Our eyes sparkled. Our beings fairly tingled with excitement. My two sisters and I were the ages when Santa is a joyous reality. The wondrous story of the Christ Child had lovingly been told. Joyfully we sang carols that brought Bethlehem very near.
Our preparations for Santa added to this heavenly excitement. We "prettied" last year's dolls for Santa's inspection. Miriam's, Josephine's and my letters were painstakingly written while Mama slowly spelled the "hard words." Excitedly we post our letters, watching while wings of flame carried them up the chimney, where Santa's Elves caught them and hastened our fondest desires to the North Pole.It had been snowing all day, soft downy flakes. My sisters and I were playing tiddly-winks. Hearing sleigh bells, we ran to the parlor window and pulled back the lace curtains. "It's Alton with our Christmas tree!" Sleigh bells shook merrily as Alton drew to a halt his bob sleigh full of evergreen trees.
It was while decorating our tree that Miriam complained of pain in her chest. She lay on the couch. She wasn't interested in draping the tinsel or hanging the ornaments. Something was wrong! She even refused to take her turn to blow the tiny blue glass trumpet - our favorite ornament.
The doctor ordered Miriam to bed for at least a week. "But I can't!" protested Miriam, "I have to go to school! We're making Christmas ornaments. I haven't finished mine."
Several days passed. Mama followed the doctor's orders. But Miriam did not improve. She grew listless. Everyone was worried. We knelt by her bed and prayed.
Mama told me to run fast to Aunt Lou's. "Tell her to phone the doctor! Tell him to come quickly! Call Daddy. Have him come home immediately!" Aunt Lou was the only one nearby with a telephone.
Shortly after, Daddy arrived breathless. "How is Miriam?" he said rushing to her side.
Hearing Daddy's voice, Miriam opened her eyes. "Daddy, Daddy," she cried. He gathered her in his arms and kissed her. She smiled weakly and patted his cheek. She was like a fragile snowflake that melted at his touch. A brief moment and she was gone. "She waited for you, to come home from work," whispered Mama, the tears streaming. "Just waited for you to come home." They held Miriam in their arms and together they wept.
Josephine and I did not understand exactly what had happened. It was the first time we had ever seen our Daddy cry. When the doctor arrived, they shook their heads. "You're too late, doctor. Too late." Then Josephine and I understood that death had entered our happy home.The most precious little angel had departed.
Miriam died on December 15, 1913. Prospects for a Merry Christmas looked bleak. The Christmas spirit had fled. We all seemed to be in a strange world. Where we had known fun and frolicking, now there was quiet reserve. Where there had been song and laughter, now, sadness and tears. This sudden, unexpected sorrow had changed our world.
A week after the funeral, Miriam's school teacher, Miss Farrer, called at our home. "I hope my coming does not upset you," she said. "No," said Mama inviting her in.
"I miss Miriam," said Miss Farrer, her lips quivered.
"We all do," said Mama.
"I thought you might like these," said Miss Farrer. She held out a large brown paper sack. "They belonged to Miriam."
Almost reverently Mama took the sack. Josephine and I gathered near. We were tenderly curious.
"They're just some little things we made in school," said Miss Farrer.
"Thank you for being so thoughtful," Mama said, squeezing her hand gratefully.
After Miss Farrer left, at our insistence, Mama opened the sack. There were a few spelling papers. Mama traced the words with her finger. "Miriam wrote these," she sighed. There was a snapshot of Miriam's second grade class. Eagerly Mama searched the faces for Miriam. "My darling, my darling," she sobbed. "Wasn't she beautiful?"
When Mama was composed, we coaxed her to show us the remaining items. There was a collection of art work: September's red apples and purple grapes, shiny with crayon; October's jack-o'-lanterns; Novembers Pilgrims and turkeys. There were lacy snowflakes, mounted on grey paper. "She did lovely work," said Mama. There was a red and green Christmas basket made to hold candy and nuts. Next from the sack came the Christmas ornament Miriam had been so anxious to finish. We thrilled with it. It was bright and gay. Miriam had taken tiny squares of red and green art paper, separated each square with half inch sections of brightly colored straw and sewn them like beads on a long string. The needle was still attached. "Miriam made it for our tree," said Mama holding it up and smiling bravely. Mama pinned it on a beautiful branch.
"It's the prettiest ornament on the tree," we said clapping our hands gleefully.
Mama was returning the things to the sack when she noticed a Christmas card in the bottom of the sack. The card was decorated with dainty sprigs of holly that Miriam had painted. In Miriam's best penmanship, she had written: I love my Daddy. I love my Mama. I love my sisters. Have a Merry Christmas. Miriam.
Mama's arms encircled us and held us tight. "Miriam wants us to have a Merry Christmas. That is her wish for us." We looked at each other and smiled, and in our hearts we knew we would have a Merry Christmas. For Miriam was with us - in the words of love she had written and the special ornament she made for our tree.
Meet today's author
Genevieve Van Wagenen was born in Provo, where today's Christmas I Remember Best story took place. Best story took place. She now lives in Salt Lake City with her husband, Clyde. There are the parents of six children, two daugthers and four sons.
She is a free-lance writer; her work has appeared in LDS Church publications. Serveral of her articles have received recognition in the Church's International Magazine, which appears in 20 foreign languages.
This story was originally written as a chapter for her personal history.