There was no fault to be found with the present itself; the trouble lay in the method of transportation. This thought was definite enough in Hannah's mind, but she had to rely upon a seven-year-old vocabulary for expression, and grown-ups are notably dull of comprehension. Even mothers don't always understand without being told exactly in so many words.
"I didn't say the kimono wasn't nice, Mama," explained Hannah, "and 'course Cousin Carrie was awful good to send it to me, but—but Santy Claus is going to bring Virginia one to-morrow night, down the chimbley!"
Rose Joseph slipped the absurd little garment over her daughter's dainty lingerie frock, and stood her on a chair that she might view herself in the narrow mirror between the windows of the living-room. The child was as lovely as a flower, but vanity was still sound asleep in her soul, and she glanced indifferently at the reflection, her body sagging with disappointment. "It is just like those little Japanese girls wear," her mother cried in that over-enthusiastic adult tone which warns a child he is about to be the recipient of a gold brick. "I am sure Virginia's can't be any nicer than this one!"
"But, Mama, Santy Claus is going bring hers down the chimbley. Mine"—her voice dropped to a mournful key—"mine came through the door!"
"But, darling, what difference does that make just so you get it?"
Pity for her mother's barren childhood shone in Hannah's soft black eyes. "That's—that's no way for presents to come," she explained; "Mama, it's Chris'mus."
"It is Chanuca," Mrs. Joseph responded firmly. "Remember you are a Jewess, dear."
"I can't never forget it," said the child with a catch in her voice, "'specially at Chris'mus."
"But, darling, the Jewish children have Chanuca; it comes about the same time as Christmas, and amounts to the same thing."
Hannah shook her bronze curls. "Chanuca is because the children of Israel took Jerusalem and the temple away from the bad people," she recited glibly, "and—and you say prayers, and light candles—eight days, and—and all your uncles and aunts and cousins send you things, but Santy Claus, he don't pay any 'tention to Chanuca. Chris'mus is just one day, and Santy Claus comes down the chimbley and brings things to all good children—'cept little Jews—because it is the birthday of our Saviour."
Mrs. Joseph was silent so long that Hannah felt she had convinced her mother of the superiority of the Gentile Christmas over the Jewish Chanuca, and she continued more in detail. "And the children's kinfolks just give Santy Claus money, and tell him what to buy, and he brings the presents, and nobody has to bother about it 'cept him."
"Hannah," Mrs. Joseph interrupted coldly, "who told you about the birthday of—of the Saviour?"
"Nellie Halloran," answered Hannah, "and Virginia, too. They've—they've got the same one."
"The same what?"
"The same Saviour," Hannah explained.
"Darling, hasn't Mama told you many times, that you must never, never talk about religion to Nellie and Virginia?"
"Oh, we don't, Mama, never, never! But 'course we got to talk about Santy Claus, and things."
There seemed to be no reasonable objection to that, so Mrs. Joseph dropped the subject. She spent a great deal of time folding the despised and rejected kimono into its tissue-paper wrappings. Presently she brought a narrow parcel from another room.
"See what Uncle Aaron has sent you, dear," she cried gaily. "A little man; you wind him up in the back with this key—so—and then he dances and plays the fiddle!"
Hannah forced a polite giggle at the little man's antics. He too rested under the ban of having come "through the door," and her attention soon wandered.
"Nellie got a jumping-jack in the very top of her stocking last Chris'mus; 'cause she's such a jumping-jack herself, her papa said. You know, Mama, Santy Claus puts nuts and candy, and little things in your stocking and puts your big things all around the room. Sometimes he brings a tree and hangs them all on a tree. Virginia and Nellie want a tree and a new doll. Virginia gets a new doll every Chris'mus, and she's got every doll Santy ever brought her—even her little, baby, rubber doll. She's eight years old and will have eight dolls! But Nellie ain't—hasn't saved a single one, and she's scared she won't get one this Chris'mus—awful scared."
"Why, dear?" asked Mrs. Joseph, when Hannah paused for breath.
"Because the doll Santy brought Nellie last Chris'mus, you know what? She was playing Indian with her brother one day, and chopped her head off! And Nellie's mama says she don't know whether old Santy's going to forget that or not! But Nellie, she says she prays hard to the Virgin Mary every night—if she don't go to sleep too quick. Mama, what's a virgin? Mama, what's——"
"A virgin is a lady who has never been married," answered Mrs. Joseph, putting the neglected musician back into his box.
Hannah wrestled alone for a moment with a mighty ecclesiastical problem, and then gave it up.
"The Virgin Mary is God's mother," Hannah continued. "That's her picture over our fireplace,"—pointing to a copy of a crude thirteenth century Madonna and Child in a carved Gothic frame, which Eli and Rose Joseph had bought in Italy while on their wedding trip. Flanked now by candles burning in silver candelabra in honor of Chanuca, it gave the mantel a passing resemblance to a Catholic shrine.
"I don't think God's mother is very pretty, do you, Mama? And I think Nellie's little brother is a heap prettier'n God was when He was a baby."
Mrs. Joseph showed signs of having reached the limit. "Hannah," she said firmly, "it is time you were in bed."
"But, Papa hasn't come home yet."
"Papa will be late to-night, dear."
"The Chris'mus rush," sighed Hannah. "Mama, you haven't looked down my throat to-day," she added, playing for time.
Mrs. Joseph went through the daily ritual. "It looks all right," she pronounced.
"It is all right," came the triumphant answer. "It is never going to be sore again. Virginia says——"
"Never mind what Virginia says. If your throat ever hurts you the least little bit, you are to come to me instantly and tell me. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Mama, but it isn't going to hurt any more," Hannah insisted.
"Come on up-stairs to bed."
Still Hannah hung back. She had not played her trump card yet, and the time was short. She caught her mother's slim white hand in hers and fingered nervously at the rings. "Mama," she almost whispered, "Virginia says it's Jewish mamas' fault that Santy Claus don't come to see Jewish children. If the mamas would just go to Santy and tell him to come—You will, won't you, Mama? Please, Mama!"
Embrace change even if you want to run from it. Ralph Shrader
stugkatt at yahoo dot com
It is easier to say what and who I'm not. — I'm not my profession — I'm not my salay — I'm not my age — I'm not my illness — I'm not my civil status So who am I? — a person just the right size and age — an untidy pedant — a conservative radical And what do I do? — weave — read — listen to music, classical preferably baroque