Little Freddy Miller was the first one up in the dormitory. All the other children at the orphanage were snuggled up under their blankets dreaming of Santa creeping around putting exciting goodies in the stockings that would hang at the end of their beds on Christmas Eve. Freddy shivered and pulled his warm dressing gown around him putting his feet into the slippers by his bedside. He walked over to the window and paused for a moment before pulling the curtains open. He gasped, it was white magic just like Aunty Nancy told him it would be. Freddy smiled, he had only been at the orphanage six months and he already loved her very much indeed. They all did.
Aunty Nancy had eyes in the back of her head, the children told him and he suspected they were right. Somehow, she always knew everything. She was great fun and always found time to play with them and her stories were wonderful. One day after reading them a story she said, ‘I have a special secret.’ The children all gathered around. ‘Did you know, she said, ‘I have magic knees and can balance one hundred children on them without dropping even one?’ There was great excitement as the children clambered up onto her knees and Nancy’s laughter bounced off the nursery walls and all the way down the long corridors.
Freddy was missing his mummy and daddy very much indeed and wished they weren’t in Heaven. Yesterday when Aunty Nancy told them a Christmas story in the nursery playroom, Freddy had begun to cry and immediately found himself swept up onto her knees and his eyes dabbed with the corner of her pinny. ‘Do mummies and daddy’s forget about us when they are in Heaven,’ he asked. The children all looked at her waiting and Nancy felt as though her heart would break. She had taken them all over to the window and told them to look up at the stars and see how brightly they were shining. ‘Your mummies and daddies are the brightest stars in the sky and look down on you every single day. They whisper words of love when you sleep and their love is wrapped around each and every one of you just like your big winter coats. ‘Is that why I feel warm when I put my coat on,’ Josephine asked. ‘Indeed it is,’ Nancy said, with a twinkle in her eye.
Freddy wasn’t sure about that and shook his head. ‘What is it,’ Nancy asked. ‘Yes tell us Freddy,’ the children asked, gathering round him. Freddy looked around then jumped down off Nancy’s knee to sit down in the middle of them. ‘Well, it’s just that daddy said I would grow up to be very special indeed. He would see to it. If Daddy is a star in the sky then he won’t be able to reach down here and help me to be special.’ Nancy squeezed her eyes tight shut to stop tears from falling. No matter how hard she worked to give them the love they needed, there was so often a piece of them that hurt no matter what she did. All her stories of love, the songs she sang, the games they played together, somehow just wasn’t enough. Every year at this time Nancy prayed for a little drop of Christmas magic. This year she prayed for it to descend on them in bucket loads. There were no worries this Christmas, the donations of gifts for the children had been plentiful. Nancy knew the children would be very happy on Christmas morning. Still she worried about little Freddy who still wore his grief for all to see. He didn’t smile nearly as often as the other children and rarely joined in the games in the playground. He was always happy to sit on the side-lines and watch the others. Martha was the one who could always swing the highest, little Billy was the fastest at running races, Norman could climb the big oak tree quicker than anyone else and George could ride a bike faster than Freddy could ever imagine. Round and round the playground he would go and next week Aunty Nancy was going to take the stabilisers off. Freddy couldn’t imagine anything more special than riding a bike without stabilisers. He wasn’t good at anything so there was no point in trying. Especially as daddy couldn’t help him to be special anymore. Aunty Nancy had dried his eyes but inside his tears were still falling even though nobody could see them.
Little Freddy Miller was wrong, Aunty Nancy always knew when a child was crying whether their tears were visible or not. Every time a child cried she would reach for the corner of her pinny ready to dab their sorrows away. ‘It’s a magic pinny,’ she would tell them. ‘Come along now, don’t you feel better already.’ Looking up into Nancy’s blue eyes the children would experience a warmth and kindness spreading through them. ‘There now,’ she would say, ‘off you go, run along and play.’ Freddy remembered having his eyes dabbed with the magic pinny. The pain had gone away for a little while but it kept coming back when he remembered about not being special anymore.
