An excerpt from Angelika’s Journal about her Christmas:
We’ve left Ber-ber’s but we’re not where I had in mind. We now live in a shelter for women and children. Thank goodness my brother is still little because if he was ten, he couldn’t stay in the shelter with us and we would still be at Ber-ber’s. This place really isn’t so bad. The beds are comfortable. We share a room with another woman and her little girl. I like both of them because they’re quiet and keep their part of the room clean just like we do. I can write in my journal again in peace and quiet. So long for now.
I’m having to change schools again because the bus that comes to the shelter goes to a different school. Who knows what will happen here?
I’m not going to write about school for a while. It’s the same thing all over again so I’m just going to try to find other things to think about. Mama likes this place. Even though she’s got a job, the people who run this shelter are working to help her find a better job. She goes to classes here in the evenings to improve herself. We are beginning to have a little hope. I hope we can stay for a long time.
I just found out that we can’t stay here forever but that we can stay as long as Mama and we work on improving our situation. I’ll try real hard to do my best at school. I’ll help take care of my brother so that Mama can continue in her classes here. She seems to like what they are teaching her.
I brought a note home today for Mama. My teacher wants to have a “parent-teacher” conference with her. I don’t know what to do. The conference is during the time when Mama is at work and she can’t leave her job because she might lose it. And if she loses her job, we might not be able to stay in the shelter.
The teacher told all of us that if our parents cannot come at the time she suggests to let her know and she will try to work out something. The girl who sits beside me said the teacher met her mom at a coffee shop near where they live. That’s really nice of the teacher. The only problem is that I don’t want her to know that we live in the homeless shelter. I’ll have to think about all this.
I’m still thinking about that stupid parent-teacher conference. I haven’t given Mama the note yet. The teacher asked me about it and I told her that I forgot to pick it up off the table to bring it back to school. I told her that Mama had signed it, though. I don’t usually tell lies but I don’t know what else to do.
Mama could tell that something was bothering me. At first I told her nothing was wrong but she looked so concerned and started crying about what a bad mama she was that I finally broke down and told her about the parent-teacher conference. She said for me not to worry. She would figure something out.
Mama met my teacher. I don’t know exactly what happened. I know that she talked with the lady who works here at the shelter. Anyway, they worked out something and I’m glad they did. Mama said that my teacher can tell that I’m really smart. Even though I’ve only been in her classroom a little while, I am doing well. That made Mama happy. I’ll work really hard now to make them all proud.
Today was our last day of school before the winter break. I’m sad because I was just beginning to figure out how this school worked. Oh well.
Hey, living in this shelter at Christmas is pretty cool. Today a group from a church came here and gave us a Christmas party. We had all kinds of cakes and cookies. They had pretty napkins with holly on them. Mine was so beautiful, I didn’t use it but brought it back to our room. I’m going to keep it in my journal. They gave us presents. The girls got things in the pink bags and the boys in the blue ones. They had bags for little kids and a few for some us of us older girls. I got nail polish, hand cream, and a pretty hair clip.
I showed Mama my presents and she smiled her thin smile and said, “That’s nice.” Before the party was over, she told my brother and me to come back to the room. I don’t know why but we did as she asked us.
What do you know? We had another Christmas party. This time we got books and art supplies. Mama didn’t even come to this party because she said she had a headache. This time we had pretty red punch and green cupcakes. This is fun.
Can you believe it? More people came to the shelter today for Christmas celebrations. This time it was a group of teenagers who sang Christmas carols. I was excited about the singing until I realized that one of the singers goes to my school. I hid so she wouldn’t see me. I didn’t come forward this time to get a present.
Today the shelter had its own kind of celebration. We gathered together to read the Christmas story and then we had a nice supper together. We sang some Christmas carols and then shared favorite Christmas memories. I told about the time we had a real tree and Santa Claus came and everything. I looked over at Mama and she had tears in her eyes. I asked her what her favorite memory was. She said it was the first Christmas after I was born. She felt like she and Mary, Jesus’s mama, were sisters because they both had babies. Mama said she felt blessed. She said the words the angels said about be not afraid were very powerful for her that year. I liked that. That was a wonderful Christmas memory.
We all sat around just singing and talking quietly. The little kids, of course, were very excited and hoped that Santa Claus would find them at the shelter. Their mamas took them on to bed while the rest of us sat around feeling warm and cozy and a little sad.
Today is Christmas. The little kids were screaming early because they found the presents that Santa Claus had left them. Every kid found a least one present with his or her name on it. Some of them got big wheels, the girls got dolls with carriages. Others got board games or even game boys. Everybody got candy, fruit, and coloring books.
I didn’t even go over to the tree because I was not expecting any presents there. I knew that Mama didn’t have money for special treats like Christmas presents. But one of the ladies who works at the shelter called me over. She said, “Angelika, here’s a present with your name on it.” I looked at Mama who looked very surprised.
When I got to the tree, the lady handed me a very small box. My eyes got big. I think I mumbled thank you and then walked back over to sit with Mama and my brother, who was coloring. I very carefully opened the package. I didn’t want to rip the paper or the bow. Slowly, slowly, I got the box unwrapped. In it was a beautiful watch! It was the prettiest watch I’d ever seen. And the time was already set on it so I knew exactly what time it was. It was 10:09 when I opened the present.
I looked at Mama and said “Thank you.” My mama began crying and left the room. I was puzzled and followed her to our room.
“What’s wrong, Mama? This is the most beautiful present that I’ve ever received. I love it. Thank you.”
Mama said, “That’s just it. I didn’t get you that watch. I couldn’t afford something as nice as that. Somebody else gave you the best present you’ve ever gotten and it wasn’t your mama. But it should have been. It should have been.”
I began to take the watch off and put it back into the box. Mama saw what I was doing and said, “You stop that right this minute, girl. This is the nicest present you’ve ever gotten and just because your mama is feeling sorry for herself is absolutely no reason for you not to have nice things. You wear that watch with pride and joy. Jesus gave you that watch on his birthday. You just keep that love in your heart.”
Then she said, “Angelika, my angel, my special baby, you hand me that watch.” So I did. She took in it in her hand and closed it tight into her fist. Then she put her fist on her chest over her heart and she prayed, “Thank you, Jesus, for giving my angel this wonderful gift. Just as my hand is surrounding this watch, so my love is surrounding it and her life. May this watch remind her that every minute of her life is in your hands. When she looks at it, may she remember that her mama’s love goes round and round her just like the little hands of this watch. Thank you, Jesus, for showing us your love on this special day. Amen.”
Then she handed it back to me. I sat for a moment and then put the watch on.
If anyone ever asks me again what my favorite Christmas memory is, this is the one I’ll share.