Christmas Stories: 'Ansel's Special Gift'

Christmas Stories: 'Ansel's Special Gift,' Part II

Here is the second and final part of "Ansel's Special Gift":

Upon arriving at the hospital, Ansel paid the driver, tipping him nicely. Each wished the other a Merry Christmas. Ansel shuffled through the lobby to the elevator, taking it to the fourth floor -- to Sarah's room.

Once inside, Ansel removed his hat, gloves, and coat. He pulled the chair close to Sarah. He took her hand and gently stroked it.

"Hello, Sarah," he said, not expecting an answer....None came.

Ansel gazed at her beauty. The rest of the world saw her 80-year-old wrinkles, frail white hair, and swollen, gnarled, arthritic joints. But not Ansel. Oh, with his eyes he saw those things, but not with his heart.

What Ansel saw was a woman who had devoted her life to him. She was a young woman high on a ladder, giggling, with paint in her hair. A woman on the sidewalk in front of their house playing hopscotch with the neighborhood kids. A woman with skin like farm-fresh cream -- ripe, round, and aglow with child.

His heart heard her soft lullabies rocking their children to sleep. It heard her laughter as she ran with them on the lawn, jumping into piles of bright autumn leaves.

His heart smelled her scent mixed with salt air when, standing on ships' decks, they'd seen the world with lovers' eyes. And he felt the comfort of awakening in her arms each day.

Yes. This was the Sarah that Ansel's heart saw. Not the Sarah connected to life by various wires and tubes.

"It's Christmas Eve, Sarah," Ansel said softly. "I brought you a gift. Would you like to open it now or save it for tomorrow?"

Knowing that Sarah couldn't answer, Ansel reached for the gift and placed it on the bed beside her. "OK. We'll open it now. See the beautiful ribbon, Sarah? And the paper? Red. Your favorite. I picked it out especially for you. And I watched to make sure they wrapped it right. Just for you."

With aged, trembling fingers, Ansel unwrapped the gift. While doing so, he journeyed back through time....

"The cow's gone dry, Ma!" Ansel hollered, walking through the door.

"What'll we do, Pa?" Sarah yelled back, busy in the kitchen.

"Shoot her an' have her for dinner, I guess."

"OK, Pa. Best git out an' shoot her."

This was their greeting each night when Ansel came home from work. How it began, they couldn't remember. Just silliness. Just being young. It certainly had nothing to do with them. They didn't live on a farm. They lived in the city. And Ansel couldn't milk a cow. He was an attorney. All they knew was that it was fun. It was theirs and no one else's. It was their special way of saying, "I love you. Good to be home."

Ansel pulled the last of the wrapping from the box. "Here it is, Sarah. It's all unwrapped. Here...give me your hands." Ansel drew her hands toward him so that Sarah could hold the gift. Then he placed it in her palms. It was a small, fuzzy stuffed toy -- a brown and white cow that mooed when squeezed. The cow lay in Sarah's limp hands. Ansel reached and squeezed the cow. "Moo...moo..."

In the silence, Ansel heard a sound--quiet, soft, muffled. Looking from the toy to her face, he saw Sarah's eyes -- open, distant, glassy. Her lips moved slightly. Ansel rose from his chair, standing in disbelief. Months -- months it had been -- since Sarah had stirred.

Gently, afraid of breaking the spell, Ansel leaned toward Sarah, turning his ear to her lips. "What, my dear? What did you say?"

Quiet as wind-driven snow, Sarah whispered, "What'll we do, Pa?"

Never had Ansel felt such joy! These few words from Sarah's lips! What a gift! What a gift! Never had there been such a wonderful gift! Tears welled in Ansel's eyes, falling on Sarah's cheek. Our words! Our special words! he thought, then chokingly replied, "Shoot her an' have her for dinner, I guess."

Into the night, this holy night, Ansel waited for Sarah's response....

But Sarah lay silent. She held her cow. She sailed into the great beyond....

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