Matty returned home to the chaos that was  the little red house, just in time to read a story to little DJ as he laid down for his afternoon nap, in the shade drawn room where the 15 year old had done the very same thing as a child…

It was rare that he made it through the entire story before the 4 year old tyke could no longer keep his eyes open, but, this time, the boy was still awake, fidgeting and fighting his heavy eyelids.

Matty leaned over and kissed the little boy on the forehead and stroked his blond hair soothingly, until the eyes twitched closed and his breathing became deeper. He slowly got up from the boy- sized bed and turned to leave the tiny room, but, a little voice behind him stopped the teenager before he reached the door.

“Matty… don’t go.”
The lanky boy turned and walked back to the bed and sat down…
“DJ, you should be sleeping, at least for a while… Little boys need to take naps because they’re growing so much… You know that, we talked about it, remember?”
The 4 year old looked at his big brother and his eyes filled with tears.
“DJ, what’s the matter? You’re OK… you shouldn’t cry, everything is all right!”
“I’m scared Matty…”
“Why, little monkey?”
“I’m scared if I fall asleep, I won’t wake up…”
Matty sighed and reached over and repositioned the slender boy, making room on the tiny bed and then laid down next to him, cradling him with his head under his right arm.
“You shouldn’t worry about things like that, DEEJ… As long as I’m your brother, nothing bad will happen like that… so, you can sleep and sleep and dream about cool things… teddy bears and Santa and candy canes and snowmen, and all the things you like the best, and when you’re done, I’ll wake you up and I’ll never forget… You’re my baby brother DJ, and I need you to grow up with me…So, now, I want you to close your eyes and go to sleep, and dream and dream, about everything good…”
“Promise you won’t leave…”
“OK, I promise… I’ll stay here until you fall asleep…”
“No! Promise you’ll stay…Pleeease, Matty!!!” The little boy started to whimper again.
Matty pulled the tiny body close and DJ rolled onto his side and wrapped his right arm around his big brother.
“OK…. ok… I’ll stay. Now, close your eyes and go to sleep…Mommy thinks you’re sleeping already.”

The December sun dipped low in the sky and the afternoon shadows deepened as the little boy drifted off to sleep, and Matty held him close. He laid there, deep in thought, and absent mindedly stroked the little boy’s pajama clad back, thinking about the plan that he hoped to implement as soon as he could…

Matty watched his brother sleep for the next hour or so. He thought back to his own childhood and the things that he dreamed about that made him the happiest. At DJ’s age, he had seen a movie that became his all time favorite picture about dogs, and it had stirred in him a desire that many little boys shared- to have a big yellow dog of his own. It was not meant to be, tho, mostly because a family with 7 kids simply couldn’t afford to care for a large dog… So, Matty contented himself with the numerous dreams he had in which he had a dog of his own, and never missed an airing of the movie when it was eventually televised on ‘The Wonderful World of Disney’… To this day, “Old Yeller’ remains his favorite boy and dog movie…
The 15 year old boy carefully shifted his position on the tiny bed, trying not to awaken the blond haired boy. He looked at the delicate arm that held him  near and then at the boy’s face as he slept. The little eyelids quivered from time to time, and Matty wondered where the dreamworld had transported the tyke.  Glancing to his left, he noticed the ‘Mickey Mouse’ alarm clock on the bedside table. It was nearly two o’clock.  He groaned… He had forgotten to call Bobby. ‘Well, it’ll have to wait, until DJ is done napping’, he thought. He knew that his friend would understand, once he heard the reason.
Within a few minutes of that thought, Matty heard the phone in the kitchen ringing. Instantly, he knew who was calling, and he smiled. It was just like Bobby to do something like that! If he wasn’t finishing Matty’s sentences, he was reading his mind!

