The Christmas Ghost

Written by: Diane Hildebrandt

Winter blanketed Northwest Indiana with snow before the holiday. An arctic blast of frigid weather arrived the day after Christmas. I rushed my children indoors, out of the 10 below air, when we reached home on December 27th. Locking the back door, I stretched my arm upstairs, reaching past Tessa to turn on the kitchen light. I allowed my 2-year-old to slide from my arms to the floor. Placed my carry-all and diaper bag on a chair. I then noticed something odd.

The curtain was down, draped over the sink. I removed Jase’s snowsuit, put him in his highchair, took off my coat, then lifted the tension rod. I checked if its spring had broken before I re-positioned it on the window.

I fixed a quick skillet meal. We ate in the kitchen. My kids watched TV while I washed dishes and put away our things. Soon I had them bathed and in bed. I read each one their favorite book, then flipped on their nightlight. Because I had to catch an early train into Chicago, I headed to bed. I read for an hour before I slept.

****

The radio woke me. Friday’s forecast predicted wind chills of 50 below by evening. I hoped the weatherman was wrong as I readied my children and headed out for work. Running late, I left our breakfast dishes on the counter.

***

Due to extreme cold, the overhead electric lines snapped, causing all trains to run late, so I stopped to pick up fast food. It was almost 8 when we reached home. Snow crunched and crackled as we trudged from our garage to the back door. “Honey, hold the food sack while Mommy unlocks the door.”

My 7-year-old loved being a helper, nodded, and took the bag.

“Thanks. Be sure to stomp off all the snow and leave your boots on the stairs,” I said as we stepped inside. My glasses fogged in the welcoming heat. I stomped my feet and eased my boots off as my son wiggled in my arms. Blindly reaching past Tessa, I turned on the kitchen light.

Upstairs, I pushed my useless glasses on top of my head, dropped our bags to the floor, and allowed my squirming child to get down. I unwound Tessa’s muffler before I did the same for Jase. As I helped him out of the cumbersome snowsuit, my daughter tugged my arm. “Mommy. Mommy, look!”

I freed my son’s leg and plopped him into his highchair before I glanced where she pointed. The curtain and rod were again on the sink. “Why did it fall down?”

“Not sure sweetie. It’s never done this before. Maybe we have a ghost.”

Her eyes widened; her mouth dropped open. Geesh, what was I thinking?

“Are there really ghosts?”

“No, there aren’t. It was a stupid thing for Mommy to say. Please sit down and eat your kids’ meal.”

I picked up our outerwear, pegged these by the back door, and switched off the light. In the kitchen, I pulled down my glasses and took out my food. While eating, I noticed the dishes on the counter looked messier.

Jase was overtired. Rubbing his eyes, he’d managed to smear ketchup all over his face. I washed him off. “Tessa play with your new toys while I get him to bed. Then, we’ll watch a movie.”

In their bedroom, I retrieved pajamas and diaper before I eased him onto the bottom bunk. He was asleep before I got him into a footed, fleece onesie. I joined her in the living room and flipped through cable channels until we found a movie. The tree lights blinked and emitted their soft glow as Tessa and I snuggled under the afghan on the couch.

A bit later, a blaring commercial came on. Something black shot out of our tree. Tessa screamed. Stunned, I sat there as a bird flapped around the room. It knocked over a bowling trophy. I ran to open the front and screen doors, then held them open. “C’mere bird.”

Instead, the starling flew into my bedroom. What do I do? How can I catch it? Tessa followed the bird. I grabbed a large bath towel before I entered my room, closing the door behind us. My first two attempts to snare the beast failed.

“Please don’t hurt it Mommy.”

After a few minutes without me trying to nab it, the bird perched atop my dresser’s hutch. I launched my towel and grabbed both ends. With it firmly held in both hands, I shouted, “Tessa open the doors.”

I followed her to the front door. As I loosened the towel, I gave a strong push. With a flash of wings, it was airborne.

***

This happened 30 years ago. I wonder how Tessa remembers it. Does she think of it as the year with a bird in our tree or as the Christmas ghost?

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