An Unexpected Gift

By Marsha Tennant

An Unexpected Gift

“Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.” – It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946

Good things come in small packages, and angels come when least expected. The Christmas of 1969 my husband, Randy, and I met our little angel and received a most unexpected gift. He arrived when we needed a miracle. Every Christmas morning since that one, we always ask one another, “Wonder where Frank is? Do you think he is ok?”

That fall and winter Randy was in the Coast Guard and stationed at Little Creek, Virginia. His cutter was in and out at sea patrolling the Chesapeake Bay. I was working as a teacher assistant in a small diagnostic center in the area. I had taken the semester off from college for the birth of our son, Timothy Blane. Life doesn’t always cooperate. Our tiny voyager did not stay with us long enough to come home from the hospital. We returned home alone and devastated. We were heartbroken and broke. Both were realities.

Enter Frank. He was just what the doctor ordered. A six year old child with special needs was not the Christmas card picture of a cherub. But he caught my eye and heart in the classroom where I was assigned. He was hyperactive, aggressive and angry. He had a story but could not find the words to share it. He ran around the classroom screaming and striking out at other children. His behavior was so uncontrollable that I actually rode the school bus to help transport him. Safety was a concern for everyone.

As the holiday vacation approached, the staff at the center began planning for the students who would need assistance. I overheard them talking about Frank. His family lived in a small project apartment. His dad and stepmother had a new baby. Frank was a concern for them.

My maternal instincts kicked in. At first I thought Randy and I should just sponsor him. We would provide his Christmas and family needs. That would be a financial challenge for us but we knew we could ask our families to help. Frank would be our Christmas. Spend the money on him – not us. I had my plan ready to share with my husband when he returned from sea.

When I expressed my plan at the center, the staff agreed that it would be a great idea. They suggested that Randy and I visit the family to see what they needed. The visit turned out to be one of the most incredible experiences of our lives. It set the wheels in motion for a true Christmas miracle. Not only did Frank’s parents agree, they asked if we could have him spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with us.

We had a child for Christmas. We had been dreading the holiday because of our loss. Plans for a first Christmas as parents were crushed…or so we thought. My heart was so full. Joy began to fill the empty space, both physically and spiritually. Hope filled our tiny apartment for the first time in months.

It was a humble space. We lived in a one bedroom over the house below. It needed paint and updating but was all we could afford on a seaman’s pay. We budgeted one dollar a day to eat. Every dime was rationed and carefully spent. But somehow we were given this child to care for when we needed him the most.

We couldn’t leave the Tidewater area because Randy’s cutter was on Bravo Charlie status. He had to be able to return to sea within an hour. We called our family in Richmond and told them our plan. They agreed to help. They also wanted to make sure Frank’s family had a small Christmas, too. Money and gifts were promised. They could deliver toys and gifts before the big day. With the money we bought a five dollar tree at the local gas station, ornaments at the dime store and food on the military base.

When the staff at the center heard what we had planned to do they decided to do the same for all the children. They opened up their hearts and budgets. They reached out to their families with the same request. Spend the money on the children instead of themselves. Frank had stirred the holiday spirit in everyone.

Christmas Eve arrived. We had more than we ever imagined for this family. We delivered the boxes and packages just before dark. It was cold and the smell of kerosene came through the door as Frank’s dad opened it. The look on his face is still as vivid today as it was all those years ago. He was overwhelmed and so grateful.

We returned to our apartment with Frank. He was shy at first. Not the little boy I knew from school. We had the tree up with packages underneath. His name was written in large letters on each one. Supper was Smithfield ham, sweet potatoes, lima beans and coconut cake. He ate with his hands because he was so hungry.

At bedtime we told him Santa would come while we were sleeping. He nodded like he vaguely knew the name. I put him in the snowman pajamas my mom had sent. He snuggled up in bed between us as I read a book to him. Soon I felt his head gently falling over on my shoulder. We had a child for Christmas. The faint sound of a tiny bell ringing fell on the air as we all closed our eyes.

About this writer

  • Marsha Tennant Marsha Tennant is the author of the children’s book, Margaret, Pirate Queen. She was recently published in AARP Bulletin and Mary Jane’s Farm. She and her husband retired and moved to the beach from Calabash in an attempt to downsize and spend time with their new grandson. A second Pirate Queen book is circling while porch sitting these days!

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2 Responses to “An Unexpected Gift”

  1. Rose Ann says:

    Such a touching essay! In giving to someone in need you received something very special. Merry Christmas, Marsha!

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