A CHRISTMAS STORY
The year was 1932. The Crydale Orphanage was a grim and forbidding looking building and being late evening the lights were being extinguished one by one by the staff.
Outside in the dark and gloomy street a young girl staggered through the snow carrying her new born baby boy. She had left home because her father was a strict disciplinarian and would not hear of the girl’s illegitimate baby being brought into his house – it must be remembered, this was 1932 when attitudes were quite different.
Her name was Elly, and she was destitute. She was desperately unhappy but her only thoughts were for her tiny baby wrapped warmly against the very cold weather - for this was December and just a few days before Christmas. As she walked along she passed the gaily lit shops displaying colourful Christmas items. Here and there she noticed the Christmas trees with their coloured lights and fleetingly her memory took her back to happier times when she was younger and her father then seemed more tolerant, even kind. In her state of total and forlorn unhappiness the tears rolled down her cheeks and she kissed her small baby thinking all the while how determined she was that his future will be much better than her past.
As she drew nearer the orphanage she could see through the large window. No doubt this expansive room was where the orphans gathered each morning. It was empty and dark now. She was thinking deeply about what she proposed to do. Her plan was to leave the baby on the doorstep, ring the bell, and retire to a safe distance where she could not be seen; just so that she could be sure the door was answered and the baby found by the orphanage staff.
In her plan, she reasoned that later on, when she was a little older and had perhaps secured a job, and was receiving an income, she could return and re-claim her son. She watched carefully as the front door of the orphanage opened and a young lady bent down and picked up the small baby lying on the doorstep. And so, when Elly was satisfied that her baby was now in good care she withdrew and went on her way, sobbing all the while. This was not at all what she wanted to happen; but in the light of her father’s cruel and totally unreasonable attitude she felt no other course was open to her.
However, she brightened up a little when thinking that, if good fortune should come her way, it may not be too long before she would be able to return to the orphanage and reclaim her small son to care for him as a loving mother herself.
So that was the manner in which little Chris arrived at the orphanage. They decided to call him ‘Christopher because it was so close to Christmas. The stern lady in charge of the orphanage, Mrs Briggs, ran the establishment in quite a strict manner but, like a lot of people who seem to be quite fierce in their demeanour, deep down in her heart she was a kindly soul and loved all the children that came under her care – every single one.
Quite a number of children were lost to her as a result of adoptions through the years and she was very sad at the loss of each one and was at once sad at the departure of every child - but on the other hand she was glad to see them settled in a happy home. But somehow that never happened to Chris. For some reason that nobody could quite understand he was never selected for adoption. Later the orphanage began a new policy of advertising “HAVE AN ORPHAN FOR CHRISTMAS” and this seemed to be a big success. Some children had even been adopted permanently after being a “Christmas Child”.
But this was now Christmas 1937. The snow had begun to fall and all of the children had gone to their ‘foster parents’ for the holiday - but not Chris. He was due to go to a Mr & Mrs Holden but with just over a week to go they advised the orphanage that Mr Holden had been called abroad, and that Mrs Holden would be accompanying him. As they had no idea how long they would be away they said they would have to reluctantly cancel the arrangement for Chris.
It was too late then to find another temporary foster parent and so it looked very much as though Chris and Mrs Briggs would be the only inhabitants of the orphanage over the holiday. Mrs Briggs was quite resigned to her task, but she didn't mind at all. She got on very well with Chris and although the resources available to her were meagre she told herself that she must try to make it as nice a Christmas as possible, if only for the sake of little Chris.
However, on the day before Christmas Eve Mrs Briggs received a call from the Holdens to say that Mr Holden’s mission abroad was accomplished sooner than he had anticipated, that they were now home, and that they would love to have Chris for Christmas after all as originally planned. When little Chris heard this his little face broke into a wide beaming smile. Poor old Mrs Briggs hesitated for just a moment when given the news. She had been looking forward to spending Christmas with just her and Chris. On the the other hand she wanted Chris to have a wonderful Christmas and so she too allowed herself a smile or two, and accepted that she must spend Christmas alone.
