It would be safe to say that I was definitely not looking forward to my first Christmas after moving to south Georgia, away from the comforts of my home, friends, and family back in Baltimore. Of course I was looking forward to the presents, but in spite of the joys of the season, I approached Christmas skeptically. I missed the cold weather, the steaming mugs of hot cocoa, my best friend's annual Christmas party, my front hall with it's gleaming tree, and most of all, Christmas at Grandma's house.
Our family would tramp into her warm kitchen, all six of us, after a long two-hour drive. The delicious aroma of cookies baking and the turkey roasting in the oven always made my mouth water. Grandma would bustle in with her apron covered in flour, smile, and give us each a hug. She would cluck about how cold it was getting, pat us on the head, and send us kids off to play. My three sisters and I would wait eagerly for our cousins to arrive. When they finally came, we would all rush down to the basement to discuss Christmas presents in secret.
Every Christmas, for as long as I can remember, that's what we did. But now that my family had moved that Christmas tradition was gone. It was depressing really; Christmas this year would be different. Yet I learned, with the help of a five-year old girl named Lauren, that I'm not so unlucky after all.
School was finally out for the holidays and we were going Christmas shopping. Not for us, not even for friends, but for a little girl named Lauren. Lauren is a poverty-stricken five-year-old, and my family and our friends were buying Christmas presents for her that her family could not afford.
I walked into Target thinking, What kind of toys would a five year-old little girl like? But as I gazed down at the list her mother had sent us through their school, I realized that it didn't have a single toy on it. Lauren had asked Santa for socks, underwear, clothes, and shoes - necessities that I had always taken for granted. I can remember many occasions being disappointed by certain presents. I would eagerly grab a box labeled, "to Maddy from Santa" and rip off the shining paper to find… clothes. I would toss it aside. It never dawned on me that some people really don't have these luxuries. She wanted as gifts the things that most kids her age would classify as a waste of wrapping paper.
My sisters and I delighted in picking out little outfits for her and choosing pajamas that had to be warm because, as my sister pointed out, "They probably don't have heat."
The real shock came however, when we went to deliver the package. We arrived early, at seven o'clock, to spare the little girl's mother possible embarrassment. The whole street was asleep; not even a dog barked as we approached. We drove past the dark windows of abandoned shops, tumbledown houses, and trailers. Many of the houses did not have street numbers, and it was difficult to find Lauren's. Her tiny, rusty trailer lay in what seemed to be a random plot of land. They didn't have a driveway, not even a mailbox. Their ancient, dilapidated van sat in the middle of the muddy yard among trash and broken furniture. The yard was so small that we could barely fit our car into it. The rickety wooden steps leading up to the door looked as if they would collapse under the weight of our bags and the windows were taped over with black trash bags. Our bright red and green presents stood out against the dark, gloomy landscape.
My mother cautiously picked her way across the grassless yard and approached the steps. Slowly, she laid the bags down and knocked. She returned to the car and was about to drive away when the rusty trailer door slammed open. A woman stepped out, looking angry and confused.
"This is for Lauren," my mother explained, smiling. The lady appeared not to have heard, and continued staring blankly at my mother. She hadn't noticed the bright bags at her feet. I quickly reached over and shut off the ignition. My mother got out and once again explained, "We've left something for Lauren - it's for Christmas." The lady's dark eyes softened, and she smiled. She seemed too stunned for words. Offering a simple, "Merry Christmas," we drove off leaving the woman still standing in her doorway, smiling.
That Christmas, as I sat looking at my brightly wrapped presents, the shining tree and my happy family, I remembered Lauren. I hoped that she was having just as wonderful a Christmas with her family. I felt like we had helped to keep a little girl's belief in Santa Claus alive.
Without realizing it, little Lauren helped me to learn how truly lucky I am. I was lucky to be able to help Lauren. She taught me a lot about giving and love, and the true meaning of Christmas. That Christmas truly was a memorable holiday. Wherever Lauren is, I hope she felt the same way.