“I’m sorry to be pokey, but I want to wrap these pieces so they won’t get scratched. I’m slower than I used to be,” Olivia said.
She continued packaging the purchases for the old gentleman. Never would she ask personal questions of her customers, but she liked to guess what their lives were like and what they would do with their purchases. Her eyes twinkled today as she watched her imagined elf house builder roam the ReStore for an hour. All alone on the day before Christmas Eve, he had picked up pieces of wood, fancy tiles, edging, and various small items of metal and fabric.
“Take your time,” the fellow told her.
He looked rather jolly and robust for his age, Olivia decided.
“I’m not in a hurry,” he said. He placed a small, used Christmas tree, a $1.00 string of lights, and a 50 cent package of colored bulbs on the counter and held up a red drawstring bag. “Oh, and please add these. I can put them in this bag after you ring them up.”
Olivia’s face fell, for just a split second. She had been eyeing this tree for two weeks. Her supervisor assured her no one would buy the dilapidated thing on which only the bottom half of the lights worked and some branches hung at odd angles. Oh well, better this nice man should have it. He’d know how to repair the lights and branches.
However, before he left, her customer presented her with the red bag, in which he’d carefully stashed the tree. “I hope you’ll accept it as an early Christmas gift from an admirer,” he said.
Why hadn’t she noticed his neatly trimmed white beard and his red plaid vest before? Maybe a professor? Preparing to build a dollhouse for his granddaughter? No, he had to be the fairy house maker, the one who built and furnished all those elf-sized houses in the hollows of trees and in openings between bushes along the Tomahawk Creek Trail. Olivia’s daughter took her there to see them when she was in town—tiny, perfect, detailed hobbit houses along what the creator called Hollow Tree Lane. No one knew the builder, but the houses delighted all who came upon them.
After closing, 85-year-old Olivia bundled up for her walk home. Then she frowned at the enormous bag she had resolved to carry with her. She appreciated being allowed to volunteer at this charitable store full of donated building materials. Now to have an admirer! She hefted the bag. Oh, glory! It felt light as the book of Christmas postage stamps she had walked down the street to buy last week. Now she had only to walk a block and a half and cross the intersection with it to reach her retirement building.
“Eek!” Olivia jumped sideways and peered at the glowering face of the pick-up truck driver after his vehicle skidded to a stop just inches from her when she couldn’t make it across the intersection before the pedestrian light turned red. “Can’t you see I’m trying my best?” her startled look said.
Safe inside her building, she unlocked her door and found a note from her plucky 90-year-old friend Maria. I’ll be home on Christmas Eve. Will you? Olivia called Maria and asked her to come to dinner tomorrow night and see the surprise she brought home.
“Tom will be here alone on Christmas Eve, too,” Maria said. “Do you have room for three?”
The next morning, Olivia rose early. She tingled with excitement as she prepared vegetable soup to go with the brown bread Maria promised to bring. She tidied her small living room and set the little tree on an end table. My, my. It’s taller than I thought. And when she plugged it in, all of the lights worked. Her smile was endless as she added to the tree the gold and silver bulbs and across the front windows strung the extra lights her fairy house builder had included in the bag.
A surprise to her–the mittens she had been knitting needed only a last row. She knit the row. They would make a nice gift for Maria. She hoped Tom would like the warm scarf she had finished in November. Under the decorated tree they went. By then, it was late afternoon and time to dress for her guests.
That evening, songs of the season provided soft background cheer. Spicy aromas filled the air—the thyme in Olivia’s soup, the yeasty smell of Maria’s warm homemade bread, and the whiff of cinnamon in the mulled cider simmering on the stove, courtesy of Tom who brought along this gift from his niece. Olivia slipped her Christmas ginger cookies into the oven as her guests took their seats at her kitchen table to enjoy their feast.
“Ahhhh,” three aged voices chorused when, after dinner, Olivia lighted the Christmas tree and the string of bulbs across the windows with their background panorama of spitting snowflakes which sparkled in the distant street lights. The three chomped on warm soft ginger cookies with more mulled cider, laughed at Tom’s jokes, and gazed at the fairy lights in the darkened room for as long as they could stay awake. They all agreed this was one of the coziest Christmas Eves they could remember.
Olivia thought about her kind customer, her generous admirer. Now, was that a red stocking cap he had donned as he left the store?
Wishing you all a magical Holiday!