The newspaper clipping is yellowed like a parchment scroll. The treasured article is more than 40 years old, written by a man who lived in the small town where I grew up. In an essay published in a church bulletin, S.L. Morgan Sr. reminisced about two young visitors:
"One of my best Christmases was sparked by the visit of two tiny girls who rang my doorbell two weeks before Christmas and left a plain tiny Christmas card they had made.... It did something deep and wonderful in me."
I was one of those little girls.
My best friend, Claudia, and I were already counting the days until Christmas, dreaming of the toys we would find under the tree on Christmas morning. But we were eight years old and getting wiser: We knew Santa might not bring everything we wanted. Times were hard.
Claudia showed me a magazine ad about selling boxes of Christmas cards to win a shiny, new bicycle and other tantalizing prizes. Inspired by the printed testimonials of enterprising boys and girls who had sold thousands of cards, Claudia and I decided to make some construction-paper cards and sell them to our neighbors, hoping to earn money to buy gifts and toys. We spent one Saturday morning laboring with crayons, scissors, and paste, designing the cards that promised to bring us untold riches.
But when my mother learned of our plan to sell the cards, she vetoed it, insisting that we give away the cards instead. (My genteel Southern mother must have been mortified by the prospect of her child peddling homemade Christmas cards door to door.) Claudia and I were crestfallen, but we reluctantly agreed to honor my mother's wishes.
We spent an afternoon ringing doorbells, hand-delivering our cards to neighbors we thought might need some Christmas cheer. We rang Mr. Morgan's doorbell and without much fanfare handed the white-haired gentleman one of our crayoned greetings. The lines in the old man's face melted into a smile as he read the childish cursive: "Merry Christmas! We love you."
"Thank you, girls," he said. "This is the most beautiful Christmas card I've ever received."
We thought he was just being polite, that surely the store-bought cards with gold foil and glitter were prettier than ours. Not until I read his article years later did I realize how much our small gesture of goodwill had lifted his spirits.
After our visit, Mr. Morgan wrote later, he "began to tell neighbors, grouchy or sad, 'Listen for the joy bells.' " He urged readers to "fill the mail with millions of postals with personal notes." Over the years, Mr. Morgan continued the Christmas tradition of sending annual love notes to friends and acquaintances around the world. "I'm sure I've held many friendships intact for many years mainly by tiny love notes once a year," he wrote. "Nothing in life has paid me better."
Thanks to my mother, I am reaping the dividends of an investment made so many years before. The clipping in my scrapbook reminds me of the joy I felt as Claudia and I rang doorbells on that cold afternoon. I remember the smiling faces of the people we called on and their farewells echoing like chimes on the frozen air as we left them standing in their doorways, pleased and a little bewildered. I'm sure they were relieved that we weren't selling wrapping paper, fruitcakes ... or cards.
Several years ago, I mailed a copy of Mr. Morgan's article to Claudia. I followed his example by writing a personal note on the card, telling Claudia how much her friendship meant to me as a child and how often I recall those years with fondness and love.
The reverberations of one afternoon continue to ring true through the years like the doorbells we rang as children on that cold December day.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society