The Colors of Christmas

By Susie Christian

Life had never been easy for little Tony, and this Christmas promised to be not much different. He sat by the cold damp window-pane, impatiently watching and waiting for his mother to come home and take him to visit Santa Claus. She had promised to take him every day for the last week but couldn't get off work in time. He really hoped she would make it home in time today, because this was Christmas Eve and he wasn't sure if Santa Claus would have enough time to hear his request.

Tony and his mother were just barely making it in every way. Sometimes the bills weren't paid on time and they ate a lot of oatmeal and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to get through the month.

His father had been a wonderfully heroic Marine who went to war and fought in Guadalcanal but didn't return when the war was over. Tony kept an album of photos of his dad, sent home from the war. He was very proud of this handsome, grinning dad he had never met, all decked out in uniform. His dad had thick wavy dark hair, a pencil thin moustache and eyes the color of a foaming, stormy sea he was told by his mother. Tony could also tell this from the black and white photos he studied for hours at a time and he had memorized every feature and line on his dad's face. He so desired to know that father he would never meet. Being a brave Marine was something to be proud of, but the medals the government sent home could never fill the hole in Tony's heart because he didn't have a father. All his school mates had fathers.....

The only job that Tony's mother could find in town was doing waitress work at the Owl Diner. During the war she worked as a drill press operator at the government plant that manufactured airplane parts. After the war, one by one these plants closed and single women found what work they could. She worked many hard hours and made the money stretch the best she could. Christmas season added to her already long hours. Tony hardly saw her at all during this time of year.

Why, it was only yesterday that they went to the Christmas tree lot and found their tree lying in a deserted field. It was one of a few crooked, scraggly looking specimens that hadn't sold and were left for the poor folks to pick up for free. They brought it home and decorated it with popcorn, cranberry and marshmallow garlands. One much-prized, repaired strand of bubbling lights Tony had found in the neighbor's garbage after last Christmas and a bit of leftover, scrunched up tinsel from the previous years completed the embellishments. A faded celluloid angel hovered precariously atop the tree, her cardboard wings dog-eared from many years of being packed away for the other eleven months. But Tony loved his newly transformed tree and focused on the warmth he felt from it. Every time he looked outside all he saw was the bitter cold and the frozen ground that crunched when you stepped on it.

The wonderful glow of the Christmas tree filled his vision and temporarily took his awareness away from the sparse condition of their house. There lay the faded old floral carpet on the hard wood floor with bare paths worn into its surface from foot traffic and half the fringe missing on the edges. The brown velour horse hair sofa was broken down here and there but a most comfortable place to sit and 'wool-gather' magical thoughts just the same. Because it was full of worn spots his mother pinned white crocheted doilies over all the holes. They were forever slipping off and Tony was always very careful to replace them before she came home. The thin tattered curtains that hung over the windows hid the cracking paint on the sills, but did nothing to keep the cold out. It was indeed a very modest house but it was a roof over their heads.

Tony had a bad winter cold that went into his ears the last few days before Christmas vacation and he stayed home from school. He welcomed the opportunity to stay home because school was not the happiest place he could think of to be, anyhow. He was born with a club-foot and needed special corrective shoes made to accommodate his condition. He even wore a brace on his leg part of the time. This was an expense his mother could ill afford but she always saw to it that he was taken care of as his feet and bones grew.

Of course classmates being what they will, saw Tony looked different and he was the brunt of their teasing and jokes. He was a very shy boy anyhow and the ridicule made him withdraw even further. By seven years old he knew he was so different that he didn't even try to fit in anywhere. He was never picked for any team on the playground because he couldn't run and play with boys his age. Heaven forbid at that age he pal around with the girls because then he would be labeled a sissy. Tony was forced to live in his own world inside of himself where it was safe, there was a measure of comfort and no one would make fun of him or hurt his feelings.

His tousled strawberry blonde hair didn't help things either. Darn hair would never lie down and he chose to wear a cap whenever he could so no one would notice his mop of shocking hair and make rude comments. Then too his eyes were still another unusual color.....kind of like the rich amber glow of the single candle that lit the tiny ceramic Nativity scene on the coffee table. The Nativity scene his dad bought for his mother the first Christmas they were together back in 1942. Poor little Tony, he seemed to have none of the outward appearances that would allow him fit in anywhere.

As he sat waiting for his mother he kept thinking what it was he was going to ask Santa Claus for. Since Tony spent so much time sitting by the window looking out, he always noticed the birds outside. They were so happy and free and they all seemed to get along with one another very well. He loved birds. Then too a few months back he saw a Parakeet up close in a cage at Woolworth's five and dime. It was the most beautiful shade of iridescent grass green and it even paid attention when he went up and talked softly to it. This could be a friend that Tony could have that wouldn't judge him or laugh at him. He even heard that Parakeets could be taught to talk. Tony was going to ask Santa to bring him a bird for Christmas!

