It was late. Mae finally put on her nightgown and sat down in her favorite chair by the front window for her nightly cup of tea. The snow had started falling a short while ago, and already everything was blanketed in white. The flakes were so big and heavy, she could pick out individual flakes and watch them as they fell and melded in with the others. She loved the snow. She loved the way the earth fell silent and sounds were muffled and distant. She loved how the glow from the streetlights shined like halos around the lamps and illuminated the snowflakes as they fell. It was a perfect Christmas Eve. Silent night, holy night, all is quiet, all is bright, she thought.
This was Mae’s street. She felt like she owned the entire street, along with her neighbors, whom she loved—each and every one of them. Eighty-six years she’d lived on this street. She remembered herself as a little girl watching in wonder from the same window—from the same chair—the snow falling in great soft sheets as it covered the roofs of the same porches and steps.
At one time Mae’s parents had owned all the land on the block where she lived and several blocks beyond that. As a child she’d watched as the land was subdivided, houses were built, and families moved into new homes with the excitement of starting fresh. She had watched as concrete for the sidewalks was poured and streets were paved. Her first friends had lived on this street, and they spent long summer days playing hopscotch down the sidewalks and hide-’n’-seek through the construction sites.
All her childhood friends had grown up, married, and moved away. But no matter. New families had come to the neighborhood. She was always the first to knock at their doors with a pie or a plate of cookies, ready to share the stories of the neighborhood. She wanted them to know they had moved to a special street—a kind street.
As Mae looked out at her street this Christmas Eve she marveled how, when buried in snow, everything looked almost the same as it had when she was 9 years old. Without the snow, the houses showed the weight of their 80-plus years. The porches sagged, and there wasn’t a house on the street that couldn’t use a good paint job. The families had changed, too. Betty Olson was raising her grandson—her daughter had married a scumbag and was now hooked on meth. Next door were the Sanchezes, and Mae could hear them screaming at each other most Saturday mornings. There was a permanent path across her lawn where the children cut the corner on their way to school. She didn’t mind. She’d been there. She knew what went on inside people’s houses. Life was hard. For a kid, cutting a corner across an old lady’s lawn is kind of fun. Sometimes she yelled at the kids to please use the sidewalk—only because that was kind of fun, too. She liked how they waved at her and blew her kisses. Sometimes she got the finger. That made her chuckle. Those little ones thought they were so tough! In the summer when she was in her garden, kids stopped by, and she let them pull carrots and eat peas. She always made sure her cookie jar was full. She loved her street.
As was her tradition, Mae had been up and down the street today delivering plates of her cookies, carefully wrapped in green cellophane, to each family on the block. The Mitchells didn’t have a Christmas tree that she could see. All three of the kids ran squealing to the door when she came with her gingerbread men and frosted bells, snowmen, and stars with sprinkles. She didn’t think there was probably much for presents this year. Owen lost his job six months ago and she thought maybe Wanda kicked him out of the house, as Mae hadn’t seen him around. It wouldn’t be the first time. It was tough for Wanda, trying to keep it all together with what she earned.
Mae had always watched the street from her window. At times, she’d tried to help. She offered to watch a sick child or would walk across the street to Lydia’s house and knock loudly and shout at the front door to make sure Lydia would wake up to get to her day job on time. But Mae’s efforts weren’t always appreciated. She understood that.
Mae didn’t have a Christmas tree either. In fact, other than her baking, Christmas didn’t come to her house. She watched the snow deepen outside her window, and her thoughts turned to Christmases past.
Her dad would put up a Christmas tree they cut fresh from the Beartooth Mountains. She and her mother decorated it with white ribbon bows, long strings of popcorn, and snowflakes cut from white paper. As the days got closer to Christmas, packages appeared under the tree. One year she received a guitar. That was a special year.
By the time Mae’s own children were born, her parents had passed, and she and John had moved back into her childhood home with the boys. Johnny was 4 and Timmy 2. She’d gone all out that Christmas. She purchased colored glass balls for the tree, and she and John carefully placed each strand of tinsel across the branches. They bought tricycles for the boys.
Mae reached up and pulled the pins from her hair and set them on the windowsill. She unwound the coil at the back of her head, and long gray strands of hair fell down her back. She sighed deeply and gazed at the houses on her street. Most were dark now. Yellow light filtered through the falling snow from the windows of a few houses. The houses blended into one another as the snow deepened and erased toys left on the sidewalks and junked cars in the yards. She liked to think the children were snuggled in their beds, just like the story. And, their parents were whispering softly as they filled Christmas stockings and brought presents out of hiding places. But she knew on her street Christmas was one more burden. In fact, she’d decided a long time ago that Christmas was more trouble than it was worth. For the parents on her street, there wasn’t enough time to make gifts or enough money to buy the kids the gifts they really wanted—gifts that would put them on equal footing with the other children at school. She was alone. John had passed away five years ago last October. They’d celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary the spring before he died. Johnny lived in D.C. He was a doctor. Worked for a V.A. hospital. He said the nurses always asked if she’d send her Christmas cookies. She’d mailed Christmas cookies to the hospital for 25 years or more, she figured. She wasn’t sure whether she’d send cookies next year. It wasn’t the baking that exhausted her, it was the packaging and standing in line at the post office. Just too much.