“Pictures” … A Christmas Story of the Day

By David Koning

Warren and Rose Collins watched the biggest snowstorm of the winter season blast the window panes of the family room. The twinkling Christmas tree’s lights reflected in the glass intruded on their view of the scene. The east wind plastered the snow against the house, piling up drifts no one needed to shovel, since the kids weren’t coming over that Sunday evening.

“Just stay put.” Rose had told their son Todd over the phone that morning after she heard on the radio that everything was canceled on account of the storm. “You can come another time, when the weather’s not so fierce.”

“Okay, Ma. Take care of yourself ‘way out there’ in the country.” She pictured him smiling as static crackled in the earpiece of the phone. “Janey says ‘hi’… and save some popcorn for her.”

With the prospects of a Sunday evening visit obliterated by the storm, Warren and Rose popped popcorn for themselves, saving some for grand-daughter Janey who would be coming next week to celebrate Christmas with them.

“Whatcha got there Rosey?” Warren looked up from the holiday edition of the Fire Fighters Journal he was paging through.

“Just dusting off some of the picture albums.” She blew on the end of a red scrapbook filled with old pictures.

“Achoo…,” Warren faked a sneeze. They laughed. “OOOhh… Look at this picture of Todd and Steph.” Rose sat next to him on the couch. Warren smiled at the picture of the two kids sitting on old fire Engine Number 9, Todd’s long hair spilling out from under his dad’s oversized helmet, and his older sister ringing the bell.

Hauling out that old scrapbook was all it took for the two snowbound refugees to begin reminiscing. Before long it was, “Remember the time…” and “Weren’t they cute…” On and on it went with just the two of them sifting through old pictures, reviving memories of the good times now past. They had to admit that in spite of the inconvenience of the snowstorm raging outside, life was pretty good these days. In the quiet coziness of the family room, together, looking at old pictures of their two children, Warren softly breathed, “God’s blessed us real good, you know…”

The thing about old pictures is they rarely tell both sides of the story. More often than not, some proud parent is running around snapping pictures at happy occasions – the birthday parties, family gatherings and vacations. Pictures in old albums reflect the joy of a moment frozen on a piece of film, symbolizing that at that time and that place, all was well. They create the false illusion that if families would just smile and say, “Cheese!” everything would be just fine.

However, the difficult situations are rarely found in picture albums. The times when parents, even Christian folks like the Collins, despair over their children. The deadly illnesses, the disobedience and rebellion — these things do not find their way into family albums. The ways God works to heal a parent’s hurts or to change a kid’s heart, those images are reserved only for the album of a person’s mind and heart. Such was the case with Todd. Both Warren and Rose were reminded again of God’s goodness when they came to the photo of the strangers, Jack and Marci, and their brand new baby, Emily.

“Ah, look at her…” Rose cooed. “What a doll!” She gazed at a picture of a tiny baby and a proud looking boy of about thirteen, with an old quilt. “Todd’s hair was so long back then.” She didn’t need to remind Warren of that ‘little’ irritation.

“Remember that storm?” He looked out at this year’s version. “What a storm it was! About this same time of year, too.” As evening crept into the dimly lit family room. They recalled the storms of the past – the meteorological ones that came and went as well as the seemingly endless storms with their son Todd at the center. When they looked back they could see God woven through all of it. As they reminisced the wind howled around outside, adding its own special effects.


It was back when Todd was in 9th or 8th grade, Warren couldn’t remember, that he had to pick up his son from an after school detention. At that time, Todd seemed to be heading down the wrong path in life. ‘Class clown’ was the phrase some of his teachers used to described Todd. However, clowning around was minor compared to the temper tantrums he could throw when he didn’t get his way. Other than getting his way, Todd didn’t care much about anything or anyone, – an attitude that thoroughly frustrated Warren.

It was the day before Christmas break. Warren looked at the gangly adolescent as he mounted the passenger seat in the pick-up and muttered, “I believe there’s a storm coming! Somethin’s bound to change.”