Finally he saw the beams of headlights swing across the yard and he heard his mother pull into the driveway. Tony rushed to turn off the record player because he was only supposed to be listening to it when his mother was at home. She was afraid he might break one of the old heavy black vinyl discs if he played them by himself. However he couldn't resist sneaking his favorite Bing Crosby song "White Christmas" on the turn table. Plus he loved to open the big ersatz alligator case and study the RCA dog Nipper, whose picture was inside the case, as he listened. He had actually been dressed and ready to go for hours when he met her at the door all bundled up. His mother told him she had checked and that if they hurried, they would just catch Santa at Penney's Department Store before they closed.

Tony rushed through the door of Penney's way ahead of his mother. Something told him they were really late. He knew Santa was located on the mezzanine and Tony raced up the stairs as fast as his clumsy shoe would allow him to travel. Just in the nick of time too, as Santa had gotten up from his huge gold filigree throne-chair and was turning the floodlights out that lit up the word "Toyland".

Santa turned toward Tony and saw his anxious expression, asking him, "What can I do for you young man? What would you like me to bring you for Christmas? Do you have a list for me?"

Tony was in such a hurry the words tumbled out all over one another, "Santa, Santa, would you please, please bring me that beautiful little green Parakeet that I saw at Woolworth's?"

"That's all I want this Christmas. I promise I have been very, very good and if you bring me this little bird then I will have a good friend to talk to. Please Santa?" Tony begged.

Santa peered over his gold-rimmed glasses into Tony's wide, excited amber eyes, seeing beyond those eyes right into Tony's heart. Santa's heart tenderly felt the plea Tony was making to him in his need for a companion that would return his love and friendship, unconditionally.

Santa then said, "We'll see what we can do for you my fine young man."

This statement was accompanied with a promising wink. Santa gently lifted Tony from his lap, handing him a candy cane with a red satin bow and a small red net stocking filled with fruits, nuts and hard candy.

"I'll need to be going now Tony, if I am to find you a bird before morning," Santa told him with a big grin, as he walked down the cardboard-snow covered stairs from his special golden chair. Tony watched as Santa turned to leave, still filled with excitement over getting to tell Santa of his one wish for Christmas.

The words "I BELIEVE in Santa Claus." formed softly on Tony's lips, as his eyes followed the first leg of Santa's departure for the North Pole through the elevator door at Penney's. .

As they trudged down the icy sidewalk toward their old gray '42, four-door Chevy that usually ran, Tony confided in his mother what he asked Santa for. His request caused her to raise her eyebrows a bit but she smiled sweetly and said a silent prayer.

When they returned home, Tony's mom made hot Ovaltine and they toasted marshmallows pierced with forks over the burners on the gas stove. He was very content with the thought that he had at least gotten to see Santa and make his wish.

Tony thought he would never get to sleep that Christmas Eve as he tossed and turned restlessly. Would Santa really bring him a little bird-friend? Finally, he quietly made his way into the living room, dragging a heavy paisley-print goose down comforter in tow. A big black metal flashlight his dad had used in the Marines was tucked in beside him in case Santa needed light to find Tony's house. He would just snuggle up under the quilt and wait for Santa Claus with one eye open.......

Meanwhile, Santa was fit to be tied with Tony's request. It was the very last minute when Santa threw open the door to his work shop, not knowing where he would find the materials to manufacture a bird....of all things!! Santa's mind couldn't erase that expression of anticipation and eagerness that he saw in little Tony's imploring eyes. He knew if he looked, maybe he could find some discarded forms of toys that had broken and been put aside. Maybe he could piece something together that would resemble a bird. Santa began to search the nooks and crannies of his cluttered workshop.

First he found the papier-m?ch? form of a parrot in a storage bin...and here was another about the same size in the bottom of a box. Poor little creature had two toes missing though. Then he looked up on the shelf and he found still another smaller form of a parrot but because it had been crammed and squished into the corner so long it had a permanently pointed head.

Santa thought to himself, "Well I should be able to get one good looking bird out of all this!"

He picked up his paint and brushes, and proceeded to color the birds in. Santa reasoned because it is Christmas I will paint one red and one green then see which one looks the best. He did notice the one with the two toes missing needed to be repaired before he painted it. Quickly he formed two more toes from wire and paper and glued them on the foot of the green bird. They didn't quite fit right, but it was close. The brush in Santa's hand moved swiftly, applying the large areas of color. Why he even got carried away and stroked on a few accent colors here and there, to break up the monotony of just plain red and green. The red bird was perfect in every way and the green one was nearly perfect too if you didn't look closely at the toes.

