On this fourth day of Christmas, I’d like to share with you a story about one December's day in my childhood – a true story of how a simple act of kindness blessed me with a wonderful winter memory.
The Lady on the Hill
(c) Jean Ballard, 2014
It was December of 1957, and I was 7 years old. I was walking home from school just before the Christmas holidays. I had quite a distance to walk – a couple of miles – but in the 1950s that was neither too far nor too dangerous for a seven year old to walk, even by herself. Usually I enjoyed it, swinging my school bag, singing a song, skipping and hopping down the long hill to my little house on the edge of town.
This day, however, was different. For some reason I was late – a detention perhaps, or chalkboard duty? Whatever the cause, the short winter’s day was growing dark, and made all the more miserable by a bone-chilling blowing snow. By the time I was two blocks from home, I was sobbing and calling for my mommy.
A woman came hurrying down a driveway – a tall, slender, beautiful woman with expensive clothes and freshly coiffed hair. I knew who she was, though I’d never met her. She lived in the big fancy house at the end of the long sloped driveway, the house on a rise of perfectly manicured lawn, the whole property edged with carefully pruned evergreen shrubs. In spring there would be boxes of flowers along the front windows of the house, and blossoms on the fruit trees in back. My seven year old mind imagined this well-to-do woman as some kind of royalty, certainly a Lady 'with a capital L.' I dubbed her "The Lady on the Hill."
I was just a little girl from a very small home where I lived with my financially struggling, recently immigrated family. So when I saw her hurrying down her driveway I stopped partly in awe and partly from curiosity – what was she doing out without coat and hat and gloves, just a cardigan pulled loosely around her shoulders?
“Little girl, are you lost? Can I help?” she called as she ran quickly toward me, sliding on the freshly fallen snow.
“I’m ccccoooold,” I sobbed, “and it’s almost dark, and I want my mommy!”
“Here, come with me,” she replied softly, as she reached out and gently placed an arm around my shivering body. “We’ll get you warm and I’ll phone your mother to let her know you’re alright, and then I’ll walk you home.”
And so she did – she took me inside her beautiful house, hung my wet coat and hat and mitts over a radiator to dry, phoned my mom, and fed me hot chocolate with marshmallows – the first marshmallows I’d ever had – with iced sugar cookies.
When I was warmed up and my winter clothes quite dry, she suggested we head home. She helped me on with my coat, buttoning it all the way to my chin, pulled on my hat and mitts, and then reached into a drawer and pulled out the softest scarf I’d ever seen, which she wrapped snugly about my face. Then, almost as an afterthought, she reached into a fruit bowl on the kitchen counter, pulled out one mandarin orange still wrapped in its green tissue paper, and placed it in my mittened hand.
"For you," she said, "when you get home." I looked at her in amazement – in my home, mandarin oranges were something only seen on Christmas morning, the orange orb tucked in the toe of my Christmas stocking. To get such a treasure days in advance of Santa's visit was incredible!
Off we went, the final two blocks to home, my one hand tucked in hers, my other clutching my mandarin orange.
I never met her again, and never did learn her name. She was always just that very nice Lady on the Hill.
In later years I drove past her house and realized it wasn’t that big, it certainly wasn’t fancy, the driveway wasn’t that long, and the hill was a mere bump. But her kindness stuck with me all these years, and I can still see her clean modern kitchen and feel the softness of the mohair scarf as she wrapped it around me. And I never smell a mandarin orange, freshly removed from its little piece of green tissue, without remembering how special she made me feel.
If she is still alive today, she is probably in her nineties. I’d like to think that she still remembers that day, and somehow knows in her heart how much her kindness meant to one shivering scared little child. Because that shivering scared child has never forgotten it.