One night, our beautiful mother gathered my sister, brother and I into her bedroom, had us sit down upon her bed, and said she needed to talk to us about something.
She was 26 years old and newly divorced. We were all very close, and the sad expression in her eyes said it was something serious.
"Children, I'm so sorry, Santa will only be able to bring you each one present this year," she said. "And it probably won't be a very big present."
It was incomprehensible.
"But Mommy, Santa has lots of toys!" I said, at 8 being the eldest. My sister, Susie, was 6, and my little brother, Shaan, had just turned 5; we were all dumbfounded. "Santa can bring as many presents as he wants to!" I reassured her.
Her eyes moistened with an unfathomable knowledge we couldn't know or understand. She was a single working mother receiving no child support, with three kids, a mortgage and innumerable bills to pay. She was in unfamiliar territory herself. It was her first full-time job, back when women earned less than men, even though my mother was the best grocery clerk — she prided herself on memorizing all the new produce prices to be the fastest checker. Our mother strove to be the best at all she did.
"I'm sorry, children," our mother continued, with a frightening, unyielding resolve. "Santa's elves couldn't make very many toys this year. Santa can only bring you each one toy."
We loved her so much, we accepted what she said, even though we had absolutely believed Santa Claus is magic.
On Christmas Eve, our mother apologized to the babysitter for picking us up so late. (Our babysitter's family already had a tree with presents under it.)
Early Christmas morning, Shaan, Susie and I clambered with dread from our beds. Usually we would've dashed to outrace each other to the living room in excitement. Instead we hesitated, huddling close to each other in the dark hallway.
"It's OK," I said, resolutely holding their hands. "Let's go."
Suddenly, astonishment overtook us, as the spangling, multicolored Christmas tree lights dazed our eyes. We blinked, looked at each other and did double-takes. There were beautifully wrapped presents heaped from one end of the living room to the other, more presents than we had ever seen in our young lives or since.
I cry now to remember it. Many years later, Mom told us that a man at work had caught her crying in the break room on Christmas Eve. He gave her $200, and she went and spent every penny on us.
After our mother suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized, we were taken to the children's shelter, to await a foster home. I was 11. A very little girl there told me her parents didn't want her anymore.
I'm eternally thankful to have been given the mental reference of "Miracles Happen!" that amazing Christmas morning, rather than the empty affirmation of despair. The result of the giver's generosity has illuminated my whole life.
— Patti Morey lives in Ashland.