The early morning sunshine etched through the beige drapes highlighting Mrs. Seymour's grey hair.
Her first thought as she awoke was, it's Thursday.
"Next Thurdsay will be Christmas," she said patting the little brown dog by her bed. "We'd better get up. We have work to do before they come."
As she took the orange juice out of the freezer, she touched the frozen pie. She'd made it last week using her last jar of home-made mincemeat. "Can't ever tell when Christmas callers might stay for dinner, Honey," she said giving the dog a bite of cheese.
"Today we'll get the walnuts cracked and the tree up. Then, tomorrow, we'll have all day to make the cookies."
She pushed the large box of tree trimmings down the hall. Jimmy, the yard man, had carried them into the spare room last week. She was spry for her 80 years, but not as strong as she used to be.
"Ah-h-h," she sighed, as she placed the last of the tinsel on the tree. It was hard work, but it was worth it. The old fashioned baubles, garlands of silver, a couple of old paper ornaments the children had made in school many years ago, all the different colored lights twinkling at her. "How's that look, Honey?" The dog wagged his tail.
"I'm sure Mrs. Etzler and her little girl will come." She had bumped into them last week at the store, near the brown sugar.
"Oh, hello there, Brenda."
"Hi!" the little blonde haired girl answered brightly. Her mother looked up quizically.
"I'm Mrs. Seymour, your neighbor down the street in the yellow house," she explained. "You're getting ready for Christmas baking, too, I see?"
"Not really. I don't have much time these days."
"Be sure to stop by and see my tree one of these days."
"Well, we're rather busy, but I'll try," the young mother had said, wheeling her grocery cart off toward the pet food.
And surely some of the ladies in her church sewing group would come some afternoon, Mrs. Seymour thought. And of course, the children! Once or twice a week several of the youngsters stopped on their way home from school and she gave them each a cookie. Stephen, a curly haired eight year old, had been coming every week since she moved in a year ago. Last week, he had proudly shared a test paper with her. Every spelling word was right and beside the 100% at the top of the page, the teacher had drawn a smiley face. Yes, she'd have to fix something special for Stephen.
She was up early the next day. The radio DJ announced, "It's Friday, December 19th, 6:30 and time to get up. Only six more days 'til Christmas," While the brownies were baking, she cut up gumdrops for the next batch of cookies. Her arthiritic hands hurt a little with each snip of the scissors, but the children loved her gumdrop cookies. By noon, she had packed several Tupperware boxes full of different kinds.
"Maybe I should get some candy canes too, do you think?" she asked Honey. The little dog looked around the floor for a dropped gumdrop. "The walk will do me good. It's only a few blocks." she patted the dog's head, "If I hurry, I can make it back before school lets out."
She placed the candy canes on the table by the plate of cookies. "I'll pour the eggnog after they come. It's better icy cold." Honey licked his paw.
It was almost three o'clock,. She hurried to the bathroom and brushed her short grey hair, added a bit of lipstick and returned to the living room.
"Good! There they come now, almost running to start their holiday." She watched through the lacy curtains as the children passed the house.
At 4:30 she covered the cookies with Saran wrap to keep them fresh and picked up her knitting.
She turned the porch light on at 5:15, because the days were shorter now. She wouldn't want any of her friends to fall coming up the steps.
"Surely, someone will stop by for a drink," she said to Honey as she got the round brass tray down from the cupboard and put festive Christmas napkins on it. She dusted three champagne glasses and they stood like sparkling ballerinas at the end of a dance.
By 7:30 she really had lost her appetite. She settled for toast and tea for dinner.
Saturday morning she fed the birds, watered her potted geraniums and tidied the house.
People hurried by on the sidewalk out in front. "See them rushing, Honey?" The dog looked for the cat. "All in a hurry to finish shopping and deliver presents."
