Posted by: on December 26, 2017



I heard a woman tell this story about herself as I drove home from work about 20 years ago. It was early December; I was listening to a radio talk show as I drove. The radio host had asked listeners to call in with memories of a wonderful Christmas. This woman’s story was the first I heard; the call was anonymous so I cannot acknowledge her by name. She told this story with such charming depth and warmth of emotion that I have found it unforgettable. * I decided to share her story with you in this beautiful season.


“I grew up in the 1950s in a small mill town right outside of Pittsburgh. My father had died in a car accident when I was a baby, and my mother and I had struggled to get by until she married a widower with three children a few years later. My stepfather worked in the mill, and when we heard the mill whistle blow at 5:00 PM we knew he would soon be home for dinner. He was a very quiet man — kind but remote with the children as men often were at that time. My mother stayed at home to take care of us four kids, and she managed to keep our family warm and well- fed on a tight budget. There was never any extra money, and we knew at Christmastime that the words “I want” should not to be heard. My mother taught us to be grateful for what we had and to be gracious about anything that was given to us. We knew there would be exactly two gifts for each of us under the tree on Christmas morning; almost inevitably the clothes we needed the most. Saying anything except “thank you” after opening the boxes was unthinkable.


One day close to Christmas, when I was 11 years old, my girlfriend and I were walking around the shops in our little town to see the pretty decorations. We passed a jewelry store with a glittering window display. Everyone in town knew the jewelry store was for rich people; mill families with little money were not welcome. On this day, when I gazed into the store window, I suddenly spied a magical child’s watch. It had a small diamond on each side of its golden rim, delicate filigree numbers and hands, and an elastic band. The minute I saw that watch I had to have it.


I showed the watch to my girlfriend and told her I was going to go into the store and ask to see it. My girlfriend was hesitant but I insisted that we go in. The shopkeeper looked at us with unfriendly suspicion. I boldly walked up to her and asked to see the watch in the window. She asked, “Do you have the money to buy something like that?” I was unstoppable and insisted that I wanted to see it. My girlfriend was shocked! Under her breath, she asked me what I was thinking to make such a request. I told her I just had to look at it up close. The shopkeeper held the box and allowed me to look inside. That watch was just unbelievably lovely!  I informed the shopkeeper that I would talk to my mother about buying it, and we left.


The next day, I worked up the courage to mention the watch to my mother. I was afraid she would be angry with me but she was very nice about it. It was truly uncharacteristic for me to make this kind of request; maybe Mom could see that that something very special had come over me. She listened carefully as I told her all about how much I loved that little watch in the jewelry store window. After a few moments of silence, she agreed to go look at it the next week. However, she cautioned me that it was most likely out of our financial reach. And indeed, a few days later, she took me aside to say that she had gone to look at the watch and that it was so expensive that I had to just forget about it.


I adored my mother and tried to obey her, but I could not forget about that watch. Knowing that my mother always meant what she said, however, it was time to start holding out for a miracle. Every night before Christmas, I knelt by my bed to say my prayers and to ask God to find a way for me to get that watch. I just had to have it!


When Christmas morning finally arrived, we all ran to the tree to see our wrapped gifts. We were allowed to open one before breakfast and the second after church. I scanned my two boxes carefully for evidence of the miraculous watch, but things did not look good. There were two large boxes that appeared to be clothing as usual. I opened the smaller box, hoping for the best. Pajamas. My heart began to sink, but there was always hope until I opened the second box. In church that morning I continued my prayers for a miracle.  After church, we ran back to the tree to open our second box. Could the watch be inside? I eagerly opened the box and saw a new skirt and sweater set inside. I was crushed. I knew I should be grateful, but on that Christmas morning I was just plain filled with deep disappointment.


My mother was watching me very carefully, patient as always. She gently told me it would be a good idea to take the new outfit upstairs and try it on. When I grouchily asked why, she said she had not been sure the size was right. Although I refused at first, my mother insisted that I take the box upstairs to try on the outfit. Dejectedly, I walked up to my room and opened the box. I put on the skirt first; it had a pretty little dog on it. Then, I started to put on the sweater. My first arm went in easily, but something was stuck in the second sleeve. I pushed my arm harder into the sweater, and a small wrapped box fell out of the sleeve and onto the floor. My heart literally stopped.


I was almost shaking as I unwrapped the box and looked inside. Yes! Unbelievable! It was the very watch that I wanted with all my heart. I ran downstairs and into my mother’s arms. I was just so happy and excited; we were both in tears. What a wonderful day that was. My mother had worked a miracle that I could never, ever forget.


To this day, I have no idea of how my mother managed to purchase that watch.  She kept it a secret for the rest of her life.  My guess has always been that she had a small bank account for emergencies and used it to buy me the watch, but I will never know. I wore it until it literally fell apart in my twenties. I put all the pieces in the box with the jeweler’s name on top, and have kept them to this very day. My mother passed away last year, leaving me with this golden memory of her love and devotion. Thank you for the opportunity to share this story about my wonderful mother with all your listeners!”


And to one and all – a happy, healthy 2018!


*Since it has been so long since I heard this story on the radio, I have taken the liberty to add details as needed for gaps in my memory.  The fundamental story is the exactly the one I recall.

Written  by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children.

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