Santa started to clean his brush and had it half way rinsed when the funny little form on the workbench with the pointed head caught his eye. The red color he used last was diluted by now on his brush and he quickly swirled the brush tip through the white to create a vibrant pink. He decided to apply a coat of that bright odd color to the strange little head and body. Now what have I done he asked himself? It is way too bright and shocking for a bird's coloring. He dipped into the black and then white and blended a coat of gray on the back to tone it down a bit. Now this little bird turned out pretty good too, he thought.

As he waited for their colors to dry, he thought about his next decision. Which bird to take to Tony? Santa sat there looking at his handiwork trying to decide which two he should leave behind at the North Pole. He couldn't make up his mind. He knew Tony needed a good friend so why not take him three faithful feathered friends? So deciding, Santa wiggled his nose, blinked his eyes and worked his special Christmas magic to bring the trio of parrots to life.

The Red Shining One gazed with sweet elegance at Santa from her shelf perch and the Green Glistening One turned his head to the side and thanked Santa for the gift of life. Well, the Soft Pink Fluffy One did a deep bow of gratitude and screeeeched a hearty Christmas cheer. She also hastened to show Santa she could raise and lower her crest at will, so he wouldn't worry her head was permanently ruined and would stay pointed forever.

"What a group!" Santa shouted proudly, thrilled with his last minute creation. All the Elf helpers who had been watching Santa's last minute miracle, cheered in unison for their jolly leader's success.

"Now we must hurry to make our rounds this night or we will disappoint all the boys and girls all over the world," Santa urged the feathered trio.

The three parrots held a group meeting among themselves while Santa and the Elves were loading the sleigh with presents. The birds were so very grateful that Santa rescued them from the dark, dusty forgotten corners of the workshop, painted them such wondrous colors and given them life, they wanted to help him. They had a plan....

Since these parrots were from the Southern Hemisphere and knew the geography of that part of the world so well, they offered to help Santa navigate the sleigh. They could help him make much better time, particularly on his route below the Equator. The feathered trio felt responsible for Santa running so late. If he hadn't taken the time to create them, he would already be at the first child's house in Greenland by now.

The Red Shining One and The Green Glistening One flew out in front of the sleigh and traveled a little above Rudolph, one on each side. From this vantage point they could see forever and tell the reindeer where to stop. Red on the right and Green on the left as is known to be proper in navigation. The Soft Pink Fluffy One decided she would be better off cuddling under Santa's beard, reading the world map and keeping him company during the trip. Besides, she was a tad bit fearful her top knot just might come undone in the wind and her pointed head would return for good.

Santa's flying caravan made its way through the world that Christmas Eve in record time, with the help of the wonderful winged ones navigation skills. They saved Tony's house for their last stop because they wanted to be sure that Santa had their help the whole evening. Besides, with all the expert help, Santa was way ahead of schedule.

They checked for a chimney, but Tony's house had no chimney for Santa to climb down. The parrots were relieved because they worried that their newly painted tail feathers might get singed, or at least full of soot with the traditional method of descent into the room. Santa checked all the windows but they were locked tightly. The Soft Pink Fluffy One came forward to volunteer her services.

"I can chew through that rusty screen and old wood frame of the window in less than five minutes." she squeaked in her piping shrill voice.

She did just that and they were able to spring the lock and climb through the window in a twinkling. They were very very quiet so they wouldn't wake Tony, who was sleeping soundly on the divan. Safely delivered, Santa bid a grateful farewell to his new friends who had helped him so much that night. The three parrots also thanked Santa for giving them the wonderful gift of life for Christmas. Then they all perched on the window-sill and watched as Santa and his sleigh disappeared into the cold winter air.

The birds decided to catch a quick nap before dawn, but the long trip had left them very hungry. They kept half-opening one eye to peer out at all the potential treats hanging on the tree in the middle of the room. It was just too tempting and the Soft Pink Fluffy One couldn't stand it any more. She tippy toed across the room and snagged the string of popcorn. The Red Shining One spied the cranberries and The Green Glistening One was also on his way to fill his empty stomach. He tried to perch in the branches but they were too fragile to hold him and he went ker-bang onto the floor. At the same time The Red Shining One decided to fly away with the end of the cranberry string in her mouth. The air was filled with wing beats, crashes and squawks.

Tony came to with a start and wasn't sure if he was still dreaming. The room was occupied with three giant birds the likes of what Tony had never seen before. Plus they had made a shambles out of the Christmas tree.

He thought to himself, "But I only asked Santa for one little green Parakeet!"

