Grannie Alma was not doing any better in the nursing home. She always seemed so tired and didn’t smile as much as was her custom. Still, when I put my hand in hers she would place it on her face and kiss it.
“So soft and warm,” she would say. “So soft and warm.”
Seeing the angel in Alfred Miller’s red candle had given me lots to think about. He said I could make one wish. What could I wish for?
I didn’t want to wish for something for me. No, it had to be something for Grannie Alma. Why not wish that I could find her something that would be the best present ever for her on Christmas?
So, that’s what I wished. I wished that I would find the best Christmas present for Grannie.
The annual school Christmas pageant was always the best night of the school year. Our pageant was to be held the night before Christmas Eve and was directed by a new resident in town who no one really knew very well. We called her Miss Judy. She was very nice and very pretty and always seemed to have a glow about her.
For two weeks we went to the gym for an hour or two every day to practice the Christmas pageant even during our school vacation. All of the nearly 200 students in grades one to six would sit on the gym floor as each grade practiced their part. From the very first practice unusual things began to happen, like when the sixth grade teacher, Miss Middledorf, fell off the stage.
Had it not been for my friend, Faith, who was one of the nicest girls in my class as well as the biggest and softest, Miss Middledorf could have been seriously hurt. Miss Middledorf took too many steps backward and fell.
Amazingly, she was not hurt – nor was Faith. People just thought Faith was big and soft and saved Miss Middledorf. No one saw, at least no one except me, a series of red flickering lights under Miss Middledorf that kind of cradled her as she fell backwards. I didn’t tell anyone what I saw because I didn’t think anyone would believe me. I really wasn’t sure what I saw.
On the second day of practice another mysterious thing happened. The children in grades four, five and six had all of the speaking parts. Memorizing their lines was hard. All of the teachers were amazed when on just the second day of practice everyone knew their lines by heart.
I didn’t tell anyone about the small red light I saw above the heads of each student as they said their lines. It could have been a light from the stage or a reflection of light from the gym windows so I didn’t say anything.
Each of the succeeding practice days the pageant was the scene of some unusual happenings. On the third day I saw a bright red bird fly in the gym and sit on a stage light to watch the students practice. On the fourth day, all of the students who were playing Santa’s elves had glowing red noses.
On the fifth day of practice, the principal, Mr. Meter, came to watch the rehearsal. When the part came in the pageant where the reindeer had to fly off into the sky, Mr. Meter’s nose was a glowing red color. I saw all of it, but I didn’t say anything.
On the sixth and seventh day of practice, the custodian, Mr. Lamey, complained to the teachers that he swore he had seen glowing red fireflies buzzing around the gymnasium and wanted to know if they were part of the pageant. The teachers thought he was just kidding. I had seen them, too, but, again, I didn’t say anything.
The last day of practice was dress rehearsal. Everything went as planned and no strange things happened until Miss Judy made a change in the program. The climax of the pageant was to occur when Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus and all of the elves and reindeer flew to the home of a poor family to deliver all kinds of presents. The family just had a new baby. Miss Judy now said that they would deliver just one present and only she would know what it would be.
The mysterious events surrounding the school pageant were on everyone’s mind when the doors opened on Friday night for the pageant’s main performance. Everyone was waiting to see what the present would be that Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus and all of the elves and all of the reindeer would deliver to the newborn baby.
Finally the time arrived in the program where the mother was to open the present. It was in an all-white box with a bright red ribbon. The baby’s mother knelt beside her child to open it. The audience and all the children and I gazed in anticipation as the mother untied the red ribbon and lifted the cover.
Suddenly two bright red lights burst out of the box and shone all around the gymnasium as high as the ceiling. The light shone out of the gymnasium windows lighting the streets and homes as if it were a day in August filled with sunshine. The same light shown over all of the faces of the moms and dads sitting on the bleachers and over all of the children’s faces. The brightest light, however, seemed to be shining directly on the baby.
When the red lights dimmed, a baby white bunny with bright red eyes hopped out of the box and into the mother’s arms. She held the bunny to her cheek and then to the baby’s cheeks. It was the perfect gift. Everyone applauded.
Miss Judy moved away shortly after the pageant and no one ever heard from her again. Everyone said the present was kind of a sign and all agreed that it had been a wonderful event.
On Christmas Eve day we all went to the nursing home to visit Grannie Alma. We knew her time on earth was almost over. We all wished her a Merry Christmas and she held our hands and pressed them against her cheek and said, “So warm, so soft.” And then she added, “I love you.”
When it was my turn, I gave her a white box tied with a red ribbon. “Here’s a present for you Grannie.” I untied the ribbon for her and she lifted the cover and out hopped the little bunny rabbit with bright red eyes.
She lifted the rabbit to her cheek and said, “Oh, so soft. Oh, so warm,” and then a tear came to her eye as she looked into the bunny’s red, glowing eyes. “Thank you,” she said.
My family thought it was a wonderful present. They said I could bring the bunny down for Grannie to touch whenever I visited her. While sitting around the dinner table that Christmas Eve my mother received a call from the nursing home. Grannie had just passed away.
When my brother and I had checked our trap in the culvert on that snowy morning a couple of weeks earlier, we had found some white rabbit fur in the trap. Although we didn’t say anything, we were both glad we didn’t catch the rabbit. As we were walking back home I was thinking how good it was that the rabbit was still living and how wonderful it would be to see its tracks in the snow.
The wish I made from Alfred’s candle came true. I had wished for a perfect present for Grannie, and no one could think of a better gift.
When the Christmas pageant was over, and after I told Miss Judy about Grannie, she thought the little bunny rabbit would make a perfect gift. As for its red glowing eyes, well, I just can’t explain them. Maybe they were kind of like Alfred’s candle. Maybe when my grandmother looked into them she saw an angel.
Note: Truth be told, Grannie Alma died on Christmas Eve in 1988 at the age of 100. She always enjoyed holding your hand, kissing it and bringing it to her cheek.
JOHN R. EGGERS of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.