Andrea pressed her nose against the frosted windowpane to get a better look outside. Not a drop of snow fell from the gray, overcast sky on this gloomy Christmas afternoon. Fidgety with anticipation, she wriggled in her seat. She could hear the adults in the parlor, talking and laughing away. She got up to go see if they were having more fun than she was, sitting by the window and waiting for the snow to come. She listened as they reminisced about old times long gone by.
A girl of ten, she was curious about everything. She spoke up in a tiny voice from the back of the room, "Mommy, is it going to snow?"
"Honey, it's going to take a miracle for it to snow. They call for rain today," her mother said from across the table.
"Oh, I think it'll snow," her grandmother said. "I can think of bigger miracles."
"Like what?" Andrea asked. "Did you ever have a Christmas miracle?" Her grandmother stroked Andrea's hair awhile before she began.
"Well, when I was small, I lived in a tiny country house in a rural farming community in Minnesota. The weather was real bad in winter, but we managed. My father farmed the land we owned with the help of Uncle Jack and Uncle Jim. My mother worked as a seamstress. My older brother Sam was fifteen. At the time, I was about your age, nine or ten.
"We had a small vegetable garden in the back of our tiny house and in the summertime Sam used to take me down to the farmers' market in town. We would split the money we got for a few dozen cucumbers, carrots and potatoes. I had saved all of my money until Christmas, when I wanted to buy a special gift for my mother.
"I had passed by Sherry's Specialty Store and in the large store window saw the most beautiful watch for sale. It just so happened that my mother's old watch had stopped ticking a couple of days ago and she needed a new one. So one cold day in late December, right before Christmas, while my parents were at work, I got out the $21.95 that I had saved from the summer, which I hid under the loose floorboard of our back porch, along with the key to my diary. I begged Sam to take me down to town. Reluctantly, he gave in and got his coat. I ran down to Sherry's, Sam at my side and money in hand.
"I opened the door to a brightly lit store and heard the cowbell attached to the door jingle. Jars filled to the top with candy lined the counter's shelves. Yards of colorful ribbons and fabric dripped from their cubbyholes. Dress-up dolls with blinky eyes stared down at me. I resisted all of the temptations to snatch them up and then remembered why I was here.
"That gleaming watch shined from under the counter. A single ray of light sparkled against its face as it slowly ticked away the time I had spent saving up for this glorious day. I put my hand on the warm glass counter and said, 'I think I want this one, right here.' The clerk unlocked the counter with a small gold key, lifted it out and showed it to me. Then placing it in a satin box, he tied a small bow around it and rang up the price on the register: $21.90 exactly.
"I was beaming so hard that my jaw ached when I left the store. I held tight to my mother's gift. I can still feel its rough crushed-velvet exterior rubbing against my sweaty palm. I looked up at the sky, which was gray and overcast, just like today . . ."
"Did it snow?" an anxious Andrea interrupted her story.
"Oh, yes, it snowed. I looked down and saw a single snowflake fall to the dusty soil. Then another and another until they were falling so quickly I could barely keep track of them. My feet were soon crunching through a thin layer of powdery light snow. Gusts of wind blew the snow up in my face as I marched on. Sam didn't want to admit it, but we were in the middle of a full-fledged genuine blizzard. I clasped Sam's hand as if my life depended on it, for his face was no longer visible through the thick layer of falling flakes.
"We needed to find shelter, so I yelled to Sam above the roar of the wind. 'What do we do now?'
"Just follow me, I know the way!' he shouted back. Later on, he confided to me that he didn't know where we were going, but after an hour of wandering, my faith in Sam withered. We trudged on endlessly through the rough weather.
"Soon, Sam grasped some sort of handle. He pulled it open with all of his strength, revealing a barn. Like most of the barns in the area, there were a few work animals and chickens. Nothing that different. With much struggle, Sam and I pushed against the wide doors, huge gusts of wind stinging our faces. A sudden click brought silence. I opened my eyes and saw that the big red doors were closed. I had never heard a more beautiful sound in my life than the click of those doors. I slid down into the hay, tired and cold.
"Sam paced in front of the large barn doors. He tried to find some clue to where we were, but he only got frustrated without his compass. It all looked so familiar, but I was too exhausted to concentrate on anything. Finally, hungry and worn out, he nestled into the hay next to me. I closed my eyes and slept.
"When I awoke, I didn't know how long I had been asleep. All I could hear was the rhythmic sound of Sam's breathing. I headed toward the door and cautiously opened it a bit to peek outside. It had stopped snowing, and at least a foot of it lay on the ground. Not wanting to wake Sam, I quietly shut the door and stepped outside into the oncoming daylight. I could clearly see the light of a house not too far away. With hope in my heart, I ran as fast as I could to the house, which looked so familiar, even in the snow. Smoke puffed out from the modest house's low brick chimney. They sure are up early, I thought. I climbed the snow-covered steps and looked out. The world seemed so different, dazzling white snow lay everywhere, like a snow globe turned upside down. I took another step toward the door and my foot slid something back. I bent down and brushed away the snow. A loose floorboard lay to the side of an open space, where a small metal key lay, just waiting for me.
"This was my house! This was my key! A huge bubble of hope nearly floated me to the clouds. I pounded the brass doorknocker and was greeted by my two parents. They looked so old, with bags under their eyes and wrinkles in their faces. When they saw me, they lit up like a Christmas tree and wrapped me in a warm hug. Even though I was starving and cold, I felt like flying. I jumped off the porch and landed in the foot-deep snow. I made snow angels until I had used up all my happiness. I ran to get Sam, who was still asleep in the barn. He joined the family as we warmed up by the fire. I told our exciting adventure to them, all the pain, frustration and joy. When it came to the part where I was going to show the watch to my mother, my pockets were empty.
"Panicked thoughts of losing that precious watch flooded my mind. I burst out the door, frantically searching to find it. My foot kicked the loose floorboard again, and to my great surprise, there in the empty space lay the silver watch, sparkling and untouched on a pedestal of white snow. I looked around to see if anyone had found it and had given it back, yet I had told no one about this secret spot. Not a single person walked the streets, not a single path had been cleared. The whole town was just starting to wake up.
"Back then, I thought it was Santa Claus, but today I still don't know who gave it back. Now that's a Christmas miracle," she said as she finished up her story.
The room was quiet. Everyone was still trying to absorb the story. She slowly stood up and walked to the window. A lot had changed since then. Now she lived in Chicago. Her parents had passed away years ago, and her brother Sam wasn't coming home for the holidays this year. Raindrops fell from the sky. So much for a miracle, she thought. She turned away from the window, but then looked again, just to make sure. Rain still fell steadily from the blackened sky. No snow this Christmas, she said to herself. Yet as she looked harder into the mist, a single snowflake fell. Yes, she thought, another Christmas, another miracle.