Nancy sat in her bedroom and as the moon shone through her window a sliver of light fell onto the Holy pictures stuck in her dressing table mirror. ‘I could do with a bit of help here, if you don’t mind,’ she whispered. ‘Come along now, you and I both know you can create miracles. Yes I know it’s almost Christmas but just one more touch of Christmas magic would be rather wonderful. I’ll leave it with you then, shall I?’ The light twinkled on the picture of the Madonna and child and it almost looked as though she was smiling.
It was the night before Christmas Eve and all the children were enjoying a splendid cup of hot cocoa as they sat in bed waiting for Nancy to read them a story. She sat on a chair in the middle of the room, as she always did, and began to tell the story of the happiest star in the sky. Nancy never read from books, her head was always full of stories that would cheer the children up or help them with something they were struggling with. Nancy smiled as she remembered being evacuated with the children during the Second World War. She had told them all the story of the Pied Piper. The children had danced in a line behind her all the way up the driveway on their way to the railway station. In Nancy’s story, however, the children were led to a land made of sweets. ‘No good begging for nightmares,’ she had said.
Tonight as the children snuggled under their blankets, the man in the moon looked down on them. The stars in the night sky twinkled as the children began to drift off to sleep. Only Freddy was still awake and staring out of the window that looked down upon the playground. Nancy walked over and knelt beside him.
‘The stars are very twinkly tonight, Aunty Nancy.’
‘They are indeed Freddy.’
‘What do you think that means?’
Nancy looked up into the clear night sky.
‘I rather think it means there is going to be a very hard frost in the morning.’
‘Oh,’ said Freddy with a disappointed look on his face which Nancy hadn’t missed.
‘Mind you on the other hand, it could mean something very special is about to happen.’
‘You think so?’
Nancy wondered what on earth had made her say such a ridiculous thing. She was going to have to think of something quick or Freddy wouldn’t believe how special he was. Every one of her children were special. She knew their characters, their little ways and never in all her life working at the orphanage had she let a child down and she wasn’t going to start now.
Freddy tugged at Nancy’s pinny.
‘What is going to happen to make me special?’
Oh Lord help me, thought Nancy. She lifted Freddy up into her arms, carried him to bed and tucked him in. Freddy continued to look at Nancy, waiting. She sat down on the little chair next to him and smiled. ‘Tonight Freddy, the stars will shine brighter than ever and the Angels will send a blanket of white frost and in the morning the playground and the big oak tree will look absolutely enchanting. The sun will come out and it will look as though the whole playground has been covered in glitter. The whiter it is the more magical it will look. It’s called white magic and when you see it anything can happen. Sometimes Freddy Christmas magic comes creeping up on us when we least expect it. One thing, those bright stars were most definitely shining for you tonight I am quite sure of it.’ Freddy’s smile brought joy to Nancy’s heart and she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek before making her way back to her bedroom. She stood for a while looking out of her window before reaching into the pocket of her pinny. Her fingers curled around the little cross and she lifted it out and looked at it. ‘Unusual request,’ she said. ‘A good hard white sparkly frost in the morning would be wonderful thank you.’
Nancy finished her chores, checked on the children one last time and went into the television room to switch off the tree lights. Walking over to the radio, she sat down and waited for the weather report. Five minutes later she looked up at the fairy sitting on top of the Christmas tree and said ‘all is well.’ She made her way along the corridors switching all the big lights off and putting the night lights on. When she eventually got to bed she was glad to snuggle down under her heavy blankets. It was a freezing cold night. Oh well, I was the one who prayed for freezing frost, she thought.
