The two boys stood  behind the aluminum storm door, and watched the tired man traverse the snow- covered walkway. He looked up as he reached the bottom of the concrete porch, and smiled briefly. It seemed a strain for him…
The 4 year old tyke excitedly patted his tiny hands against the cold glass and stood on his tippy toes, to get a better look at his daddy… Matty put his hand on top of the boy’s head and held him in place as he unlatched the frosty door. He guided the youngster back a step as the door started to open…
“Watch out, DJ! Gotta be careful! Wait for Daddy to come in… I don’t want you to fall.”

It was then that a look of puzzlement crossed the face of the boy’s father…. As he climbed the stairs of the icy porch, he seemed transfixed by something near the door, and motioned to Matty with an open hand, not to open the door yet. Once he reached the landing, he took something from the frame of the metal door. It was then that the teenager was able to see what he had been looking at- it was a plain, white envelope, identical to the one that the boy had brought home from the bank that day, with the money inside…
As soon as he saw the envelope, Matty instinctively reached to his left breast and felt through the material of the sweater he was wearing, momentarily confused, but, he could still feel the paper of the envelope in his shirt pocket.
The door opened, and Matty and DJ greeted their dad, DJ wrapping himself around the tall man’s leg, almost tripping him in the process…

“Hi Pop!  What’s with the envelope?”
“I don’t know, Matty. It was stuck in the door. Probably a bill or something, altho I don’t understand why it wasn’t left in the mailbox… Of course, there’s no address on it, so, that doesn’t make sense. Let me close the door. It’s cold out there… No sense letting all the warm air out of the house!”

So the boy’s dad came in, and after kissing the 4 year old, kissed his wife,  and then removed his jacket and draped it over the arm of the red, vinyl upholstered chair and sat down. He breathed a deep sigh of relief, as if he had worked a long day. In his right hand, he still held the white envelope, but seemed to have forgotten it, as he described the interview at the State Labor Department office, and the lines of unemployed craftsmen that were looking for some kind of work to get them through the winter.

Mom was reserved but firm… “You’ll have to look into any kind of work that’s out there. We still have bills to pay and those checks aren’t going to pay them for very long. Even if you have to do something besides construction work, you’ll have to do it… Whatever it takes to put food on the table.”
Pop grimaced at the suggestion, and started to object, but, looked at the two brothers sitting side by side on the old couch. He stopped himself and grew quiet.
Matty broke the silence. “So, what’s in the envelope, Pop?”
“Huh?” the pensive man responded. “Oh yeah, the envelope…”
Mom looked up from her ironing. “What envelope?”
“There was an envelope stuck between the storm door and the frame when I got home.” He held it up and studied it briefly, turning it in his hands. “Can’t be a bill, I don’t think… Well, there’s one way to find out.” With that, he tore open the end of the envelope and pulled at the paper inside.
A look of shock overtook his face and Matty erupted with surprise… “It’s money! Holy cow! Hundred dollar bills!”
“Good Lord!” mom exclaimed… She went speechless as Matty scrambled to his dad’s side and took the money the rest of the way out of the folded paper. “Five hundred dollars!! Five hundred dollars!!! Wow, someone put five hundred dollars in our door!”
“What…Who… How?” was all Pop could say.
Mom was even more confused! “What on earth is happening today?” She told her stunned husband about the other discovery and the two shook their heads in disbelief, and started to speculate about the source of the unexpected money…
“Maybe your brother? But, you didn’t tell him about my pink slip, did you? How could he know?”
Matty looked from one to the other, as they discussed the holiday ‘miracle’ but, he was lost in his own thoughts and calculations… The discussion became a blur around him, as his mind reeled and he thought back on the day, and his visit to the bank and the gracious banker…
“Matty… MATTY!!”  The 15 year old looked down at the little tyke tugging on his sleeve…
“Sorry, DJ… I was just thinking… What’s the matter? You OK?”
The 4 year old boy nodded his head in an exaggerated  way… “Yup! I’m OK, Matty… Did Santa come already?”
Matty laughed heartily. “Not yet, DEEJ, but even if it wasn’t Santa, it was someone just like him!”
“Did he come with Rudolph, too?”
The blond teenager picked the little boy up and put him on his lap. He hugged him gently.  “DJ, I don’t know if he had reindeer like Rudolph… I just wonder if he has little boys of his own…”

Christmas Eve arrived on frosty wings that year, with another storm that left a fresh coat of virgin snow on the kid- filled house… Inside, the atmosphere was charged with the excitement that came with hope, at a time of hardship… And, even tho the prospects for immediate work looked dim, there was little use imposing that grimness on the younger children. So, the traditional tree was cut and hauled across the starlit field by Matty and his dad… It was a gift from the farmer that employed the lad during the growing season, and it came at the perfect time, allowing the financially strapped parents to concentrate their funds on pressing things, like the college tuition for the oldest girl.