When all the commotion died down and Tony realized that Santa had really fulfilled his wish and then some, he began to talk with the birds. He said, "All of you need names," and proceeded to name The Red Shining One, Ruby, for she was radiant, like the sparkle of a beautifully cut precious gem. The Green Glistening One became Jade, as he was the translucent color of the stunning green stone that comes from far off China. Of course the name was very obvious for The Soft Pink Fluffy One! She would be called little Rosie. She reminded Tony of the delicate pink roses that grew on the bush in the garden that his dad had planted before the war.

As Tony became acquainted with each parrot he noticed some small details peculiar to each one. First of all, Rosie's feathers stood up on top of her head just like Tony's hair would do when he didn't have a cap on to hold his hair down. Her feather color was even almost matched Tony's hair.

He looked into Ruby's eyes and saw they were a deep amber color like the necklace his mom so often wore. Peering into the mirror he realized his own eyes were about that same shade.

But he decided his most favorite bird was Jade, with his bright orange grinning beak. As he held Jade he was shocked to see that the bird had two crooked toes on the same foot as Tony's club-foot. When Tony put him on the floor Jade even walked with a slight limp....the same as Tony! He was amazed as he began to notice all the similarities between himself and these new friends.

He spent several hours getting acquainted and talking to the birds that happy Christmas morning. Tony's mother was so tired from working long hours before Christmas she slept long past her normal time to wake up. When she did come into the living room, eyes still filled with sleep, she asked Tony, "How come the tree is all torn apart?"

The sound of her voice startled Tony and as he turned to look at her he saw her image softly outlined in the doorway against the weak winter light. She had a delicate pink chenille house coat on and her uncombed strawberry blonde hair was a mass of tousled ringlets. But her eyes....they glowed in that clear winter light as beautiful glowing embers burning in new fallen snow! Tony had never seen how he truly resembled his mother in appearance. He suddenly saw how beautiful she really was and it hit him how foolish he had been to think he looked 'funny' to others. He looked very like his mother and could see himself through re-focused eyes.

Tony looked back in the direction of his new feathered friends and excitedly asked his mom what she thought about the wonderful presents Santa had brought him.

"What presents?" asked his mother. All she could see under the disheveled tree were the few small gifts she could afford that year, bearing tags with Santa's name on them however. They were wrapped in white tissue paper and tied with slender red ribbon, salvaged from previous years wrapping.

"Why, my three beautiful parrot friends over there perched on the arm of the davenport", replied Tony. "Can't you see them over there? One is chewing on the lace doily, and the other two have their heads tucked under their wings, napping."

His mother realized Tony was playing a game and she quickly thought fast enough to come up with, "They sure are pretty Tony." She smiled at the vividness of the boy's imagination and turned to walk into the kitchen to start breakfast.

Tony was stunned his mother couldn't see what was so plainly visible to him. There they were, perched right beside him plain as day!

Jade, with the smiling orange beak, who was most like Tony of the three spoke up, "We came into your life Tony to show you that beauty, acceptance and happiness lie within your heart. God created all of us equal but you have always chosen to feel different and on the outside of things, never fitting in. I have two toes that don't look and work right but when you saw me, you didn't stare at my toes and dislike me for it. You immediately loved me simply for who I am and felt closer to me because you saw our similarities."

Next, lovely Ruby chimed in with, "When you looked in my eyes Tony you noticed they were an unusual shade of amber. But remember how you didn't hesitate for a second to look further inside me. When you REALLY looked you saw the tender feelings and great love that dwell inside of me for all of God's creatures be they two legged, four legged or winged."

Little pink Rosie also spoke her message for Tony. "You should have seen how I looked when Santa found me lying on the shelf! My head was squashed into a perfect cone shape and I was tan colored. Santa painted me up pretty, but the feathers on my head still won't lay down worth a darn. They stand straight up at the most embarrassing times. To make matters worse, Santa painted me the oddest shade of pink for a parrot. But you didn't laugh at my unruly crest or my outrageous color. You loved me because you could see my cheerful attitude no matter what happens and the way I always make the best of any situation."

Jade limped over and nuzzled against Tony's cheek. He told Tony, "The three of us are very real in your life my dear boy. We will be with you the rest of your life guiding you through the tough times you may encounter. We will be here to help you with life's lessons and guard you against trouble. We will help you to see things in their true perspective and keep you focused through the forgiving lens of unconditional love.

The three guardian angels perched around Tony's shoulders as he sat quietly and gazed at the Christmas tree. He could hear Bing Crosby crooning Silent Night through the scratches on the 78 rpm. record and smell the hot Ovaltine his mother had just handed him. Tony was filled with a mysterious comforting warmth. He knew Santa had brought him the best present he would ever get!



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