The angels were arguing that day, as they drew names for their Christmas miracles.
“But I want the homeless family this year, ” said Angel Martha as she looked at her card. Why did I get someone who doesn’t need my help? Just look at her! “ she said as they looked down and watched an older woman lock the door to her home and walk down the street toward the grocery store. “She has everything that anyone could ever need! I want to trade! Who will give me the criminal who needs to find the error of his ways?”
Angel Harriet, who was older and wiser by several centuries, shook her head.
“Martha, you have drawn this particular case this season because we feel that you, like your charge, need to learn to find satisfaction in the little things.”
“OK….OK…,” muttered Angel Martha. “But next year I want someone with a little more challenge!” Looking down again, she said, “This will be easy. All I have to do is change one little number…..”
“Remember, Martha, that you cannot sing in the Christmas choir until your small miracle is complete.”
“No problem, ” she replied and shrugged her wings. “This shouldn’t take long.”
Madeline purchased the lottery ticket the Tuesday before Christmas, using her lucky numbers and the last dollar in her purse.
“Are you feeling lucky today?” The woman behind the counter smiled as Madeline hurriedly penciled in her numbers and handed over the card to be entered in the computer. She slipped the ticket into her coat pocket and smiled in return.
“I play the same numbers every week, and sooner or later my luck has got to change!” Shifting the grocery bag to her other hip, she left the store and walked down the street to the women’s shelter, where she volunteered two afternoons a week.
The elderly lady walked at a pace of a woman half her age. Widowed for five years, she led an active and happy life, and experienced only fleeting moments of loneliness. With her children and grandchildren living nearby, she had a constant stream of visitors, and many little hands to empty her cookie jar.
Ringing the doorbell of the generic-looking suburban home, Madeline noticed that the trim needed a coat of paint. The shelter was one of several “safe houses” whose locations were known only to those who needed them. There was little extra money to buy paint, as all the donations were used to feed and clothe the needy women and children who entered, sometimes in the middle of the night, with only the clothes on their backs and the bruises both inside and out.
“It was so good of you to come, especially during this hectic holiday time,” the director shook her head as they looked over the shelter’s books. “Our donations are down this month, too. I just don’t know how we are going to scrape by.”
Madeline reached for her grocery bag. “I brought the ingredients to put together a casserole and a salad. Are we still serving six?”
“Seven if you’ll join us.”
Noticing a shy toddler peeking around the corner, Madeline shook her head and gave him a wink. “I can’t stay tonight, as I need to start my Christmas baking, but I do think that there are enough supplies to make a pan of brownies, too. “
“You’re a lucky woman to have such a big happy family. I sometimes forget that there are happy families out there. “
“I do count my blessings every day.” Madeline thought of her lottery ticket. “Maybe if my numbers come in, I can count a little cash, too!”
December 24 dawned crisp and cold as Madeline prepared for the holiday. She spent the afternoon cleaning her already spotless little home while humming along to the Christmas carols playing on the radio. The pumpkin pies were now chilling in the refrigerator, and the smoky warm aroma of honey-glazed ham permeated the air. The large dinner had stretched her budget to the limit, but if she counted her pennies, she could make it until her check came in.
Glancing at her watch, Madeline pulled off her apron and decided she had a few minutes to put her feet up and watch the evening news. Dozing in front of the crackling fire, she almost missed the weekly lottery drawing. She sat up a little straighter as the numbers were announced: 1…..9…..10…..12…..48…..49. Staring at the television screen, Madeline’s heart began to beat a little faster.
“My numbers!” Jumping out of the chair, she grabbed her purse and began rummaging through it. “Where did I put that ticket?” Remembering her coat, Madeline reached into the pocket and pulled out the slightly crumpled ticket, clutching it to her chest. Visions of a trip around the world on an unlimited budget went thought her head as she held the precious piece of paper.
What a Christmas present! “ she said aloud. “All for these six little numbers: 1….9…..10…..12…..48….and 50…..”FIFTY!” Putting on her glasses, she checked the numbers again. “But I ALWAYS play forty-nine!” Digging into her coat pocket again, she pulled out the card she had filled out. Sure enough, in her hurry to get to the shelter, she must have pencilled in the wrong number.
Deflated, the woman sat down again, still clutching the ticket in her hand and shaking her head. Oh, the unfairness of it all!
Nobody seemed to notice that Madeline was a little subdued during dinner that night. The grandchildren were so excited that they were hardly able to sit still, and the happy laughter echoed through the small house. How she loved them all! It would have been so nice to surprise them with all that money and shower them with expensive presents. The few simply wrapped gifts under her small Christmas tree made her heart heavy. After dinner, the family walked down the block to the church for Christmas Eve services. Listening to the familiar hymns and the age-old Christmas story brought little comfort to her heart, but as her young grandson slipped under her arm and gave her a smile, the realization finally struck. With the warmth of a family’s love, the blessing of good health, and a snug roof over her head, she was already the wealthiest woman in the world! To wish for anything more or for what might have been would be unnecessary, and Madeline knew at that moment that she would never again buy another lottery ticket.
The family passed the shelter on the way home. Christmas lights adorned the slightly shabby exterior, and Madeline pictured the sadness and courage found inside. Reaching into her pocket, she felt the edges of the ticket. It may not be worth millions, but with five winning numbers, it would be worth enough to get the shelter through until the new year.
“Please stop here a minute,” she held her son’s arm.
“Do you know someone here, Grandma?” asked her oldest granddaughter.
“I’m just dropping something off for a friend,” said Madeline as she walked up the steps and slipped the ticket under the door. Straightening her back, she looked up at the lights, sparkling in the clear night and at the dear faces of her family, cheeks reddened from the cold.
“Merry Christmas,” she whispered into the night.
“Somebody is playing some beautiful music tonight,” said Madeline’s daughter as she rounded up her little ones.
“It sounds like the angels are singing,” said her grandson. And they listened to the glorious music all the way home.
Originally published in the St. Augustine Record, December 25, 1997
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