Leah is not her real name. But I like that name, so let’s call her that. She is a single mother of three boys with a full-time job. She lives in a rural Tennessee neighborhood with several kids on her street.
Family is important to Leah since she didn’t have many family ties growing up. Today she has her kids and her dogs, and that’s about it. To her, family is everything.
A few months ago, a little girl moved into the neighborhood. Leah’s elderly neighbors adopted their young niece. It’s been a hard situation for the girl. Her aunt is sickly, and her uncle, bless him, does his best to be a full-time caregiver, cook, and housekeeper, while also raising a little girl.
Leah didn’t know the child’s backstory, but somehow she knew that this old double-wide trailer was the girl’s last stop. Her heart went out to the child. Each evening at sunset, when Leah would get home from work, she’d pass the girl’s home and see her sitting on the front stoop, counting cars, looking lonely as a cloud.
And that is where our story begins.
It was last week. The weather was getting cooler, signaling the arrival of the holiday season. Leah’s neighbors had all started putting up Christmas decor early even though it wasn’t yet Thanksgiving because, as you have probably noticed, 2020 sucks.
Leah walked to the end of the street and invited the child over for tea and sandwiches. She brought a handwritten invitation and everything. She told the girl she would be delighted if she would join her.
The girl got excited. She ran inside and asked her uncle. In a few moments the girl was accompanying Leah home and it was a real treat. While Leah’s three heathen boys ran around the backyard, playing, breaking bones, and shouting obscenities like boys do, Leah and the little girl sipped Early Grey.
The girl had a lot to say. She told Leah that life had been rough. Her parents gave her away at birth and she’d been passed around between relatives ever since her entrance into this world. And even though her aunt and uncle were super nice people, kid-wise they weren’t particularly exciting.
Her aunt spent most of the day in bed, dealing with her illness. Her uncle did all the housework and was usually too exhausted in the evenings to play games or hang out. The girl told Leah that she was lonely.
She also told Leah that Christmas was probably going to be a flop this year. Her aunt and uncle had already admitted they might not even be able to afford more than a tiny plastic tree. Times have been tight since the pandemic hit.
Leah listened. She nodded. She took it all in.
That evening Leah raided her own garage like a woman obsessed. She found what she was looking for in the corner. In a few minutes she was unloading huge cardboard boxes in her driveway. The cartons were filled with strands of lights, decade-old decorations, and holiday paraphernalia.
She even located an old titanic artificial Christmas tree, which came unassembled in 10,000 pieces and required a degree from MIT University to erect.
The next morning, Leah and her three boys, and two other neighborhood volunteers arrived at the little girl’s home, unannounced, armed with staple guns, ladders, and boxes of ornaments.
Leah rapped on the trailer door.
The old man answered.
Leah asked if he had any objections to letting them decorate the home for Christmas. The man was shamefaced when he saw everyone standing in his yard. He dropped his head and said he was the world’s biggest failure. He explained to Leah that he felt badly about not having money for a big to-do for his niece this year.
And he almost started crying when he told Leah that he was trying his best to raise the girl, give her a good home, and make sure she was loved, but sometimes he felt like he was too elderly for the job.
Leah cut straight to the heart of the matter. She placed an assuring hand on his shoulder and with all her sincerity she said, “We’re gonna need lots of extension cords.”
Well, if there is one thing all old guys have, it’s extension cords. Although kidney stones are a close second. The old man hustled into his workshed and returned with enough electrical cable to stretch across Greenland.
Together they all worked on the small home for nearly four hours until the sun was low. Soon, the trailer was done up in twinkling lights, plastic yard art, ribbons, garland wrapped around the porch railing, and reindeer stickers on the windows.
Other neighbors had seen what was happening and began contributing leftover Christmas lights from their own storage rooms, too. Before the day was done the small home was covered in enough white lights and decorations to be visible from the International Space Station.
After that, everyone went inside the trailer and got busy decorating the interior. They addressed every side table, bookshelf, countertop, TV tray, and available house cat. Then Leah ordered pizza delivery for supper, and she set up the complicated artificial tree in the corner.
It was, positively, one of the best days ever. For everyone.
When it was finished, they all went outside to the curb to admire the lights, glowing in the night. The little girl, who still had no idea why a perfect stranger would do something like this for her, hugged Leah and said, “I’m so glad we’re friends.”
Leah lifted the girl into her arms. “Oh, sweetie, we’re not friends anymore. We’re family.”
“Really?” The girl said with a watery smile.