- Author: DAVID MITCHELL
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A CHRISTMAS STORY
The year was 1932. The Crydale Orphanage was a grim and forbidding looking building and being late evening the lights were being extinguished one by one by the staff.
Outside in the dark and gloomy street a young girl could be seen staggering through the snow carrying her new born baby boy. She had left home because her father was a strict disciplinarian and would not hear of the girl’s illegitimate baby being brought into his house – it must be remembered, this was 1932 when attitudes were quite different.
Her name was Elly, and she was destitute. She was desperately unhappy but her only thoughts were for her tiny baby wrapped warmly against the very cold weather - for this was December and just a few days before Christmas. As she walked along she passed the gaily lit shops displaying colourful Christmas items. Here and there she noticed the Christmas trees with their coloured lights and fleetingly her memory took her back to happier times when she was younger and her father then seemed more tolerant, even kind. In her state of total and forlorn unhappiness the tears rolled down her cheeks and she kissed her small baby thinking all the while how determined she was that his future will be much better than her past.
As she drew nearer the orphanage she could see through the large window. No doubt this expansive room was where the orphans gathered each morning. It was empty and dark now. She was thinking deeply about what she proposed to do. Her plan was to leave the baby on the doorstep, ring the bell, and retire to a safe distance where she could not be seen; just so that she could be sure the door was answered and the baby found by the orphanage staff.
In her plan, she reasoned that later on, when she was a little older and had perhaps secured a job, and was receiving an income, she could return and re-claim her son. She watched carefully as the front door of the orphanage opened and a young lady bent down and picked up the small baby lying on the doorstep. And so, when Elly was satisfied that her baby was now in good care she withdrew and went on her way, sobbing all the while. This was not at all what she wanted to happen; but in the light of her father’s cruel and totally unreasonable attitude she felt no other course was open to her.
However, she brightened up a little when thinking that, if good fortune should come her way, and she prayed it would, it may not be too long before she would be able to return to the orphanage and reclaim her small son to care for him as a loving mother herself.
So that was the manner in which little Chris arrived at the orphanage. They decided to call him ‘Christopher because it was so close to Christmas. The stern lady in charge of the orphanage, Mrs Briggs, ran the establishment in quite a strict manner but, like a lot of people who seem to be quite fierce in their demeanour, deep down in her heart she was a kindly soul and loved all the children that came under her care – every single one.
Quite a number of children were lost to her as a result of adoptions through the years and she was very sad at the loss of each one and the departure of every child. On the other hand she was glad to see them settled in a happy home. Somehow that never happened to Chris. For some reason that nobody could quite understand he was never selected for adoption. Later the orphanage began a new policy of advertising “HAVE AN ORPHAN FOR CHRISTMAS” and this seemed to be a big success. Some children had even been adopted permanently after being a “Christmas Child”.
But this was now Christmas 1937. The snow had begun to fall again and all of the children had now departed to their temporary ‘foster parents’ for the holiday - but not Chris. He was due to go to a Mr & Mrs Holden but with just over a week to go they advised the orphanage that Mr Holden had been called abroad, and that Mrs Holden would be accompanying him. As they had no idea how long they would be away they said they would have to reluctantly cancel the arrangement for Chris. They were very sad about it, but they had no other choice.
It was too late then to find another temporary foster parent and so it looked very much as though Chris and Mrs Briggs would be the only inhabitants of the orphanage over the holiday period. Mrs Briggs was quite resigned to her task, but she didn't mind at all. She got on very well with Chris and although the resources available to her were meagre she told herself that she must try to make it as nice a Christmas as possible, if only for the sake of little Chris.
However, on the day before Christmas Eve Mrs Briggs received a call from the Holdens to say that Mr Holden’s mission abroad was accomplished sooner than he had anticipated, that they were now at home, and that they would love to have Chris for Christmas after all as originally planned. When little Chris heard this his little face broke into a wide beaming smile. Poor old Mrs Briggs hesitated for just a moment when given the news. She had been looking forward to spending Christmas with just her and Chris at the orphanage. On the the other hand she wanted Chris to have a wonderful Christmas and so she too allowed herself a smile or two, and accepted that she will have to spend Christmas alone after all.
And so it was that Mr & Mrs Holden collected Chris from the orphanage that very same day and took him to their very handsome home not all that far away where a beautiful Christmas tree stood in the lounge, fully decorated with lights and ornaments, and with presents spread underneath; a lovely log fire was roaring up the chimney and the atmosphere was very nice, cosy, and very homely.
Chris was then introduced to other members of the Holden family. First of all, there was Aunt Emily - a dear old soul who wore her spectacles perched on the end of her nose and seemed to be knitting all the time; she also often appeared to be chatting to herself as some old folk do. Then there was Grandfather Holden who held his hand out for Chris to shake. Chris did so dutifully for all the children at the orphanage were taught good manners. It was a very jolly atmosphere indeed and everyone seemed to be in a good mood – just as a family Christmas should be.
But after a little while Mrs Holden noticed that Chris was sitting by himself and looking rather sad; indeed, one or two tears were rolling down his cheeks. “Why Chris my dear” she said “what ever are you crying for ? Aren’t you happy to be with us ?” At which the great big tears welled up in his eyes and poor little Chris began to sob. Urged by Mrs Holden to say why he was sad Chris then said “Well Mrs Holden, I am surely very happy to be here with you but I cannot help thinking of poor Mrs Briggs back at the orphanage. She will be all on her own for Christmas now that I have come to you and I am feeling I aught to be there with her to keep her company and make sure she has a nice Christmas too”. At this, all the Holden family could not help but remark what a very nice little boy Chris was to be thinking of others at this time.
And so the conversation on the subject seemed to wane and die away. But not in Chris's mind. However, it was time now to go to bed to dream of the great day tomorrow. And so he went to sleep in his room but during the night he was very restless and tossed and turned for he was still thinking of poor old Mrs Briggs and how very lonely she must be all by herself.
The next morning everybody arose from bed. The snow lay crisp and several inches deep. It was a true Christmas scene All were looking forward to the day’s festivities. However, Mr Holden seemed to be absent. Chris did ask once “Where is Mr Holden ?” but was told by Mrs Holden “Oh, he has gone on an little errand for me - don’t worry, he’ll be back quite soon – in time for Christmas Dinner to be sure”.
But now it was approaching time for the great Christmas Dinner and still Mr Holden had not returned. Mrs Holden had purchased a nice fat turkey and the smells were wafting through from her kitchen and were truly delicious. They were making everyone feel very hungry indeed. But where was Mr Holden ? Well, there was no need to worry for just at that moment the front door opened and in a flurry of snow flakes blown in by the wind there stood Mr Holden - and with him was none other than Mrs Briggs herself ! She had been absolutely thrilled and delighted when Mr Holden telephoned her to extend an invitation to join the Christmas party for she had resigned herself to spending Christmas by herself, as Chris had feared, and