But, the unusual blessing  that had been bestowed on the large family, was seen in a light that allowed for some frivolity, so there were trips to the ‘big’ city and the local stores to fill the hearth hung stockings and  bring some joy to the little faces of the pajama clad tykes. Tykes, who were now, at 9 P.M., wide awake and hoping for a glimpse of the famous red- suited gentleman.

It was time for the a little dose of Christmas magic, so, with the tree decorated and glowing with the multicolored lights and the angel perched at the very top, Matty and his dad, disappeared into the basement of the little abode and donned their heavy parkas. The burlap bag with the ‘reindeer’ bells was recovered from it’s hiding place between the floor joists and with a muffled chuckle the oldest boy and the master of the house, quietly opened the hatchway door and headed out into the cold night air.
As was the tradition, Matty stayed on the ground while his father climbed the pre-positioned ladder near the brick chimney. Once at the top, near the ridge of the house, the grinning dad silently signaled his teenaged son, like a orchestra conductor, and Matty started to shake the little bells, gently at first, and then with more vigor.
Even tho the two were outside, they could sense the growing excitement in the little house and could hear the squeals of the 4 year old, DJ, and the youngest girl, as they scurried about… Mom could be heard saying, her voice muffled but understandable, “Oh no! That sounds like Santa’s sleigh! I don’t think he’ll stop here if the two of you aren’t in bed!”
Then, it was pop’s turn, and he had always enjoyed his role… He brushed away the snow from the roof nearest the ladder  and pounded his gloved hand on the frozen shingles. Then, with his face pointed skywards, like some demented coyote, he let loose with his best ‘HO, HO, HO!!’  And then, to Matty’s dismay, he got carried away and neighed like a horse!
Matty stifled a laugh and motioned to the confused ‘Santa’ with his palms faced outward, as if to say, ‘What the heck was THAT all about?’  Pop just shrugged, sheepishly… It was all in good fun, tho, and had the necessary effect, because, by the time the two had sneaked back into the house, and were back in the warmth of the upstairs living room, the youngest of the clan were in their quilt- covered beds, desperately trying to fall asleep, lest their tardiness should cause Santa to head north without making the proper deliveries…

And so a peaceful night settled into the little house in the valley, and the Christmas tree lights sparkled off the tinsel and hand blown ornaments that had been passed down through the family. Matty sat with his legs crossed over each other on the dark green couch in the living room, trying to warm himself, and watched the fire crackle in the brick encased fireplace. He pulled the blanket up around his neck and leaned his head back, savoring the atmosphere that the season brought. The lights blurred as his eyes closed and soon he was drifting off to another place, where someday, he and Bobby could share these moments together…

“Huh?”…. The boy awoke to the gentle prodding of his oldest sister… She was home for the holiday, from the all girls college that she attended, deep in the woods of Massachusetts.
“Are you going to midnight mass?”
The teenager rubbed the sleep out of his eyes with the back of his hand. “What time is it?”
“Just about 11:30.”
Matty glanced at the mantle clock to his right and through the flickering light of the fire and the tree lights he could make out the time exactly. 11:35… Well, maybe not exactly- the clock had a reputation for being inaccurate and all the tweaking of the pendulum length that the boy did, never seemed to cure the ancient timepiece. It was charming, but inaccurate, Matty had decided.
“OK…OK… Who’s going?”
“Well, you and me and Gerry and Lucy, maybe Diane…Mom and dad are staying here to finish up the present wrapping.”
“Where are they, anyways, in their bedroom?”
“Yeah, you don’t want to go in there, right now… it’s getting a little tense. Dad doesn’t seem to think that Mom should have bought as much as she did, so, that started a whole thing about him being unemployed at the wrong time of year… Didn’t you hear them?”
“No… I’m glad I didn’t… I was sleeping, I guess. I hope DJ and Cathy are asleep… That’s about the last thing, they need to hear.”
“Well, I’ll tell you, Matty, it makes me feel crummy… Now, I feel like I’m stealing money from the family just because I’m going to college!”
“Yeah, well… Stop thinking like that. It’s not your fault that they finished building that house so late in the year! And, they were telling you for the last 10 years, how important an education was going to be !  What are you supposed to do with that? Things happen… Life has to go on…”
“Well, it’s still hard to hear them argue about it… It makes me feel responsible.”
“Join the crowd…Listen, lets get ready and get out of here… If we’re lucky, maybe Father Fogerty will do the mass!! He’ll probably be half snockered before he takes the first sip of wine!!”
Both siblings laughed, understanding the high probability of that scene unfolding… Lately, that particular priest, who already had a fondness for all things alcohol- related, had escalated his indulging, and, at the end of one mass, had nearly fallen down the steps leading from the elevated altar, taking with him, a group of accompanying altar boys!  Shock had turned to snickering, in the congregation, as the older man had turned beet red, and publicly blamed and scolded a 12 year old altar boy  for his near flight to the marble ‘runway’, and the discussions after the mass had women talking under their breaths… Matty and his sister had laughed, because these were the same people who often gifted the rectory with bottles of spirits, hoping to glean points in their ‘heavenly accounts’ by making life a little more jovial for God’s messengers on earth… Now, tongues were wagging, and the bets were placed, mostly by the kids and the jubilant sinners of the skeptical flock… Would Christmas and all the celebration around it, tip the balance, literally, and bless the faithful with some special entertainment?