She waited for her holiday visitors to come. She moved one of the little angels on the mantle. The blue baubles hanging on the gold garland were very pretty around the mirror. "They will say, 'You shouldn't have climbed up on the step ladder to drape them so high,' and I will shrug as if I do it everyday." She grew dizzy quite easily now. She even had to pay a man to wash the windows, but "Christmas comes once a year," she said, and she liked everything to be sparkly clean when callers come.
"In Calfornia, where camellias bloom instead of snowmen," she told Honey, "You need more indoor decorations," and she painstakingly pinned Christmas cards to wide red ribbons and tacked them around the door frames.
She was pouring herself a cup of tea when the door bell rang. The cup clinked loudly as she almost dropped it to the saucer. "Oh, Honey, they've come!" She hurried to remove her apron and reached the door before the second ring.
The dog barked at the young man setting a large package outside the door. "Mrs. Seymour?"
"Oh! Oh, yes, of course," she said signing the paper on his clipboard.
"I don't suppose you'd care for a cookie..." she started to say, but he was halfway back to his truck and didn't hear her frail voice.
"Dear Peggy, such a thoughtful daughter. Always lovely packages, usually home made things, like the big, warm afghan last year. I cuddle in it and feel so warm and loved when I think of the hours she worked on it for me."
She opened the box and placed the presents around the tree. Honey sniffed them and then followed her outside as she took the empty carton to the trash. "Wouldn't do to have a mess in our clean house when they come." She noticed the rug could use vacuuming again, but decided to wait until early morning. They wouldn't come early Sunday morning. Probably on their way home from church later.
She stayed home from church and baked a large coffee cake. "It's all right to miss one Sunday," she explained to Honey, as she put on a large pot of fresh coffee.
At noon she quickly ate a half a sandwich and wiped the crumbs off the table. "They'll probably come this afternoon," she patted the dog. "That's really when most people come to call." The clock ticked loudly in the little house.
Monday the little dog followed her from room to room as she dusted, straightened magazines, and plumped pillows.
The tree branches drooped from the weight of heavy ornaments. the mistletoe above the door was beginning to dry up and some of the berries had dropped to the floor.
As she listened to a Christmas carol record, it reminded her of past Christmases.
When she was a little girl in Michigan, she remembered peeking between the rungs of the staircase at the huge tree below. She was the youngest of four girls. The house was always full of people, especially at Christmas. her mother made homemade candy and packed it away in teh fruit-room of the basement. She could close her eyes now and taste that stolen hand-dipped chocolate she'd sneaked before Christmas.
Then later, when she was married and the girls were little, it had taken her until 2 a.m. one year to finish making the sheets and spreads for the new doll beds. She was alway Santa Claus. John went to sleep early. She smiles. John had been dead eight years now. He was getting his sleep now, she thought.
Tuesday she did a little washing. Honey played in the yard as she hung the clothes on the line. "Today is the 23rd," she told him. "It was my sister's birthday. We always had a big lamb dinner, and we trimmed the tree that night." In Michigan with the snow and all to make it feel like Christmas, it wasn't necessary to put up the decorations so early.
Wednesday the phone rang. "Hello?"
"Hello, Mom, this is Cathy. Look, I'm sorry, but I didn't get your package off yet. We had the office party here this year and then Jim caught a cold and everything's been so hectic."
"I'm sorry he's sick."
"Oh, he's better now, but I just didn't get everything done, with all the cards, and you know how it is. I wish you didn't live so far away."
"Yes, I'm sorry too. Well, give my love to Jim and I hope you both have a nice Christmas."
"Yes mom, thank you. Merry Christmas to you."
Only the tree lights were on. She realized it had turned dark outside. She closed the drapes and heated some soup. It was Christmas eve. "I doubt if they'll come tonight," she said, opening a can of dog food for Honey. "Everyone will be with their families." She and the dog went to bed early.
Christmas morning it rained. "Oh, the poor children," she told Honey as she heard the drops pelting down with determined regularity. "They won't be able to ride their new bikes or try their new outside toys. maybe it will clear by afternoon."
She placed her feet in the worn bedroom slippers. "Maybe the callers will come this afternoon. We'd better hurry and get ready."