Christmas Eve settled like a soft, silent prayer over Yardley Borough.
“It seems like God is hovering close to Earth,” Jackie Chalmers said to her husband, Jim.
Jim Chalmers put his arm around Jackie’s shoulders. “I know it’s only been a little more than a month since President Kennedy was assassinated. Christmas is a sad one for the country this year. He was a young president with young children. We had such hope—such dreams for a better world from his presidency.”
The Chalmers children danced in their cellar, not paying attention to their daddy’s whisper.
Ten-year-old Becky, the oldest, was tall for her age. Becky wore a year-long display of freckles with her dark, feathery hair and a cat-like shade of green eyes.
“I’m ready to go, Daddy, but Billy has two left boots on and Jimmy says Billy took one of his boots. You better go fix it, Daddy,” Becky announced. The boys, chubby identical twins, were always full of energy and mischief. Their beautiful curly blond hair had graduated to light brown crew cuts. Becky had once commented, “They’re trouble, especially Billy, but I wouldn’t want anyone else’s brothers.”
“I think we’re finally ready,” Mommy said. “Everyone has their winter coats, warm boots, mittens, hats, and scarves on.”
The Chalmers family was ready to make the walk to Afton Pond for a bonfire, something new this year. Four-year-old Susie was pulled on a sled. Yesterday it had snowed enough to make the ground ready for the family American Flyer to glide down the hill with Susie on it. Tonight, Susie looked like an angel. Usually, her strong will and boundless curiosity laid waste to all tranquility, but Santa’s visit was very close.
Becky heard her daddy say, “Most Cadwallader Court parents are mourning the great loss of President Kennedy. I think the bonfire will bring us together and give us comfort.”
Becky, Jimmy, and Billy carried small bundles of kindling to lay on the woodpile.
“I have these little trees,” Susie said, happily transported on the sled with a warm woolen blanket around her. Mommy shone a powerful flashlight, leading the way. Near the library an impromptu gazebo that had been built for the holidays was wrapped in colorful lights. The moisture from tiny snowflakes created a hazy fog.
“Mommy, the lights wear halos around them, just like angels,” Becky declared.
“Santa will really need Rudolph’s red nose tonight,” Billy said.
“Give me your firewood, kids. I’ll put it on the bonfire.” Daddy’s strong arms tossed the kindling on the blaze. Becky was proud that her father had been a star athlete when he was younger.
“Look!” Becky cried out. “All the neighbors are following with their firewood.”
The rest of the Chalmers family stopped and looked. Even those families most affected by the recent tragedy had decided to come.
“I can see other flashlights,” Jimmy shouted. “There’s the Edwards, the Wilkinson’s, the Reynolds even Mrs. Pincher from the library.”
“Mrs. Pincher has so many rules,” Becky said, exhaling a puff of frosty air. “I hope she doesn’t tell Mommy and Daddy before Santa gets here that I dropped a library book in the mud,” Becky murmured.
“Over there, Mrs. Young, our neighborhood gramma, is pulling a sled,” Mommy said. “She’s so wise and kind. She’s everyone’s favorite, and it looks like she brought something special tonight. I wonder what it is?”
Families came forward one at a time to add their firewood to the bonfire. Mrs. Young was the last to come forward. Instead of adding to the fire, she pulled her sled next to the empty gazebo. Everyone watched, curious, as she lifted her box and placed it in the center of the gazebo. “Each family must come by to see what’s in the box,” Mrs. Young said, her voice amplified in the cold night air.
The bonfire furiously crackled when it was the Chalmers family’s turn to see what was in the box. Jim carried Susie; Jackie held the hands of the twins. Becky wiggled in front of all of them. In Mrs. Young’s box, a baby doll in a white diaper was cradled in straw.
Mrs. Young spoke to the crowd. “We’ve lost a promising leader. However, the most important part of Christmas Eve, the birth of the Christ child, can never be forgotten for any reason.” Mrs. Young brought her neighbors the gift of so many years ago to remind everyone that a baby had been born who had changed the world in a far more significant way than even a president could.
The chill and excitement of the evening wore through Baby Susie’s endurance. She began to cry. “It’s time to take these kids home.” Mommy nudged Daddy.
As they climbed the hill, Mrs. Pincher called out, “Jackie, I must speak to you.”
Becky pulled her hat down and lifted her furry hood over her hat. “If she tells Mommy about the book, I’ll just, I’ll just…,” Becky couldn’t think what she would do.
“Not tonight, Maxine,” Mommy said. “We need to get home now.”
