The Third Kind of Christmas
It wasn’t until I was nine, the year me and my brother and sister were taken away from our mama that I learned there was a third kind of Christmas. Until that year, I had only known two kinds, ‘Faraway Layaways,’ and ‘Takebacks,’ those were names I gave them. I learned to name things back then, so they wouldn’t be so sad. I had names for everything, names only I knew. I was good at keeping to myself, which worked out that late November when a man and woman showed up in a big car. Mama had our bags packed and I knew we were going away for good, but I kept that to myself.
I pretended, like mama told me to do, that we would be back in a few days. There was my brother and sister to think about. They wouldn’t understand. I didn’t either, but I pretended to. Mama said it was for the best through tears that said it wasn’t. She was the best mama in the world, and it took me a long time to convince her of that, but I did.
That November morning, the cold rushed in and stole what warm our old wood stove had made during the night. And two strangers stole my mama’s heartbeats, all three of us.
“Til I can get back on my feet again,” she told me the night before while the others lay sleeping. When I asked her how long, she said she didn’t know. “Maybe a long, long, time,” she finally said knowing I must be hurting too.
We weren’t at the orphanage long at all, until a very nice man and woman showed up one afternoon gathering the three of us up and loading us into their car. It was warm, I remember, just like the car that took us away from our mama.
Brother thought we were going home to mama for a good part of the ride we took getting to what would be our new home. We ended up growing up there, all three of us, with that nice couple who we still call mama and daddy. We call our real mama, mama too.
“Sometimes children need two mamas,” was what our new mama told us that night when she tucked us in bed. It was warm, I remember, and neither one of us was hungry. I remember that too.
That first Christmas with our new mama and daddy; I will always remember. It was the year I got the third kind of Christmas.
“Third kind of Christmas?” my new daddy asked when he overheard me talking to myself as I unwrapped the little train set waiting for me under the Christmas tree all decorated and glowing with color.
Then he asked me about the other two kinds, and I had to tell him. Then he would understand.
“Well, the first kind is the, ‘Faraway Layaway,’” I told him and my new mama who was now listening. It’s the kind of Christmas we got most years. I explained to him how our real mama took us shopping and let us pick out all the things we wanted, baby dolls, bicycles, coloring books. Then she would put them on what she called layaway, which meant us getting them was faraway. Faraway, as in never I went on to tell him. Mama never had the money to get the things we picked out off of layaway, but it gave us something to look forward to in the days leading up to our big disappointment. Disappointment is something I learned to expect being poor as a kid.
Our new mama and daddy were crying and that was before I even told them about the ‘Takeback Christmas.’ We had couple of those too, I explained. We got to play with what toys mama could afford Christmas day but only if we were careful. The day after Christmas, she had to take everything back and trade it out for money.
A place to stay and something to eat means more than a baby doll and a train set when times are lean and the winter wind is creeping in under your door.
Through their tears they each took turns hugging me and my brother and my sister and telling us they were never going to let us go. And they didn’t. They promised the toys we opened that morning were ours forever. We were still careful. And we hugged them back.
Our new daddy was a preacher, and that Sunday he told the church about the three kinds of Christmases and winked at me when he said an angel told him.
He said that the third kind of Christmas is the real kind. The kind that we don’t have to wait on and the kind we don’t have to take back. It was given to us by God on that morning long ago and wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.
The whole church was crying. I remember.
This is a work of fiction dedicated to all the children of the world.
-Edward Reed 2018