“I must warn you that it is a little crowded in there.”

“You have a family?”

“Of sorts, I take in homeless children, especially this time of year, because this is a horrific place for young children to be isolated, and as I said before children are the best gifts one can have. In exchange for food and shelter, they help me build toys. You think I did all this by myself?”

Clearly, my work was cut out for me, separating my mother from the myth from the woman she became without me.

I wasn’t sure how long we had been standing out in the cold, which oddly enough hadn’t really affected me, but I had a sense that it was after midnight, Christmas Day, and as we held hands and walked the path to her home, the snow began to fall.