I’d Like to See You Smile

An original.

It’s been twenty years now, since my husband left me. Oh not left me in the divorce sense, but my dear man passed away. I miss him more today than I would think possible. For you see, he loved Christmas best.

We had many happy Christmases my husband and I. I still have vivid memories of all of them. And now memories are all I have. Our first Christmas as a married couple still brings a smile to my weathered face. We were poor, as many were at the end of the Great Depression. My gift from him that year? How could I forget? I had been admiring a Nativity set in Woolworth’s window. I knew there was no possible way for me to ever own it, but I did so admire it. Jack was good with his hands and a pocketknife. I never knew just how talented he was until that Christmas.

Jack had noticed me admiring the nativity set. I still can’t believe he did this, but there it is, sitting on my mantle today. He took his pocketknife and some wood and that dear man whittled me the entire scene. Oh it is so much more beautiful than the one in the shop window.

For his gift, I took apart one of my sweaters and knit it again into a scarf for him. He wore it with such pride. He did look fine in it, and his Army uniform. Little did we know, he would be drafted a week later. Spending the rest of our first year of marriage fighting overseas. I thought I missed him then, I miss him more now.

My Jack, so full of life, came home from the war a changed man. He was more aware of the fragility of life, the preciousness of it. He wanted to live life to the full, to enjoy every minute of it.  And no time more than Christmastime. Our house was always full, full of people and full of laughter and love.

Yes, I do miss Jack most at Christmas. He always made the season so merry and full. His gifts were always full of thought and love. I knew Jack loved me most at Christmas time. I knew he loved me throughout the year, as he was always finding new ways to show me. But at Christmas time, that was Jack’s time, and I knew, oh I knew he loved me.

Twenty years ago this Christmas Jack passed away. It seemed fitting somehow that he would lose his battle on this day. Fitting but a bit unfair. Men so full of life should not die. Jack, living life fully one minute, the next fighting for his own life. How did that happen? My husband, my Jack, is foremost a hero. He returned from World War 2 a decorated war hero. And he died being a hero.

It was Christmas Eve; Jack and I were driving home on a lonely stretch of icy road. Our Christmas gifts piled on the back seat, we were singing along with Bing Crosby on the radio, when the car in front of us slid on the ice and tumbled into the ravine ahead of us.

Jack stopped the car as quickly as he could and went to offer his help. I tried and tried to get him to stay with me and call from home. But he wouldn’t listen to me. He never did. He left with a “Stay here, sweetheart. I’ll be back soon.” And he was gone singing a Christmas Carol. I don’t remember now which one and I suppose it matters not.

He does returns soon, to send me home to call for help. He said he’d stay with the family, a young mother and her son, until help arrived. Reluctantly I agreed. I’d not been home long when I heard a knock on the door, I remember thinking that was odd, Jack would just come in.

I was only slightly surprised when I saw a Sheriff’s deputy on the porch. I thought he was here because I had called about the accident and he wanted to tell me they had things wrapped up and soon Jack would be home.  Instead he told me the family was fine, but Jack, Jack had been outside in the freezing temperatures for too long. He was on his way to the hospital.

On our way to see Jack, the deputy told me the story. After I had gone home, the car, already precariously perched on the bank of the ravine, had slipped in. Jack, always the hero, dove in after it.

I spent an anxious night at the hospital. I’ll spare you the details. Early the next morning, Jack breathed his last. He breathed his last on his favorite day of the year. My life has not been the same since.

For awhile I saw the family Jack rescued around town. I tried not to be bitter, but it seem so unfair that they should be fine while my Jack had given his life. The last I heard they had moved away.

For a time I showered with invitations during the Christmas season. But as time has marched on, most of the friends Jack and I shared have passed on also. Christmas tends to be a lonely time for me.

A lonely time of reliving memories. Yes, I have a lot of time for that these days. No one comes and no one calls anymore. No one has time for an old lady and her stories. I don’t blame them, really, but I do get awfully lonely.

Which is why the visit I had yesterday was special. I had been busy ruminating on my memories, when I heard the doorbell ring. I admit, I was surprised it still worked, but there it was. I was even more surprised to see a little boy from up the street there, holding a red Poinsettia.

I cracked the door open an inch and asked him “What do you want, young man? I’m not buying any plants today.”

“Oh no, Ma’am. I’m not selling plants. I’m giving this one to you.” I opened the door a little wider and put out my hand to receive the offered gift. “Would you mind if I came in? I’d like to talk awhile.”

I had to let him in that was Jack’s line. He was always saying, “I’d like to talk awhile.” I opened wide the door and heard myself offering to make some hot cocoa.

As the water was heating on the stove, we settled in the rockers. I wondered what I would say to this child.  He started the conversation with, “I’ve been meaning to come down for awhile now. I’ve wanted to say Thank you.”

“Thank you?”

“Yes, thank you. Thank you for giving up your husband so my Daddy would be able to live. You see, my Daddy tells me about a Christmas Eve twenty years ago. He was with my Grandma and they had an accident. Your husband saved my Daddy’s life. My daddy also told me because he did, he died.”

I couldn’t speak. I was choked with emotion. I tried and tried to swallow the lump in my throat, all I could do was gather this dear child to myself, hold him and rock while the tears ran rivers down my cheek. He said, “Ma’am, I’d like to see you smile. That’s why I brought the Christmas flower. I think Christmas must be my favorite time of year. I think I’d better go now, but maybe I can come back some day and you’ll tell me stories? I love to listen to people tell me stories.” And with that he was gone.

He did come back. Jack, for that was his name, came several times throughout the years. I found a special friend in young Jack. He loved to share my stories; he loved to laugh with me. He loved to bring his friends over and we’d have an impromptu party. All the lemonade those boys could drink and cookies they could eat. Sometimes we’d play games of my generation. Other times we just sat and talked.  He reminded me so much of my Jack. One would think it would make me miss my dear husband more, but it didn’t. It healed the hurt a little more.

I’m very proud of my young friend, Jack. You see, he is following in his namesake’s footsteps. Just yesterday I received a Christmas card from him. Oh he looks so handsome in his uniform, and the scarf I made for him. Although why he is wearing it in Iraq I’ll never know.  He said he wants to be a hero, I tell him he already is. He is serving his country with a pride unequaled in any man, save my Jack.

I wonder a lot if he will come back. I miss our times and our talks. It’s funny, me so old and him so young. But like a long ago winter day, the doorbell rings. And there he is! What a vision. I can’t help but cry, sob really as I look at him.

“I told you I’d come back. Can I sit and talk awhile? Here! I remember poinsettias are your favorite Christmas flowers. I’d love to see you smile.”