Todd glanced over at him with a kind of a puzzled grin that said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I think I’m gonna find out.” Then he looked away, and stared out of the window as they drove home. It was a poor beginning to their Christmas vacation.

In spite of the detention, yelling, pouting, and subsequent punishment, Christmas Eve arrived on schedule. All day the gray clouds hung low and the air was cold and still. It was the kind of day that really didn’t call attention to itself, yet Todd found himself looking out of the window like he was anticipating the arrival of some great event. It wasn’t the family reunion, either.

The Collins family reunion occurred every year on Christmas Eve. The big family party, at Warren and Rose’s that year, was held in spite of the ominous threat of heavy snow in the weather forecast. Relatives from all over filled the house. Even Todd’s Uncle Paul came all the way from Vancouver this year, buoying Todd’s hopes of playing some hockey on the pond that week.

The east wind whooshed through the door as Aunt Eleanor lumbered into the house. She looked in Todd’s direction, smiled sweetly and gushed, “Hi, Toddie!” as she passed through the hallway. Todd mumbled some sort of greeting, as the bells on the pine wreath jingled when his not-so-favorite aunt brushed past it on her way to the kitchen to drop off her casserole.

The raging blizzard blasting outside made most of the relatives uneasy as the party progressed through the food, games and gifts. Because of the storm, most of them left earlier than usual. Aunt Eleanor insisted on helping Rose and Warren clean up before she would even think of going home. While most of the revelers gathered up their belongings and empty tupperware and made their way towards home down the slippery road, Rose sent Todd and Stephanie upstairs to bed, Todd protesting all the way.

The thought of the swirling snow, opening presents in the morning and the joy of hockey on the pond with Uncle Paul, kept any sleepiness from Todd’s eyes. He looked out the bedroom window at the wintery landscape below. There wasn’t much to see, actually. Gusts of wind blew up explosions of soft white powder that blocked Todd’s view of anything but his own yard light and the lights of the neighbors farther down the country lane. The tall weeds along the road marked the boundary between it and the frozen ditch alongside it.

The snowy scene was interrupted by two dim points of light emerging through a cloud of snow along the road. The headlights were like two eyes of a beast slowly searching for its way home. One was brighter than the other, which made the dim outline of the car look like a fatigued creature, too tired to continue the quest for the warmth of home, friends and family.

Todd watched as the car inched its way up the snowy road. He yawned. Suddenly the lights were gone. It was as if some great snow magician had waved a magic wand and turned that car and its occupants into another drift. The blowing snow had made it impossible to see the road in front of the car. Apparently, the driver couldn’t tell what was road and what was ditch. The sudden disappearance of the car was all the excuse Todd needed.

“Hey, Steph!” He shouted. “C’mon! There’s a car in the ditch!”

Warren, Stephanie, Todd and Aunt Eleanor rushed from the house to the road, toward the car. Todd exclaimed, “That’s it! There it is! Down in the ditch!” Warren kept up with Todd and surveyed the scene by his side.

They saw no signs of life, no tracks, no movement. The blowing snow cast an eerie halo around the yard light. Warren approached the side of the beat up old Ford, tipped sideways in the ditch and buried up to the roof on the driver’s side. A quick look around the car gave no clues as to what they might find inside. Knee deep in snow, Warren walked up to the window on the passenger side. The wind was whipping the scarf around his head as he brushed the snow from around the door. As if he were unwrapping the most fragile of Christmas gifts, he gently tried to open the door. The rusty door gave a croaking sound like its last gasp of life. The door opened to reveal the gift that the snowy package carried.

The first thing Warren noticed was the young woman’s big brown eyes. They looked as if they hadn’t seen a merry Christmas in quite some time. She tried to speak but the words caught somewhere in her throat.

Warren peered into the car past the woman and saw a young man with a ponytail and an earring, his hands still gripping the wheel. He grinned sheepishly, looked up and said, “Hi! I guess I really buried her this time!” An embarrassed smirk played around the corners of his mouth.

