The Baby Jesus Miracle

by

12/22/2019

Neighborhood: Woodside

The red felt blanket hung over the kitchen doorway. It looked like Swiss cheese from all the dog bites. Somehow it kept the heat from the stove in the kitchen. I sat on the dirty linoleum floor, looked out of the frosted window and saw that it was dark. 

As my last eight of spades hit the pile of cards, I jumped to my feet and raised my hands in the air. I bounced back and forth like Muhammad Ali when he knocked out Sonny Liston. “I won, I won,” I yelled. “The crazy eights champ. I am the greatest.” I started to shadow box and threw some punches in the air, dancing in front of the stove so I could feel the flow of the heat on me. I had beaten my older sisters. Mary, Sara, and Carol.  

Carol stood and grabbed the skullcap off my head. She smacked me in the face and threw it back at me. The wool hit me in the eyeball. 

“Take that stupid hat off in the house. You’ve been wearing it three weeks straight now.”

She ran out of the room, crying. I picked the cap up from the floor, dusted it off and held it in front of the oven to get some heat in it. Then I put it back on. It was so warm on my greasy unwashed head. Winning anything in this house was tough. You always had to be on the lookout.

Mom walked in, housedress and sweater on, with a baby in one arm and a cigarette in her hand. She looked at each of us, then stared at me.

“Why is Carol crying?” she said. “Johnny, did you hit her?” 

I shook my head no. 

She walked over to the refrigerator and opened it. All it held was an empty milk carton, laying dead on its side, and an almost empty bottle of Gulden’s mustard and empty jar of mayonnaise way in the back. Those were for when we had bread and got to eat mayonnaise or mustard sandwiches. 

Sometimes I would steal a tomato from Mr. Bell’s yard down the block. Tomato sandwiches were the best, but not in the winter.

“When your father comes home, hopefully he‘ll have some money left over and we can get some food in this house,” Mom said.  

We all knew that wasn’t happening. But we could always hope. My dream was that he’d come home sober and not yell and beat us.

Mary put her arm around my shoulder and whispered in my ear. “Johnny, come with me to the church. We can look at the manger. I heard it’s up. We can pray to the Blessed Mother and God for help. I’ll meet you downstairs.”

I went to the bedroom; we called it the freezer. It was in the front part of the house. When we had no oil in the furnace, you could blow smoke rings in there. I put on a jacket over the orange sweater Mom had knitted for me. Nana had taught her how to do that. I tugged my hat all the way down over my ears, grabbed a thick pair of wool socks I’d worn yesterday, and put them on my hands.  Mary had good ideas, and I liked going places with her. I walked down the stairs and waited for her on the porch. 

Mary and I talked while we walked towards the corner. “Johnny, sometimes we have to sacrifice to get what we want in life. Jesus and the Blessed Mother like when we do that.” 

We got to the top of the block and crossed the street. On the other side was the church. Right on the corner was a big statue. We knelt down in front of it. The Blessed Mother was brightly lit by big spotlights on the ground behind the bushes. 

My sister started praying with a few fast Hail Marys. I tried to keep up, but she was just too quick for me. She followed up with some Our Fathers, which kind of didn’t make sense to me because God the Father had no statue near here. 

Over to my right was the manger. I wondered who put it up? Multicolor lights made it look like a rainbow. While I stared, Mary grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me up. We walked over to it.       

A ton of straw covered the manger floor. They had plenty of statues, too: old donkeys, dirty white sheep, mean-faced billy goats, and baby lambs. I saw the three tired old Wise Men off to the side. Joseph and Mary, the mom and dad, had the Baby Jesus between them.  It looked like that picture they showed us in religion class. 

A lady and man were finishing up praying. They got up and started to walk away as we walked over. She touched the Baby Jesus’ feet and blessed herself, and the guy petted the donkey. 

Mary and I stood in front of the manger. Then she got on her knees, and pulled me down. We started to pray again. Mary started singing: “Oh come, all ye faithful.” I joined in. “Joyful and tri omp fit. Oh come here to Bethlehem . . .” I didn’t know the words, so I hummed the rest. She wrapped her arm around me again and pulled me tight. 

“I’m going back over to the Blessed Mother. Stay here and pray hard.” She walked away.

I stood for a second and stared at the Baby Jesus. He was naked and looked cold. I remembered what Mary had said: I had to sacrifice to get something. I smelled a wood fire burning in the air. Maybe it was from a neighbor’s house. Suddenly I felt very warm and looked down to see if I was on fire. I wasn’t. But it sure was hot. I peeked behind the manger to see if the Devil was hanging out. He wasn’t. 

I took off my skullcap and put it on the Baby Jesus’ head, so he would not be cold. I took some of the hay from the manger floor and covered his little body with it so I could only see his face. He seemed warm and snuggly now. 

I knelt down, slammed my eyes shut and began to pray hard, holding my hands together tight. Please, dear Baby Jesus, if you’re real and want to help us, please make my mom and dad stop fighting and yelling. Please let us have peace. There is never any food in the house. We are starving. Let us eat.

Some bells were ringing nearby and I opened my eyes and looked around for where the sound came from. I looked at the Baby Jesus and I could swear I heard him say, “Thank you.” 

