Joy learns of her past

Editor’s note: This is the seventh of a 12-chapter holiday tale running daily until Christmas. Parents are encouraged to read aloud to their children.

Joy leaned forward, eager to take in every detail.

“What a cold Christmas it was,” Santa began. “Below zero degrees, I believe. But that’s not important. Let’s start with Mrs. Duncan. She’s an important part of the story.”

“Mrs. Duncan was there?” Joy asked in surprise.

“She sure was,” Santa said, his eyes twinkling. “Mrs. Duncan was a newlywed that year.”

“A newlywed?” Joy repeated. She’d had no idea Mrs. Duncan was married.

“Yes, they’d been married that summer, and were beginning to plan to have a family. But there was a terrible accident on a stormy autumn night, and her husband tragically passed away.”

Joy’s lip trembled; poor Mrs. Duncan.

“Mrs. Duncan mourned for a long time,” Santa continued. “She lost her hope, and her spirit, but did the best she could to live her life without him. She loved children so much that she decided to find a job taking care of them, and just a week before Christmas she was hired at Sunnybrook.”

He glanced down at Joy to make sure she was following and smiled; she was hanging on every word.

“She loved her job, and all the children she cared for, but was still so sad, and desperately needing a miracle. I was there delivering toys in the wee hours of the morning when there was a loud knock at the door. Mrs. Duncan ran and opened it, fearing that whoever stood there would freeze, but nobody was there. There was nothing but cold, angry gusts of winter air swirling around her. But then, a baby’s cry …”

“Was it me?” Joy whispered, wide-eyed.

“It was you. A tiny newborn you were wrapped in a red blanket inside a basket. Mrs. Duncan scooped you into her arms and pulled you close to get you warm, shutting the cold night outside the door. She didn’t know where you came from, but you were a miracle. She called you Joy Noelle and she took such good care of you, keeping you close until she knew you were safe and healthy. So you see Joy, you were the exact thing that she needed that Christmas morning. You saved her. You were her miracle.”

Joy was shocked. She knew Mrs. Duncan had a soft spot for her, and always put up with her moods and her back talk, much more than Joy deserved half the time.

“She wants me,” a misty-eyed Joy said, swallowing hard.

“Of course she wants you, child. Everyone at Sunnybrook loves you and wants you. And when the exact time is perfect and right, a mommy and a daddy will come and take you home forever. Can you believe that, Joy? For me?”

Joy wiped her eyes. “I’ll try.”

He knelt down hugged her tight, and she hugged him back.

“Now,” he said, taking her shoulders and smiling wide, “Let’s head to Reindeer Acres. I need your help with a small problem.”

“How small?” Joy asked with a grin, picturing the giant nutcrackers and figuring it was probably bigger than he let on.

“Well, we need to figure out a way to get a scared little junior reindeer named Maxy to fly. He’s terrified, and the trainers can’t seem to make any breakthroughs. We need to get him flying by nightfall.”

“That’s so soon!”

“Exactly why I need you, Joy Noelle. I’m confident you’ll be able to help.”

“Will I?” she asked, not quite as confident as Santa. “Why does it have to be so soon?”

“We need him in the lineup to pull my sleigh. Poor Donner hurt his leg a few weeks ago and has to take this Christmas off, and we need a replacement. We need to get young Maxy ready to go because I’ll be carrying some very special cargo in my sleigh this year.”

“Yeah, all those toys,” Joy said as they approached a massive green barn with a long white fence surrounding several acres of land.

“Yes, of course the toys,” said Santa. “And you.”

Read the next installment on Page 1B of Thursday’s Tribune Chronicle.