And so it was that Mr & Mrs Holden collected Chris from the orphanage that very same day and took him to their very handsome home where a beautiful Christmas tree stood in the lounge, fully decorated with lights and ornaments, and with presents spread underneath; a lovely log fire was roaring up the chimney and the atmosphere was very nice, cosy, and very homely.
Chris was then introduced to other members of the Holden family. First of all, there was Aunt Emily - a dear old soul who wore her spectacles perched on the end of her nose and seemed to be knitting all the time; she also often appeared to be chatting to herself as some old folk do. Then there was Grandfather Holden who held his hand out for Chris to shake. Chris did so dutifully for all the children at the orphanage were taught good manners. It was a very jolly atmosphere indeed and everyone seemed to be in a good mood – just as Christmas should be.
But after a little while Mrs Holden noticed that Chris was looking rather sad and that one or two tears were rolling down his cheeks. “Why Chris my dear” she said “what ever are you crying for ? Aren’t you happy to be with us ?” At which the great big tears welled up in his eyes and poor little Chris began to sob. Urged by Mrs Holden to say why he was sad Chris then said “Well Mrs Holden, I am surely very happy to be here with you but I cannot help thinking of poor Mrs Briggs back at the orphanage. She will be all on her own for Christmas now that I have come to you and I am feeling I aught to be there with her to keep her company and make sure she has a nice Christmas too”. At this, all the Holden family could not help but remark what a very nice little boy Chris was to be thinking of others at this time.
And so the conversation on the subject seemed to wane and die away. But not in Chris's mind. He went to sleep in his room but during the night he tossed and turned for he was still thinking of poor old Mrs Briggs and how very lonely she must be all by herself.
The next morning everybody arose from bed. The snow lay crisp and several inches deep. It was a true Christmas scene All were looking forward to the day’s festivities. However, Mr Holden seemed to be absent. Chris did ask once “Where is Mr Holden ?” but was told by Mrs Holden “Oh, he has gone on an little errand for me - don’t worry, he’ll be back quite soon – in time for Christmas Dinner to be sure”.
But now it was approaching time for the great Christmas Dinner and still Mr Holden had not returned. Mrs Holden had purchased a nice fat turkey and the smells were wafting through from her kitchen and were truly delicious. They were making everyone feel very hungry indeed. But where was Mr Holden ? Well, there was no need to worry for just at that moment the front door opened and in a flurry of snow flakes blown in by the wind there stood Mr Holden - and with him was none other than Mrs Briggs herself ! She had been absolutely thrilled and delighted when Mr Holden telephoned her to extend an invitation to join the Christmas party for she had resigned herself to spending Christmas by herself, as Chris had feared, and wondering what to do !
She had considered her Christmas Dinner but rejected the idea of cooking the turkey she had managed to buy for the occasion. Cooking a turkey for one person would not be sensible she thought. And so she decided she would save the turkey and Christmas Pudding until after the holidays when the children returned. "I'll just manage with a sandwich" she thought to herself. But when Mr Holden phoned to invite her to join the Holden family she accepted very gracefully; however she could not hide her absolute delight and happiness. The Christmas she was not looking forward to at all had now changed for her totally and completely. She was determined to enjoy the occasion together with Chris and the Holdens and appreciated their kindness very much.
So little Chris, once he had recovered from the surprise and the great pleasure of seeing that Mrs Briggs had joined them rushed to her and gave her a big hug. They then joined the others and all enjoyed a truly splendid and jolly Christmas dinner - Mrs Holden, a very good cook, did them all proud and there was plenty for everybody. There were Christmas crackers to pull and small gifts inside - there was much laughter as each cracker was pulled. Chris loved everything - especially the Christmas Pudding.
After the great dinner it was time to open the presents which still lying at the foot of the Christmas tree. Of course there were gifts for Chris and even a couple for dear Mrs Briggs - Mrs Holden had quietly taken the labels off two of her presents and placed new labels which said "TO DEAR MRS BRIGGS - WE WELCOME YOU TO OUR FAMILY". At this even the stern Mrs Briggs melted and a tear or two could be seen on her cheeks.
The Holdens were so taken with Chris, and he with them, that after the holiday was over they offered to accept him on a permanent basis and not too long afterwards, after all the necessary legalities had been completed, Chris went to live at the Holden’s home. But he never forgot Mrs Briggs and went to see her periodically at which she was very pleased indeed.