Warren glanced back over his shoulder to Aunt Eleanor and ‘whispered’, “Hippies!”

Todd didn’t know much about hippies, but he figured that we should get these people out of the ditch, back on the road and on their way, storm or no storm. Aunt Eleanor said something to Warren but her words were blown into the next county by the gale wind and were unheard by the rest. Warren surprised all of them when he invited these people to come into the house!

Todd gave an “I don’t know about this” kind of look out of the corner of his eye and thought, “What’s he up to… ?”

Not even a trained fire fighter like Warren could do more for the strangers that night. Their car was hopelessly stuck in the ditch. It was too far to drive to a motel in that kind of weather. They couldn’t afford to spend the money to rent a room, anyway.

What finally convinced Warren to let these people stay in the house was when he realized that it wasn’t a basketball that the woman was hiding under her five dollar Salvation Army coat.

It turned out that this young couple, Jack and Marci, married just a year and a half ago, were on their way to Pittsburgh. Jack lost his job. No work means no money for rent. No rent means no place to live… except in that old Ford. It was when Marci became pregnant that they started thinking about going back to live with Marci’s folks.

Aunt Eleanor and Rose did all they could to make the young couple comfortable. Their thin coats and worn gloves had provided little protection from the cold in the heatless old car. As their bodies thawed, the mood also warmed in the room. After a while it seemed like Jack and Marci were part of the family.

Midnight was approaching. Nobody was going anywhere that night. The excitement of the snow storm and the unexpected guests kept Todd and Stephanie wide awake. They blended into the background and listened while the adults talked about past Christmases, family and, of course, the weather.

The next few hours were a blur to the kids. Stephanie fell asleep on the couch. Todd snored, wrapped up in his favorite old quilt on the floor. His sub-conscience recorded fragments of the night’s action — the excited adults — no snow plows — the ambulance couldn’t get through — something about a delivery to the house. Todd dreamed of a mail truck roaring through the snow to deliver a special package. The young couple faded away — then Jack was there — Aunt Eleanor was in and out of the guest room — everybody looked worried, except Todd’s dad, who seemed in control as ever — the crying, it sounded like cat screeching in the middle of the night —

Todd figured it was just a dream, and a weird one at that, so he pulled the quilt up to his neck, rolled over, and continued his slumber.

Not many hours later, the sun shone through the east window of the living room where the ‘dreamers’ had fallen asleep. The rays caught the tin foil Christmas tree ornament that Todd made when he was in first grade. The sun’s bright light filled the room. The aroma of Warren’s famous Christmas breakfast, nudged the sleep from Todd’s foggy brain. Stephanie was already up, wrapped in an afghan like a cocoon. She was asking all kinds of questions, the same questions Todd was forming in his mind. “What happened? A baby? Nah! When? Who? Boy or girl? Can I see him, uh, her? Wow! Right in the house? Wow!”

Along with the birth of tiny Emily, came the end of the raging storm of the previous night. The sun sparkled brightly on the freshly fallen blanket of snow. The whole house was filled with the pure light of the Christmas sun dancing on the tinsel and decorations, reflecting the joy of the day.

Uncharacteristically, at that moment, Todd was not interested in breakfast, hockey on the pond, presents under the tree or the Christmas stocking hung by the fireplace. His whole attention was on that baby.

Rose nudged Warren. They looked on with interest as Todd. He folded up the quilt, the one his grandma made for him for his first Christmas. He gently handed it to Marci and said awkwardly, “Umm… I think I’d like your little girl, uh … Emily, to have this.” He cleared his throat. “And … oh, yeh, merry Christmas…”

“Thanks… a lot,” she said, her tired brown eyes expressing a more profound level of gratitude than were implied in her words.

“No problem,” Todd replied, with an expanding grin. The camera flashed as Warren captured the moment. A moment that testified to the beginnings of a change of heart which the photograph could not show … but, is now obvious … to his parents, waiting out a different storm and remembering…

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