The footsteps in the hallway, followed by the slowly opened door, confirmed his suspicion. It was mom.
“Matty, you have a phone call,” she said softly.
That was all it took for the 4 year old to awaken. DJ’s eyes fluttered open and the boy rolled off of Matty and yawned.
Matty giggled. “OK then, could you tell Bobby I’ll be right there? It looks like nap time is over, right DJ?”
The little tyke rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand and nodded his head. He smiled… “You stayed, Matty..”
“Course I did, squirt! Told you I would! OK, now I gotta get the phone. You finish waking up, and I’ll see you in a little while.”

The phone call only took a few minutes, but, it was full of intriguing information. According to Bobby, there was a good possibility that he would be the master of the house for 4 or 5 days during the later part of the Christmas vacation. His parents had plans to attend an out of state wedding that  was costing them enough in train fare, that they had agreed, somewhat reluctantly, that a 15 year old boy should be old enough to fend for himself in their absence. This, of course, created all kinds of possibilities that tickled the imaginations of the teenaged lads. Now, a single phrase whose origin was a mystery to Matty, popped into his head and asserted its relevance-‘ When the cat’s away, the mice will play…’
Matty’s pants grew just a bit tighter, just thinking about what might happen… But, first things first. There was a holiday celebration that was on the line….

He said his ‘goodbyes’ and hung up the black phone onto the wall -mounted base. A voice from the living room called out to him instantly. “Matty, would you come in here please? I need to discuss something with you…”
So, he walked down the hallway to the living room, stopping briefly to stick his head into DJ’s room to see what the little guy was doing. The 4 year old was still on his bed, having a discussion with his favorite stuffed animal, and never noticed his big brother looking in. Matty smiled and shook his head, and continued into the dimly lit living room, where his mother was ironing a white cotton shirt. To her left was a wicker basket, filled with freshly laundered clothes, most of which needed the attention she was giving the shirt. As the teenager approached, she looked up and motioned towards the couch.
“Sit for a minute… I need to tell you something while the other kids are out and about. It’s about your dad and his job…”
Matty sat down and listened, pretending that everything he heard was actually news.
“You see, Matty, your dad got a pink slip yesterday. In fact, he’s at the unemployment office right now, filing a claim. You know what that means… He’s going to have to find another job somehow, but, in the meantime… well… things are going to be… difficult. Now, I don’t want you to worry about all of this. You worry too much, really. But, I was hoping you could talk to your brothers and sisters and try to explain that there might be only a very few things under the Christmas tree this year.” She stopped ironing, and looked away… Matty noticed the quiver in her voice and saw as she discreetly wiped a tear away with her back to him.
“It’s OK… I understand, mom. It’s just the way things are. Nobody’s fault… But, you know, even if just the littlest kids get a little something, the rest of us older kids will be OK! We don’t need anything. So, don’t worry! I’ll talk to them!”
“Matty,  I don’t know how to say this. I’m going to try my best to do just that, but, with your sister’s tuition, and the hospital bill from DJ’s croup, I don’t know if we can afford to buy anything in the way of presents this year…”
It was then that the Polish mother of 7 lost her composure. The tears brimmed in her eyes and she started to cry. She covered her face with her hands and sobbed. Matty rose from the couch and went to her and hugged her, until she was able to stop.
“Oh, Matty, I just don’t know how this ever happened… I saved every penny I could, and it just isn’t enough. In my whole life, I have never envisioned a Christmas where we would not have the money to make our children as happy as the other kids in my  family… I’m so ashamed that it has come to this!” She shook her head and then excused herself, leaving the iron standing on the end of the ironing board to go to the bathroom at the end of the hallway and wash her face before DJ saw her.

Matty sat back down on the couch. ‘It was now or never’, he thought. He took the envelope from underneath his sweater, and extracted the $250… There were mostly twenty dollar bills, which he carefully rolled into a tight bundle. Then he reached down between the cushions of the old, green, couch, in the very corner, and pulled out the white sock that his mother used to hide the meager funds that she had saved over the course of the year. It was money that was left after the taxes were paid on the next door farmhouse that she was slowly acquiring from her mother’s estate. The old farmhouse had become a rental property to help pay the mortgage, and, by the time every expense was paid, there was very little left of the rental money, but, every cent was kept in this emergency fund that she had stashed in this unlikely bank of sorts. Now, Matty added the $250 to the roll of bills. Instead of $50, there was now a $300 bankroll in that sock. He shook his head and stuffed the sock with the money back into the recesses of the ancient couch. He was not, of course, supposed to know about the sock with the money, but, like almost every other ‘secret’  in the small house, time eventually betrayed the ‘keeper’. Matty had quite accidentally found the stash one day, when one of DJ’s toys had been lost and he was digging through the corners of the upholstered furniture, trying to find the toy. Now, if he used that discovery properly, he might be able to sell the illusion with a poker face and a little luck.

It was only a few minutes before his mom returned, her eyes reddened from the tears, but her face, freshly washed. She was back in control, tho, so Matty changed the topic of conversation, and they talked about happier things, until the sound of little feet in the hallway reminded them that there was still a little boy who needed attention.
“Is that you, DJ?” Matty laughed.
“Yup!” the 4 year old replied.
“Well, come here and give mommy a hug, and then maybe we can play with your cars… You know, we’ll pretend we’re racing them on the couch…”
“Yeah!” the excited boy, exclaimed, and with that, he raced back to his room to retrieve the two matchbox cars, one white with a red stripe, and one dark green, Matty’s personal favorite. He had forgotten the hug, but, when he returned, Matty whispered in his ear and the towheaded boy went to his hard working mommy, and wrapped his little arms around her leg, kissing her with a loud ‘smack’ at the same time.
The hug had the necessary effect. His mommy kneeled down and drew the little boy to her and hugged him tight, until he objected, reaching towards Matty, still clutching the Matchbox cars. A hug was fine, up to a point, but, playtime was sacrosanct!

So, his mom laughed, cheered by the tiny show of solidarity and patted the boy on the butt, sending him on his way.
Soon, the two brothers were ‘zooming’ the little cars up and down the cushions of the embossed fabric of the large couch, and Matty’s arm and back had become a ramp of sorts in the vivid imagination of a young boy’s mind. Matty enjoyed the interaction and stretched out on the springy cushions while the spinning wheels of the red striped car sent chills up his spine as DJ rolled it over the teenager’s back. It was very relaxing, the tingling sensation of the little boy’s unintentional massage, and the mock sounds that he used to mimic the engine noises that could have come from the toys if they were to come to life. Matty’s eyes grew heavy and he started to drift off to sleep, tired from the morning’s work and soothed by the nearness of his baby brother…
But, as he closed his eyes and fell into a light slumber, DJ noticed the closed eyes and the tiny white car with the red stripe rolled up the 15 year old’s neck and then onto his face, revving it’s tiny engine, very near his right eyelid.
Matty opened his eyes just enough to see the little boy smiling devilishly. He shut his eyes tightly and pretended to sleep, even snoring a little. DJ would have none of it! “Matty! Wake up!”
But, that didn’t awaken the tired teen, because, he was now snoring even louder!
“Matty!! Open your eyes!! MATTY!!”
Still no response, so the 4 year old resorted to the ‘nuclear’ option, and tried to open his big brother’s eyes by pushing at his eyelids!
Matty roared to life, laughing, and snatched the little boy off the carpet and on top of him and held him in a bear hug. The 4 year old squealed with delight, dropping his toys in the process, behind the lanky teenager, and the fake wrestling match was officially under way!!
And, it was, as usual, a very loud activity, complete with squealing and laughing and tumbling bodies with all the intensity of the real thing but with brotherly love taking precedence. No injuries resulted, but, Mom held her hands over her ears after a while and demanded a truce…
“MATTY!! DJ!!  Whew!! Ok… Ok!!  Enough, already!”
Matty and the little boy quieted, and giggled at the funny look on their mom‘s face. It was not anything new. In fact, it was a look perfected over the years of Matty’s childhood- a seasoned mother’s signal that while she loved her enthusiastic boys, she needed a diminution of the volume!
What was not lost on the 15 year old boy, however, was the immediate advantage that the chaos had created… A distraction of sorts. He noticed the 2 Matchbox cars had scattered during the wrestling, and both had found their ways to the edges of the couch’s cushions. He saw his chance! With a deft sweep of his hand, he pushed the red-striped car to the corner of the green colored cushions, where many a coin had tumbled into the mysterious recesses to be found many months later. Then, while he struggled to sit up with his little brother still tangled in his grasp, he reached behind his back, and pushed the little car the rest of the way down, into the cavity that held the money filled sock.

Then, he waited…

It only took DJ a few minutes to notice the disappearance of his favorite car. His immediate search took him back to the tan carpet, where he thought the toy might have fallen, but, after laying down on the rug and reaching his tiny arm under the front of the couch, he started to get worried and whiney, demanding Matty’s assistance. The teenager played it to the hilt, looking under the front of the couch and then under the adjoining furniture, to no avail, of course…
Mom was still ironing, not paying much attention to the search, until the 4 year old’s whining became more frantic.
She stopped the starching and folding for the moment, and made a suggestion, being an expert in the most effective search techniques after her years of experience.
Her suggestion was exactly what Matty had hoped…
“Matty, look under the cushions. Those cars are tiny enough to fall underneath…Maybe when you boys were wrestling, the car fell down there.”
“True! That’s a good idea!” the boy replied.
So, the two boys reached into the crevices, but there was no way to get to the deeper recesses of the couch’s framework without removing the thick cushions, so Matty sighed, and got off the couch, and removed the 2 end cushions. Then he pretended that he still couldn’t find the little toy, and struggled in the corner of the couch until he could reach the hidden sock. With much fanfare, he pulled the money- filled sock out of it’s hiding place.
“What’s this?” he queried, holding the sock aloft.
His mom turned, and her face didn’t register any surprise, for about 3 seconds…But then, she realized what had happened, and laughing, snatched it from his hands.
“I forgot that was there…Now, I’ll have to find a new hiding place!”
“Hiding place? What is that?” Matty asked, almost afraid that she would pick up on his attempt at deception…
His mom sighed… “Oh, it’s nothing much. I suppose I shouldn’t even worry about hiding it. It just makes me feel a little better that there’s something here that I can get to if there’s an emergency. It’s just a few dollars I managed to save, Matty. At one time, there was over $500 in this sock, but, with all the bills, I’m afraid the money has depleted, like our money in the bank…”
She handed the sock back to the boy. “Here, see for yourself.”
Matty took the sock, and turned it upside down, and the roll of money fell to the carpet. He picked up the loose roll and started to count.
His mom looked up from her ironing and it finally struck her. Her eyes widened in disbelief.
“What on earth!” She held her hand to her mouth.”Matty, was that all in the sock?”
“Sure was!”
“But I don’t understand! There wasn’t more than $50 or so, in that sock that I can remember… How on earth… Matty, how much is there?”

Matty finished counting and looked up. “Three hundred dollars.”
“Oh, my lord! I can’t believe this! I must be losing my mind! I must have forgotten… I just don’t understand.”
“Well, it seems like a good thing to remember, if you ask me! Maybe this money will make things easier, at least for Christmas…”
Mom was nearly speechless. She stood with a hand on her forehead and wiped  away a tear of realization from her eye.
Matty smiled inside, and put the money on the table. Somehow, the plan had worked… He could hardly believe it.

The sound of a car door closing in front of the house, broke the spell.

Matty walked to the front door and looked out the little windows at the top. It was his dad’s car in the driveway. He watched his father walk up the sidewalk, clutching a few pieces of paper.
“Daddy’s home, DEEJ!”
The little boy squealed with delight, and came running and tugged at the door knob, which was above his head, until Matty laughed, and opened the front door so the little boy could see his father…

What happened next has never been explained, at least to the satisfaction of most of Matty’s family. Perhaps it is better left that way- For these little ‘miracles’  come from  a place where love and compassion reign, in their most pure form- deep in the human heart…

Continued in Part 4…