But what about the poor mother of Chris - Elly ? Well, after leaving her baby at the orphanage she did manage to obtain a live-in position as a scullery maid with a well-to-do family. She was quite happy there but the position was very poorly paid. There was no absolutely no chance of obtaining her own place to live and try to reclaim her little baby who, of course, had now grown up somewhat. The years passed by but there wasn’t a day when she didn’t think about her little boy and wondered how he was faring. Sometimes she retraced her steps on that awful day when she left her small son on the doorstep of the orphanage. She wanted to ring the bell and enquire about her baby; but each time she lost her nerve and walked on. And then one day, quite out of the blue, she was informed that her wealthy aunt had passed away and had left her a legacy of £15,000 in her Will.
She was totally astounded and not a little surprised because this aunt had not been especially kind to her when it became known she was pregnant and, like her father, treated her with disdain. Maybe in time she relented, changed her mind, and decided to help her niece after all even if her father wouldn‘t. But most of all Elly was very happy for her first thoughts were that she could now find somewhere to live, reclaim her son, and live happily as a small family. Back then with the average wage around £3-£4 per week one can imagine the value of £15,000 ! Elly felt exceedingly rich.
So she made contact with the Orphanage. At first she was rebuffed because the orphanage itself was controlled by a number of regulations - one of these being that they may not reveal the details of any adoption. Mrs Briggs felt exceedingly sorry for Elly and tried to pacify her. But Elly, who rather foolishly had thought that all she need do is to re-claim her son and all would be alright.
Elly sought advice and was told the prospects of seeing her son again were bleak. And so Elly returned to the orphanage and threw herself upon the mercy and understanding of Mrs Briggs. Elly pleaded and pleaded with her until something within Mrs Briggs snapped and she just knew at that moment that she would have to help this pathetic young lady. So she went to her desk and wrote a name and address. She then turned to Elly and said "NOW ELLY, YOU KNOW THAT IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR ME TO DIVULGE WHERE YOUR SON IS NOW. I JUST CANNOT DO IT. IT CANNOT BE DONE. BUT SOMETIMES I AM CARELESS AND LEAVE LITTLE PIECES OF PAPER AROUND - her eyes then went to her desk "I REALLY MUST CURE MYSELF OF THIS HABIT" Elly looked up, saw Mrs Brigg's eyes wander to her desk, and gratefully collected the piece of paper on which, of course, was the Holden family's address. She kissed Mrs Briggs before departing and Mrs Briggs advised her to tread very carefully and with understanding.
And so Elly contacted the Holdens, and made an appointment to see them - and little Chris. Mr & Mrs Holden were of course shocked to learn of this development for they had cared for Chris just as if he was their own son. He was now attending a very good private school and the Holdens were giving him every chance to progress in life. But they were nice and understanding people and therefore agreed to meet Elly.
The reunion between mother and son was a remarkable and heart warming spectacle to behold. Chris was a little reticent and shy at first, but something attracted him towards his mother. He went to her and she placed both arms around him and smothered him with kisses as only a loving Mum can. Pitifully she pleaded with the Holdens to let her have her son back. Chris, of course was quite bewildered about all of this because although he loved his long lost real mother and took to her very naturally, he also loved the Holdens. His poor little mind was in a turmoil and he was very confused.
Problems of this kind are extremely difficult to solve at any time but when they occur between nice and understanding people it is often possible to reach a conclusion which is satisfactory to all concerned
And so it was that Elly and the Holdens agreed to share the affections of Chris. Elly succeeded to find a small cosy flat quite near to the Holden's place and some of the time Chris went there and some of the time he spent with the Holdens.
It was a very happy arrangement and it worked very well with surprisingly few problems. Chris was a studious little boy, did well at school. When he grew up he attended university and chose medicine as his profession. When he qualified as a doctor Elly, the Holdens, and even dear old Mrs Briggs - now rather old and somewhat infirm - were all there to witness his awards.
This is just a Christmas story - but we should all try to remember that such problems and situations do occur. That is part of life. But between nice people, who are understanding and are prepared to see the other's point of view there is always a solution to be found - provided the willingness is there to recognise it.
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY !