Becky had told him she planned to organize a Decorations Committee; comprised of the children in the camp. The decorations looked pretty nice considering they were made from cardboard boxes, used year’s supply containers, and even the twigs and flower that grew in the area. Cut into Christmas shapes and painted they added a festive look to the camp.
The children were working on decorating the tree. Bill Summers stood nearby with a huge grin, watching the excited actions of the children. It figured that Bill would find a way to provide the community with a Christmas tree. The man was resourceful.
“What do you think?” asked Bill.
“Amazing,” said John.
“Just wait until you see the feast they have nearly ready inside,” said Bill, pointing to the kitchen area. A comforting assortment of delicious smells drifted on the cold December air.
“I think I’ll go check it out,” said John. His stomach grumbled even as he thought about the turkeys that were roasting inside. Getting those turkeys was a miracle of itself; Bill had managed to find a poultry farmer and then bartered some of the wheat and vegetables grown at the camp for the holiday birds.
John strolled through the kitchen area—under the pretense of a security sweep. The assortment of holiday foods that had been created from year’s supply items and the vegetables grown at the camp astonished him. According to the chalkboard menu on the wall the mean included turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, biscuits, refried bean soup, vegetable soup, wheat-berry salad, banana oat crumb cake, strawberry-banana-peach cobbler, and Muddy Buddies—whatever they were.
Even though the dinner crew was slaving away in preparation of the Christmas Eve meal everyone had a smile on their face and the kitchen was filled with the excited buzz of conversation. If he didn’t know better, John wouldn’t be able to tell this gathering from a church Christmas party back home.
“No way,” said Becky.
“What?” John asked.
“I know that look and you are not going to sample the food.” She wagged a finger in his direction. “You can march right out of here and save the ‘Just making sure it’s not poisoned’ routine for someone who’ll believe it.”
Becky ushered him outside and gave him a kiss on the cheek before closing the door on John. A burst of laughter from the people inside informed John that the incident had not gone unnoticed. He grinned. Of all the things he had worried about when he was the camp director morale had been on the top of the list. How do you keep a group of people happy who have left their homes and most of their possessions behind? He still wasn’t sure, but somehow they had managed it.
“Visitors,” a voice shouted from the front gate.
John’s heart sank. Most of the time visitors meant trouble. He braced himself for trouble and marched to the camp entrance, wondering what sort of setback, misfortune, or disaster was headed his way.
He spotted the sheriff’s car and a pickup driving along the dirt road to the camp. At least if the sheriff was involved he could expect some sort of support in figuring out how to handle the situation.
Sheriff McKinney stopped in front of the gate and climbed out of his patrol car. A big smile occupied his face. He pulled off his sunglasses and walked to the back of the car. “I have something for you, John.”
“For me or for the camp?” asked John.
John opened the gate and then strolled over to see what was in the trunk—boxes. Four cardboard boxes, sealed shut with packing tape, and addressed to John Williams at Camp Valiant. Sheriff McKinney handed him a letter. The return address listed the sender as Sierra Weintraub. John vaguely remembered the name. He opened the letter and read it.
I doubt you remember me. Robert and I dated before he joined the army. My family has had to make room for my brother and his wife to move back home. During the process we ended up with several boxes of toys. I can’t imagine why you might want used items at Christmas, but I had strong feeling that I should send them to you. If I’ve learned anything from my association with Robert it has been to trust the spirit when it speaks to me. Anyway, I hope sending these old toys was a prompting of the spirit and not some defective thinking on my part. Please forgive me if sending used items is inappropriate.
And in case you haven’t heard from him, Robert is alive and seemed in good spirits when I talked to him. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
John’s first reaction was to wonder why Robert had called Sierra instead of the family. Then John thought about it for a moment and decided that in the same situation he’d rather call a pretty girl than a gruff old man. But this also meant that Robert’s relationship with Sierra was serious.
“I hope that was good news,” said Sheriff McKinney.
The statement brought John out of his thoughts. He grabbed one of the boxes in the trunk and then looked over at the pickup truck. The driver and passenger had moved to the back and let down the tailgate. “How many boxes did she send?”
“Only four,” said McKinney. “The rest are from the people in Greenville.”
Even though the relationship between the people in Camp Valiant and the residents of Greenville had improved over the last few months the announcement surprised John. “What?”
“Last week,” said Sheriff McKinney, “Helena Reidhead brought your teenagers to town to carol. I think that touched a few hearts. Quite a few of the folks in town had commented on how the Christmas spirit seemed to be missing this year; with the war in Europe and all. Those young people taking the time to sing Christmas songs really improved the mood in town. Doctor Whitton figured you might be a bit short on presents this year and conducted a toy drive for the kids.”
“I don’t know what to say,” said John.
“How about, ‘Merry Christmas?’”
John laughed. “Merry Christmas to you and to everyone in Greenville.”
Bill Summers showed up with a couple of the work crew members and helped carry the boxes into the warehouse, working right along-side the two Greenville citizens. The scene showed just how much the relationship with the town had changed in the last six months.
Becky invited the sheriff to stay for some hot cocoa, but he begged off, stating that he had plenty of sheriff things to do back in town. They climbed back into their vehicles and drove off towards town.
As he watched them leave, John couldn’t shake the sappy feeling that this was the best Christmas ever. Not because they received all the presents they wanted, not because they watched all their favorite Christmas movies, and not because Santa was coming to town. This was the best because the parts of what makes Christmas what it is had more meaning this year than they ever had before. It took the apocalypse to strip away the commercialism attached to the holiday and celebrate with true Christmas spirit.
Merry Christmas everyone.