The Sixth Stocking

Today is my son’s birthday. I wrote the following story over 20 years ago after he was born. It may be a little sappy, but is it a taste of the blessing he has been to us ever since the first Christmas we held him in our arms in Modena, Italy. Happy Birthday Justin!

The Sixth Stocking

“I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me,” the music played.

“Fat chance!” I countered, grabbing for the dial to cut short the reminder of my loneliness. The holidays were a tough time on the mission field. Far from the customs of home, a melancholy feeling I had come to expect characterized the Christmas season. It wasn’t my first Christmas away from home. However, I felt particularly cut off from my family that year, because it was the first Christmas without Dad.

We’d scurried to find a flight home for me when we’d heard of his stage four terminal cancer. The fact was that on our budget, and with my precarious pregnancy, we just couldn’t swing it.

I had said a final goodbye via the crackling of the telephone one month earlier.

Thanksgiving day my Dad spent enjoying the feasts of heaven. My grief was tempered by our joy in awaiting the birth of our fourth child.

“I won’t be able to see your baby, honey,” he’d said, “but I’ll know before you if it’s a girl or a boy.” After a string of 12 granddaughters, it was no secret that dad strongly favored a grandson.

“Don’t try to come home,” he’d said. “Just take care of my grandchild, you hear?”

“All right, Daddy, I will.” I’d promised.

“I’m so happy to know that I’m going to have another grandchild, even if I won’t be here to see him. After all,” he added, “there is no joy quite like a new baby.”

His happiness about the expected baby in spite of his sickness mattered so much to me. When sorrow threatened to sweep me into its current, I washed it down with those parting words, and I kept the grief at bay.

So it was that my husband and I set out to cheer three little girls who knew that they would never again see their Grandpa in that magical land of Oz called America.

“Just think, next Christmas we’ll have a baby here to celebrate with us.”

“Next Christmas our baby will be six months old.”

“Let’s work on a stocking for the baby for next Christmas,” I suggested.

We construed a line of next Christmas’ to block out the pain of that Christmas, when their Grandpa was no longer a part of our celebration.

Determined, I dragged out the sewing machine, and with three sets of wondering eyes stitched a sixth stocking in anticipation of future Christmases.

January brought in the New Year with new sadness. In the strangeness of an Italian hospital bed, I mourned for a dad I loved and for a baby I’d lost. I felt like I’d let Dad down.

His last word rang in my ears like a stuck record. “Just take care of my grandchild, you hear? I’ll know before you if it’s a boy or a girl.”

“Dad, do you know?” I whispered in the dark hospital room in Modena, Italy. “Do you know, was it a boy or a girl?”

“Mommy,” nine-year-old Amee said softly beside my ear. “Are Grandpa and our baby the same age now?”

Charity stood at the foot of my bed with a puckered frown, trying to figure things out with her five-year-old whirring thoughts, “Are Grandpa and our baby friends?”

“Can our baby reach Grandpa’s hand?” timid Heidi questioned. At seven she couldn’t imagine anything worse than being left without a hand to hold.

“Mommy, what will we do NEXT CHRISTMAS?” they all wondered.

When it is January, the next Christmas is a long time in the future. Time is supposed to heal wounds. Ours were bandaged. When Christmas swung around again, nobody mentioned the baby that was to be six-months-old or the Grandma far away missing her life long companion now gone over a year.

I busied myself in Christmas preparations willing cheer into my heart and listening to carols play. I didn’t move the dial when Bing Crosby crooned, “I’ll be home for Christmas.” I resolutely dug out the ornaments, the decorations and made the girls happy that Christmas had come again.

Looking over our finished work, with the girls in bed, the scene was quiet and peaceful. One box remained untouched. I lifted the lid and out fell a stocking, not quite finished. The rough edge on top had unraveled slightly.

Slowly I knelt on the tile floor and picked up my treasure. It was the sixth stocking. I held it against my heart, crying a river of tears that should have been cried long before.

“I’m sorry Dad. I wanted that grandson too,” I said, but only the sparkling lights of the tree heard me in the darkness. In all the years away from home I had never felt so alone, nor wanted so badly to be back in America.  I folded away the sixth stocking and began the ritual of hanging up our five.

Another Christmas faded, put away on a shelf along with its decorations. During the following year, I determined more than ever to enjoy the three wonderful girls God had given us. The abundant blessing of those children filled me with an appreciative joy that overflowed. Contentment finally housed itself in my heart and the hurt softened.

The colored lights again twinkled on the tree. Presents piled around its base. Music filled the air. The happiness of coming full cycle bubbled inside my heart. Stockings hung across the window. One hung still unfinished and a bit unraveled.

I counted. “One, two, three, four, five…six!” Each stocking bulged full to the brim, a reflection of the joy in my heart, as I gazed down at the tiny bundle snuggled so warm in my arms.

“There’s no joy quite like a new baby, Dad,” I mused as I kissed the fuzzy blonde head of his tiny grandson.