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  • by Janet St. John

Art & Soul Short #46

Carlos Anderson (American, born 1905). Published by WPA. 1935–43. Lithograph. 11 1/2 x 15 1/2 in. (29.2 x 39.4 cm) sheet: 14 1/2 x 18 1/2 in. (36.8 x 47 cm). Gift of the Work Projects Administration, New York, 1943. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art open access.

Another Kind of Christmas

Four days before Christmas, Teddy pumps his little legs as fast as he can to keep up with his mother. She said they must hurry to catch the train for Philadelphia. She tugs him along, flustered, confused about where to find their platform. Or she is worried. For days, she selected and packed outfits for Teddy and his sister Lenora, then unpacked and chose others. They met the grandparents from his father’s side before. They are serious people, and tall. Teddy had to tilt his head way back, like looking up at the Empire State Building, to see their wrinkly pale faces. This is the first Christmas without his father, the first time visiting the grandparents’ home in what his mother called the City of Brotherly Love. Teddy wonders why brotherly, not sisterly. Lenora always hugs him and kisses his cheek as if he were her a bigger version of her baby doll Shirley.

His mother stops, and Teddy crashes into Lenora’s back. His mother asks a man with a briefcase for directions. Teddy twists and cranes his neck. He likes the Christmas wreaths and garlands decorating the station. He likes the carols, though he can’t see who is singing them. He doesn’t like the crowd. It’s reminds him of getting lost in the rows of corn with his other grandparents in Wisconsin. His mother was so happy there, even though his father took the train back to New York a week early, saying he couldn’t miss any more work at the bank. Then the war began.

Teddy is five and clings to things his mother tells him about his father and before he was born, what life was like, what Lenora was like. She is three years older. His mother thanks the man, clutches Teddy’s hand more tightly. “Come on babies, let’s make that train.” Lenora swerves around a fella with a tall pair of wood skis, darts past another sweeping the floor, cuts a path through the crowd that Teddy’s mother, and her boy-appendage, follow. Teddy grips her hand harder. He wants to cry because he’s tired and scared of the crowd, because he doesn’t want to be with stuffy old people he barely knows on his favorite holiday and wear perfect little outfits and be on his best behavior and not scream or laugh too loudly and say Thank you and Yes, Sir and pretend to be happy when he receives a sweater he doesn’t want or something his mother calls “practical,” which is practically everything those grandparents ever sent or gave him.

On the platform, Teddy’s mom hoists him into her arms. He wiggles, not wanting to be held like a baby. The platform is narrow, packed with suitcases, porters, and people looking at tickets and train cars. It is loud and dark. But the trains are great blown-up versions of the wood train set Teddy plays with at home. He wishes he could wake up in his own bed Christmas morning, unwrap the rubber cars he asked for, and a kite. He wishes his father were home from wherever he is in Europe.

His mother sets him down inside the train. He runs the aisle, though she calls him back. He giggles and says, “Merry Christmas” back to a woman in furry-collared coat who said it first. A man resembling his father tilts a fedora and says, “Good day, young fella.”

Teddy returns to the seats where his mother and Lenora are settling. He knows he will love riding the train. Standing at the window, Teddy watches a boy about his age, who is carrying a big shiny wrapped present, enter a train car on the other side of the platform. Teddy wonders if he will have fun with his Philadelphia cousins. He hopes that maybe, this very different year, Christmas will be okay.

Blessings to all of you this holiday season!


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