Susie let out an impatient cry.
The Chalmers family tromped into the cellar of their house, shaking off the cold. Mittens, coats, hats, and scarves flew about the cellar in every direction. Mommy stayed downstairs, matching mittens and hanging up coats.
From the kitchen, Daddy called out, “Would anyone like some of my hot chocolate?” Hot chocolate was Daddy’s very best attempt at cooking, his only attempt at cooking.
“Yes!” Becky and the twins shouted.
“You three get into your pajamas first,” Daddy ordered, heating the milk slowly on the stove.
“Save me some,” Mommy shouted from the cellar after making order out of the scattered clothing. Everyone was warmed by the hot chocolate. Susie was asleep already. Three other sets of droopy eyes meant it wouldn’t be hard to put the remaining kids to bed. Mommy snuggled Susie into her bed, and then she trooped upstairs.
“Jim, you put the twins to bed, and I’ll get Becky down,” said Jackie.
Daddy was already urging the boys to fall asleep so Santa Claus could come.
Not quite ready to close her eyes, Becky asked, “Mommy, what happened to the baby? I mean, I know Jesus died and came to life again at Easter time, but what happened between Christmas and Easter?”
“Becky, Jesus was crucified. Then He rose from the dead and went to Heaven. You know that.” Headed down the stairs, Mommy paused, turned around, and said, “I’m tired and I have many things to do tonight, but they can wait.” Jackie sat on Becky’s bed and spoke slowly. “Baby Jesus left his mother’s loving arms and crawled. He took his first steps. His body grew strong. His skin was bronzed by the Egyptian sun until one day it was time to return.”
“Where did He return to?” asked Becky.
“He returned to where his destiny lay, Israel. In school, Jesus learned from scrolls instead of books. His mommy and daddy knew He was God’s son. Baby Jesus had small fingers, perfect fingernails, and tiny hands like yours when you were born.”
To Becky, it seemed like Mommy had actually held baby Jesus in her arms once.
“This baby boy grew. He told the people to love each other. Sometimes people are cruel. When Jesus became a man, He was put on a cross. His life was taken away. Then He rose from death and offered all of us life beyond life and, joy unimaginable. The cross around your neck, Becky, is a silent symbol of His love for you and yours for Him.”
“Have you ever seen His face and hands Mommy?” Becky asked with fascination.
“I have never touched those precious hands, sweetheart,” Mommy whispered. “My heart tells me He is here.” Mommy put her hand over her heart. “Someday you and your brothers and sister will see that there is hatred, deceit, and anger in this world.”
“Mommy, are those things why President Kennedy got killed?” Becky asked.
“Yes, I guess so,” Mommy said.
“Is he going to come back too?” Becky saw her mommy’s face sadden.
“No, only Jesus came back from death. You won’t know what my words mean now. It will take many years to fully understand, but remember what I’ve told you,” Mommy said.
Surrendering to the hot chocolate, Becky slept peacefully, absorbing her mommy’s faith. It was a beautiful Christmas gift on this sorrowful Christmas Eve.
Becky Chalmers Beautified in its entirety is available in eBook and paperback at https://amzn.to/3BSdsiD. Free on eBook; $12.99 in paperback. Be sure to leave a review.
Author Bio - Diane Campbell Green
After completing college and attending graduate school, author Diane Campbell Green’s thought was to someday write history books. She didn’t know at the time that it was her own history that she was meant to share through her beautiful works of fiction.
A child of the ‘50s and ‘60s, Diane had a wonderful childhood growing up in the Delaware River town of Yardley, Pennsylvania. Her memories of lazy summers playing outside, peashooters and paper airplanes, fishing trips and kickball games inspired her to write children’s stories, including her newest, Becky Chalmers Beautified, a precious coming of age story about an eleven-year-old girl finding her place in the world in the ‘60s, for early middle-grade readers.
Diane’s Becky Chalmers series first originated from her own childhood adventures. She hopes her young readers will come away from her books learning what it was like to grow up in a national period of peace and prosperity and with a sense of inner faith and self-confidence that lasts long after the book is closed.
When she isn’t writing poignant stories for young readers, Diane enjoys taking walks with her husband, visiting with her son, reading, and completing jigsaw puzzles. She currently lives in the sponge capital of Florida, Tarpon Springs. She is grateful for the encouragement of her husband and son in her publishing journey which now includes On Being Great Again, a World War II family memoir, This Was Their Time, an adult novel mixing historical fiction and social history, and six children’s books, including four in the Becky Chalmers series.