Homemade Christmas


“The American Dream has become a nightmare. And I’m living it.” Mark sat on the front porch swing with Maddy after listening to that evening’s broadcast of the Amos n’ Andy Show. The only light reflecting over them was the light from the living room window and a few stars twinkling in the inky dark sky.

She tucked her feet up under her and met his gaze. “Is it really so horrible being home again? I couldn’t wait to finish school and come back. I loved the children I taught every day and I had promised to teach in the city to help lower some of the cost of school. But I couldn’t wait to get home. I love it here.”

“It’s not about just being home. It’s about how the entire world is right now. The stock market is in a shambles. People are unemployed. Men begging for jobs. Apple Annies on the street doing the best they can to put food on the table for their families. I wanted to come home by train to get here faster. But I didn’t have the money any more than the hobos that jump the blinds. So, I had to take a bus.” He stood and stepped to the railing, the only sound the creaking of the swing. “Can you imagine how humiliating that was? After the way I used to get around Chicago?”

“I’ve ridden on buses. They aren’t so bad.”

But it was awful. Especially compared to his Mercedes. “And President Hoover has no idea of how bad things are. Why, I wouldn’t doubt if all forty-eight states are in depression now.”

“I know we’re in a depression, Mark. We might live simpler lives than big city folks, but it has hit us here, too. It has affected everyone, even the farmers.”

“I’m sure it has. Last year after the crash, Hoover said, ‘Any lack of confidence in the economic future or the basic strength of business in the United States is foolish.’ And just a few months ago he touted, ‘All the evidences indicate that the worst effects of the crash upon unemployment will have passed during the next sixty days.’ I heard that jive enough on the radio that I memorized it.” He moved back to sit in the swing.

“Many people across the country are having to file bankruptcy, but for now we’re actually better off than most. With Johnny and Susie growing their own food, they still have plenty to feed their family every day. Everyone’s affected in one way or another. I pray every night the town council can afford to keep me on as the local teacher. Shop owners have had to lay people off and man their own counters. Do you know how that felt to most of them?”

“Yes, I do.” He resisted telling her about the run on the bank and all that he’d lost.
“Those people were their neighbors. Their friends.”

“I wasn’t saying big cities are the only places that—”

She held up her hand. “But you didn’t answer my question. Is it really so horrible being home again?”

He took a deep breath. Gazed off the porch into the darkness of the night. He didn’t want to say the wrong thing, but didn’t want to lie either. “It’s not horrible, Maddy. Just not what I expected for my life. I wanted . . . more.”

“You wanted things,” she clarified.

Her honesty shocked him. “That’s not fair.”

“Maybe not, but it’s true. Tell me, Mark, can you really compare the meal we had tonight—with all the love, laughter and family—with what you had in Chicago? Did you cook for yourself every night? Or did you eat in some fancy restaurant?”

He thought of all the fancy restaurants he’d dined in. At most, he was there so often, he’d even had his own ‘table.’ “I ate out most every night.”

“Was the food better?”

He laughed. “No, not much can top Susie or Mama’s cooking.”

She arched a brow. “Was the company better?”

“Better? No. It was . . . different.”

“Wealthy girls you met in your bank?”

“Some.” He reached out and brushed a strand of dark brown hair behind her ear. Its softness surprised him. Made him want to pull her close and run his fingers through it. Instead, he said, “Fishing for information? You always were nosy.”

She swatted him lightly on the arm and started to get up from the swing.

“Don’t go, Madelyn. It’s nice talking to you.” He felt so alone here. Even with family around, loneliness haunted him.

She leaned back into the white wooden seat. “We used to talk a lot. And I always hated it when you called me Madelyn. You know I don’t like the name.”

He chuckled. “I know. It’s why I used it all the time. Loved seeing the expressions you got on your face. It’s one of the few things about you that hasn’t changed.”

She shifted in the seat to face him. “Have I really changed that much? Or have you?”

“You’ve grown up.”

“And you grew away.”

He nodded. “Yes, I guess I did.” He placed his thumb on the side of his face and rubbed his fingertips across his forehead. “I didn’t mean to let things get so distant with everyone. Life just . . . intruded.”

“And you got rich.”

He tilted his head, watching her. “I did. Is that so horrible?”

“Of course not. It’s what a person does with the money and how they live that matters. What did you do with your money?”

“Do? What do you mean what did I do with it? I bought things.”

An aha look crossed her face as if she’d scored a major coup. “Exactly. Things. I heard you had a fancy house and fancy car. Were you really happier in your house than John and Susie are in this one? Did your car get you around better than John’s plain Model T? Or did they just look better?”

Mark sat straighter, his hackles raised. “You don’t think much of me, do you?”

Maddy’s eyes misted over as they met his. “Silly man. Don’t you know I always loved you?”

©2009 Leanne L. Burroughs

short story from On A Cold Winter's Night




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