A Christmas Story for the Children of the Hamptons
Illustrated by Mickey Paraskevas
In the middle of the night, four hours before Christmas morning, Owen woke suddenly and leaped out of bed. Had Santa come yet? He ran to the window, pushed his mop of red hair out of his eyes and opened the curtains. Outside, twinkly stars bathed the neighborhood in a soft white glow. Snow had fallen during the night, and the sidewalks, streets and trees, as far as he could see, were heavy with the stuff.
Owen, who was eight years old, looked down the block one way and down the block the other and did not see a footprint or hoofprint anywhere. Nor did he see sleigh runner streaks. Santa hadn’t come yet.
Then he thought—how silly of me. Santa and his sleigh land on rooftops and Santa climbs down inside chimneys. From his room, Owen wasn’t high up enough to see any nearby rooftops, but there was another way to find out if Santa had come. He could go downstairs and see if the presents were under the tree.
This he’d have to do very quietly, because everybody else in the house was asleep. So he barefooted his way along the hall and tiptoed carefully down the stairs. In the living room, all the presents were piled up under the tree, gift-wrapped with colorful Christmas paper, bows and ribbons. He walked over. He could hardly miss the shape of the hobbyhorse his little brother Eli wanted under all the gift-wrapping. Abraham wanted a Lego set. A big box sat under the tree and had his name on it. Owen picked it up and quietly jiggled it. It made a noise. Yup. Legos. Two little gift-wrapped packages were for Happy and Lucky, their cats. And a bigger gift-wrapped package was for his dad. Owen knew what was in there. Dad had told him he wanted a scarf. Another package was for his mom, but who knew what she wanted. Owen saw a package for his older sister Maya and another for Grandpa Dave, who was living in the guest room. Then he saw a big box for baby Arthur. He picked that up and shook it. It rattled.
And that was that. There was no present for him. None at all. It made him very sad. He’d been a good boy and had gone to see Santa at Hildreth’s Department Store two weeks earlier. He very clearly told Santa what he wanted: a baseball mitt, and not just a regular mitt—a first baseman’s mitt. He wanted to be a first baseman for the New York Yankees when he grew up. Santa told him to count on it. There would be a first baseman’s mitt under the tree on Christmas morning.
But there wasn’t. Owen thought maybe he should open all the other presents to make sure his mitt was not accidentally wrapped for someone else, but then he knew he couldn’t do that. He’d wind up with a huge mess and Mom would be upset. After all, it was not morning yet. When it was, everyone would run down and they’d all wait for everyone to get there before opening things.
Well, there was nothing for him. He was sure of it, and now he began to cry. At that moment, there was a knock on the front door. Owen stopped crying and stared at it. As he did, he saw a red envelope get slipped under the door. And then there was quiet. He stood perfectly.
After a while, Owen walked over and picked up the envelope. It had words on the front in big green block letters: TO THE PHILLIPS FAMILY. That was it. No stamp. Nothing.
Owen turned it over to look at the back. It was not sealed, but there was a card inside he could slide out. It was red and also had words in big block letters on one side.
CAN’T FIND OWEN’S MITT. IF WE FIND IT, WE’LL BE BACK. ELF THREE.
Owen turned the note over and over. But that’s all there was. So he thought more. And now, thinking was making him tired. It was three in the morning, after all. Maybe he should go back to sleep. Then he’d wake up in the morning, they would have found his mitt, come back and it would be there. Yes. That is what he should do. And so he tiptoed back upstairs and into his room, carefully closing the door behind him, and then to completely darken the room for sleep, he went over to close the window curtain. And there, he stopped.
Instead, he opened the window. Cold from the night swept in. Seeing the snow on the porch roof just outside, he went to his closet and took out his boots, put them on, then put on a zip-up sweater Santa had brought him last year, and with a simple hop, climbed out the window to the porch roof and stood unsteadily in the snow there. He shivered, then turned around and looked up. It wouldn’t be that hard to shimmy up the drainpipe to the chimney. Indeed, he’d done exactly that last summer. The view was great and nobody ever knew. Now it was cold and he’d have to hurry.
Wow. Up top, alongside the chimney, there were footprints, sleigh runner marks and hoofprints. Did reindeer have hoofs? I guess they did. Before doing anything else, he looked out to all the rooftops of all the houses in the neighborhood. As far as the eye could see, the snow on those roofs was full of footprints, too. Santa had been everywhere.
And then he saw it. By the light of the stars, a gift-wrapped package sitting on the snow was right up against the chimney where it was difficult to see. It must have fallen out of Santa’s sack. He went over to it. Yup. His name was on it. He clutched it to his chest for a moment, so happy. But then he thought, well, how do I get this down? I need both arms to get back down the drainpipe. The answer was right in front of him. He didn’t even hesitate. He took it to the chimney, held it up and looked down. It would fit. So he just dropped it. After a moment, he heard a kerplop. Then some dust came up.
A few minutes later, Owen was back in his room, red-faced and breathing hard. He closed the window, put his boots and sweater back in his closet, then quickly and quietly tiptoed back downstairs. There, he pulled his gift out of the fireplace and put it with the others under the tree.
There was just one more thing to do. He found a blue crayon, picked up the Elf’s letter from where he set it on the coffee table, slid out the note, turned it around and wrote.
FOUND MITT. IT WAS ON THE ROOF. THANK YOU. LOVE YOU. OWEN.
He slid the note back into the envelope, then crossed out TO THE PHILLIPS FAMILY and under it wrote ELF THREE. When finished, he walked it to the front door and slid it back under.
Two hours later, Owen heard the commotion downstairs. He sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes. People were calling to him to come down.
Downstairs, everyone sat on the rug in their pajamas, opening the presents one at a time. Mother got a pair of leather gloves. Baby Arthur got a rattle, Eli got the hobbyhorse, Abraham the Legos, Maya a silver necklace, Grandpa a wooden chess set and Dad his scarf. When Dad got to the present for Owen, he turned it over and over. “Well,” his father said. “This one is all banged up. Looks like it’s been through the mill.”
“It won’t have hurt it,” Owen said, immediately wishing he hadn’t.
“Open it,” shouted Maya.
And so father handed the present to Owen, who ripped off the giftwrap and inside found this beautiful, soft, leather first baseman’s mitt smelling of cowhide. He put it on. It fit perfectly.
“Wow!” he said.
Later that morning, after his father made a fire and they all enjoyed a Christmas morning breakfast of pancakes and sausage, fruit and yogurt and eggnog and orange juice, father got up, patted his stomach, said it was getting pretty warm in here, which it was, walked to the front door and opened it.
“Merry Christmas,” he shouted out to the world.
Owen, behind him, looked outside too, for a red envelope on the ground. None was there.
Ha! he thought.