That spooked me. I stood up, kind of how Cindy, my dog, got up when someone was outside the house. I got scared like my mom did when Dad yelled at her. 

I put my face near the Baby Jesus and turned my ear towards his mouth to listen, but didn’t hear anything. Then I felt it. It was warm air blowing in my ear. 

My whole body shook. I felt like the Holy Spirit went into my body and started sweating, even though it was freezing. 

I looked over my shoulder and saw Mary was still praying to the Blessed Mother. I blessed myself and said, “You’re welcome” to Baby Jesus. I ran to Mary. She heard me coming and got up. 

We walked home in silence. Before I walked in the door with her, I said, “Something special happened.” 

She smiled at me. “Something special always happens when you pray hard.”

Dad wasn’t home yet. We all went to bed hungry. 

In the middle of the night, a bright light blasted me awake. Baby Jesus, I thought. He broke into our house. After a minute I saw that it was just Dad. He had turned the light on and was slipping White Castle hamburgers to us in the bed as we slept. He had three big bags. I got two of the most delicious hamburgers I ever ate. I smelled and tasted the onions, pickles and ketchup, and the hot moist bun. After eating them, I remembered my prayer and got out of bed when the lights went out and knelt down and thanked God for the delivery of the food. 

The next morning, I woke up to Sara and Carol arguing. They were both complaining that they hadn’t gotten anything to eat. Mom explained that they had. But they could not remember eating the hamburgers and didn’t believe it. They thought it was a trick. Mom had to show them the empty hamburger boxes. 

Carol whined the loudest. She was mad. “You have to wake us up fully, so we can enjoy them. It’s not fair. I ate them and I don’t remember enjoying them.”  

I got dressed and went down the block to play with some of my poorer friends. 

Who knew there were different levels of poor? I was on a higher level then Patty. He and his brothers and sisters. They would all go to the A&P and do some serious shoplifting at their mother’s request. They picked up the mere essentials, like bread, milk, juice and butter. I would see the three oldest come down the block laughing their heads off. They said it was so easy and would be pulling food out of their socks and jacket pockets. With a dozen of them, no matter how much they stole, it was never enough. 

That night around six o’clock, Mom and Dad were sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and tea. Mom was cooking the last two potatoes. Dad was broke, sober and happy. 

He announced, “I’m going to be starting a new mechanic’s job on Monday.” That meant some money would be coming in for Christmas. 

Mom put a big pan on the stove with Crisco oil in it, and cut razor-sharp pieces of potato into the pan. The smell that entered my nose made it feel like a 10-course meal was on its way. 

I decided that I should thank Jesus personally for the hamburgers and Dad’s job, and the potato meal and the peacefulness of the past day. I got dressed and walked to the corner alone. The wind was howling. I had an old scarf wrapped around my head like a turban. My head, ears, and chin were covered. The streets were deserted, it was so cold. 

When I arrived at the manger, I was shocked. The hat was off Baby Jesus’ head and he was bare-chested. That made me mad. I saw the hat behind that dirty little lamb and grabbed it. As I went to put it back on the Baby’s head, I felt something inside. I opened the hat and looked inside.       

“Holy crap,” I said. It was filled with bills. 

I stuffed all the cash in my pocket. I put the cap back on Baby Jesus’ head, took some hay and replaced it on his body. When I moved the hay, I noticed more bills there and stuffed them into my pockets with the rest. I couldn’t believe it. This praying hard stuff really worked.  

I fell to my knees and was so happy I started crying. That had never happened before. I thanked Baby Jesus from the inside of my heart. He sure did come through. What a baby! He had made a miracle for me because I was nice to him. Little miserable me. I wiped my nose and eyes with my scarf and stood up to say goodbye. 

“Stay warm, Baby Jesus. Thank you so much.” I turned and ran all the way home. 

I burst through the front door and ran screaming all the way to the top of the stairs. I charged through the dog-bitten blanket at the kitchen doorway. Everyone was in there. 

Dad was standing, concerned. “You okay?” 

I was out of breath. “Yessssssss, I’m fine.” I emptied my pockets on the kitchen table. There were fives, tens, and a twenty-dollar bill along with a bunch of singles. We were rich. 

“Baby Jesus gave me the money because I lent him my hat and kept him warm. I swear it’s true,” I said. 

Mom looked at Dad. Everyone’s eyes lit up. She stared at me a moment, then grabbed an old grocery bag, ripped it in half and started a food list. They gave some of the money to Sara to go to the store. Dad said Sara had to go because she was fast like a rabbit, and always brought home the change. 

“Don’t forget the cigarettes,” they warned her. They needed those real bad. 

Sara came back fast, too. She carried two large bags in her arms.  

Everyone was so happy to have food in the house. We ate like kings that night. Dad whispered to me, “Keep praying, Reidy, and go back and check that hat again tomorrow. Jesus just might give us more.” 

Dad, who never went to church, was a true believer after that. He was right. Jesus kept giving us money. It continued right up until Christmas. Every night another miracle.

***

John Reidy has worked as a writer, director, and producer of award-winning independent films, and appeared in TV shows and major motion pictures. His most recent film is “The Signs of the Cross” 

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