So, the older kids in the family donned their ‘sunday’ best, and then covered it all with the heavy coats and hats that were the ‘uniforms of the day’ in such frigid temperatures, and headed out to the family station wagon.
At this point in Matty’s  life, the transportation of the 9 people in his family had taken a turn for the worst. You see, the ‘Grand Old Lady’, a ‘Country Squire’ station wagon that had served the clan well for over 6 years, had developed irreversible transmission problems, and that spelled doom for the elegant tank, as the only remaining gear that the car would operate in, had become reverse. ‘Thank God for that’, Matty had thought, because had it been a foward gear, that probably would have made it possible, in Pop’s mind, to prolong the misery (and danger) and continue to drive the car until it would drive no more! Instead, it provided a memory for the 15 year old boy that is etched indelibly into his brain to this day-  the scene of his father, driving in reverse, as if it was a normal thing, all the way around the block, to park the wounded monster in the gravel driveway of the old farmhouse, much to his mother’s despair. There it would sit, for over a year, a playhouse of sorts for the children of the neighborhood, until the red upholstered interior lost it’s charm and started to smell of the pungent mold that had invaded it.
Mom had finally seen enough, and after a few comments from her brother and sister who lived in the family quadrangle, the shame was just too much, and a tow truck was dispatched from the local junkyard… $25 was surrendered, and off she went, a once dignified lady, hauled away with half inflated tires and covered with the soot and dirt of the last year… It was a sad sight for some, Mom wiping the tears from her eyes at first, until the tenant underneath the rotting hulk was exposed, a panicked- looking opossum with vicious looking teeth and beady red eyes… Mom had stopped crying, and was now screaming and running for safety from the now homeless creature, and the ‘Grand Old Lady’ disappeared from sight, smiling, Matty had insisted, at the scene of pure chaos unfolding behind it’s now rusted bumper…

What had replaced the magnificent gas guzzler, tho, was no bargain! It was simply a ‘bomb’… Matty grimaced, along with the other kids in the family, when he was spotted driving around town in the smoke spewing Chevy… It was a station wagon, but, that was the only thing that it had in common with it’s predecessor. The undercarriage was rotting away from the salt air in which it had spent it’s early days, and there was little mechanically that functioned correctly, right down to the inoperable windshield wipers and the malfunctioning heater, that drew smoke-laden air into the passenger  compartment. This was a blessing, the boy had once told Bobby, because if it came down to a choice of heat or death, Matty would choose the heat, preferring not to be caught alive in such a disaster of a car! ‘Nuff said!  That was the car, that the family had for 4 years, and in which the young man would eventually be forced to take the  driving part of his  licensing exam in…

But, that is another story….

For now, it was the only way to get to where they were going, so the smallish crew, climbed aboard and started the blue hulk, and sat patiently, while it sputtered and sparked, until it seemed ready to proceed, backwards, out of the little driveway and onto the deserted road that late Christmas Eve. Matty glanced at the sky. The stars that had sparkled so brilliantly, a few hours ago, were now partially obscured by the building clouds of a newly arriving weather system.  He felt uneasy, but then shrugged off his anxiety. The latest forecast had called for the snow to start towards morning, and, it wasn’t supposed to amount to much, anyways….

Yeah… Right!!!

Continued in Part 5…