Grace was overcome with regrets and disappointments. The rain outside was pounding on the windows. It wouldn’t even snow. Why, why couldn’t things ever just work the way she wanted them to –just once. Just once, couldn’t she have something –anything that she really wanted? Feeling sorry for herself began to swallow her up, suffocate her.
Not one thing in itself was too much to handle. The four of them were trying to live on her very meager teacher’s salary which put them $27,000 below the poverty level. Even if her salary were doubled, they’d be below the poverty line, but it would feel so much better. The only man in the whole neighborhood who had a job was her boss, and he was oblivious to the world around him, which is why he overlooked her for a higher position and hired a younger outsider, whose wife is a doctor. He had no interest in uplifting those around him. He probably thought that even though Grace was more qualified, other teachers would be upset.
By itself, that wasn’t that bad, but this was going to be her daughter, Amelia’s third Christmas with no toys and no Santa, and at her age she understands what Christmas is. Before, they could just pass it off as just another day. But this year, her grandparents and aunts and uncles are going to ask “What did Santa bring you?” And she’s not going to understand the question.
No one even came to baby Autumn’s first birthday. It was as if she were no big deal at all. Grace’s husband lost his job when she was still pregnant with Autumn and it took him almost a year before he would finally agree to get public assistance. The electricity had been cut off three times, once for a week, before they could get the money to get it back on. The phone had been cut once, and the gas twice before he could admit they needed help.
Maybe if her sister-in-laws weren’t so clueless, she could have had a normal, joyous baby-shower before Amelia was born. Grace told them that she just wanted a small wedding, nothing special. She didn’t even want a bridal shower, but asked them to put all their effort into the baby shower. No one had told her that she couldn’t get married, but fifteen doctors had told her she could never get pregnant. If they had planned a baby shower half as good as the ones she had planned for them, she would have been happy, but only two people from work came and she got absolutely nothing form the registry. Why couldn’t her babies be showered like all of the babies she had showered?
Maybe if her maid-of-honor had planned her baby shower, it would have been spectacular, but after the wedding, she was never to be seen from, or heard from again –unless she needed a job reference from some far off place.
Why didn’t Grace pick Jamie to stand up for her at her wedding? Who cares if everybody thought it was weird that he was a guy? Her husband didn’t care, and Jamie is still her friend –not that he would have held a spectacular baby shower or anything –but he certainly would have come if he had been invited. He did buy the most spectacular gift (later): the crib and mattress.
Grace thought back to the thousands of dollars that she spent on other people’s kids, and still for the third year, she couldn’t buy her own children Christmas or birthday presents. It felt so unfair. Grace’s mother-in-law had a habit of sending great presents –about a month late. But this year, she completely forgot baby Autumn’s first birthday altogether.
All Grace wanted was to put presents under the tree for her two perfect little girls; presents that she picked out and bought. Not a lot, just one or two. She just wanted to see their faces when they realized that it was not just another day.
Grace, herself, hadn’t received a present so many years, it didn’t even matter anymore. It didn’t matter that she only had two pair of thread-bare underwear. It didn’t matter that she sewed up the holes in her socks. The greatest present she could have would be the one she could bring to her girls. The one they would remember. It wouldn’t be this year, but she could hope for next year.
She got the girls tucked into bed and sat on her broken couch to find something that would distract her. Flipping through the stations, she saw that The Grapes of Wrath would be on PBS, maybe that would do it.