SHORT STORY: Spur of the Moment Gifts

It was 1943, our family had just finished a Hanukkah dinner with potato pancakes with applesauce. My friend Sylvia knocked on the door; we were both 14 years old and she was looking for something to do.

It was also Christmas Eve. The stores were open late. WE decided to walk to the five-and-ten and buy a jigsaw puzzle to put together later.

It was a cold and windy night but we enjoyed the walk as the bright window decorations and Christmas trees were on display.

A block from Woolworths, we passed the Catholic orphanage. A nun was sweeping snow from the steps. I knew some of the girls from my class -- not everyone was an orphan, some parents had to work, soe they leftt heir children with the nuns.

“Merry Christmas, Sister Ana Marie,” I said.

“Merry Christmas, girls,” she replied.

“Is the tree decorated?” I asked.

“The children will decorate it after dinner,” the nun replied. “There are not many gifts this year.” She then went inside.

“How much money do you have?” Sylvia asked me? I looked in my wallet and found $4.

“I have $3 from babysitting,” Sylvia said. We looked at the sign at the five-and-ten store: “Clearance Sale.”

That gave us an idea. Why don’t we buy things for the children instead of ourselves?

It felt good to get out of the cold and into the warm store. Jigsaw puzzles and books were 25 cents; we bought four of each. Knitted caps were 50 cents each; we bought two blue and two red.

At a table there was wrapping paper for 2 cents each; we bought 12 sheets. We chose 14 candy canes, a penny each. We bought 14, two for us.

“How are we going to wrap the gifts?” Sylvia asked. I remembered -- the library was always open to return books.

We walked the two blocks to the warm library. We wrapped the gifts in the bright wrapping paper. Then we walked back to the orphanage.

The children were in bed, waiting for Santa. Sylvia and I put the gifts under the decorated tree. Now the children would have extra gifts; what a wonderful feeling.

The nuns invited us into the kitchen for some homemade fudge. Sister Ana Marie said, “In the Bible it says ‘do a good deed.’ Girls, you have done a good deed. Thank you for charity in your hearts.”

We thanked them for the delicious fudge and started to walk back to my house. It was 9 o’clock, time for Sylvia to go home. When I went upstairs, my brother Ben brought the jigsaw puzzle. All six of us stood around the dining table to put it together.

Mama lit the candles in the menorah and Papa gave us a gold-wrapped chocolate candy.

Dora Silvers is a former Norwalk resident who currently resides in Cerritos.