The next morning Freddy leapt out of bed and was thrilled when he looked out of the window. Aunty Nancy was never wrong and everywhere was white and sparkly. The great oak tree shone like nothing he had ever seen before. The white magic had arrived just as Aunty Nancy had said. There was suddenly a strange feeling that Freddy couldn’t quite understand. It wasn’t something he had ever felt before. It was almost like someone had taken his hand and squeezed it saying, there, there, from this moment on everything will be just as it should be. Today was going to be the start of something very special indeed. Freddy ran back to bed and waited for his special day to start.
The noise of 20 young children getting into coats, hats and scarves without garrotting themselves on the string attached to their mittens was no mean feat. It was only 10am and Nancy was exhausted with it all. Sister Mary Joseph was as excited as the children and had got herself tangled up in Josephine’s mittens. ‘Heavens,’ called out Nancy, ‘you’re worse than the children sister.’ She’d laughed at the state she was in and hurried over to help. As the children thundered down the nursery stairs she hoped the magical look of the playground was enough to cheer Freddy up today. The children burst through the door into the playground ignoring all shouts of ‘be careful you don’t slip.’ Nancy watched as Freddy skidded into the middle of the playground, not sitting watching the others play as usual. Good sign, she thought. She watched mesmerised as Freddy began skating around with squeals of wheeeeee. Some of the children looked on, others joined in. Freddy was in his element. Nancy couldn’t believe the balance this child had. Whilst others were constantly sliding and falling down little Freddy’s face was full of concentration as he slid, spun and jumped around the frosty playground. ‘Well I never,’ she said to herself. ‘Look how clever Freddy is,’ Josephine shouted and all the children began watching him and clapping. Nancy couldn’t remember a time when she had been so cold, yet felt nothing but warmth flooding through her. ‘White magic indeed,’ she whispered.
As soon as lunch was over Nancy left the children with the staff and hurried out to the shops hoping and praying she had enough money to buy what she wanted. Everywhere was packed with last minute shoppers and the Salvation Army choir were singing in the main street. Nancy would normally have stopped to listen but not today. She was beginning to lose hope when the very last shop had exactly what she was looking for. Buying special gifts for one particular child was not something Nancy would normally do. She would have to make it up to the others somehow but this was important and must be done. Later that night she wrapped her gift and placed a big silver star on the top of it.
In Nazareth House Orphanage, Christmas Eve was, as always, a rather noisy affair. The children were over excited, two of them had been sick after eating far too much chocolate and it was way past bed time when Nancy finally got them settled. There was still the dining room to prepare for Christmas breakfast and the stockings would be placed at the bottom of the children’s beds around about midnight after which Nancy would eventually get to bed. The nuns were downstairs having their Christmas Eve supper to which Nancy had been invited but declined. After all the hustle and bustle she wanted to put on her new nighty and dressing gown then sit in the little kitchenette with a nice cup of tea and enjoy one or maybe two of cooks homemade mince pies.
Today had turned out rather well and Freddy’s face when he discovered all the children watching him and clapping had been the greatest gift Nancy could have hoped for this Christmas. Today she had seen a spark of hope in his eyes and it filled her with joy. It was exactly midnight when Nancy along with Sister Mary Joseph crept along the corridor laden with stockings to hang at the bottom of the children’s beds. Nancy very carefully laid the special gift at the bottom of Freddy’s bed. As the moonlight shone through the window it caught the little star Nancy had stuck to the wrapping paper and it twinkled. Nancy watched Freddy sleeping for a moment then made her way back to her room. She lay for a few moments then reached out to switch off her bedside lamp. ‘There’s magic afoot,’ she whispered.
The chapel bells rang out at 6am to herald the start of Christmas day and the children jumped out of bed. Naturally, Nancy had been up, dressed and ready for some time. She watched as the children delved into their stockings shrieking in delight at each new surprise. Freddy was sitting looking at the gift at the bottom of his bed wondering what on earth it was.
‘Aunty Nancy,’ he called.
‘There’s a present at the bottom of my bed and it’s wrapped up.’
‘Never in the world,’ said Nancy. ‘Whatever next.’
‘Freddy has got a present,’ Josephine shouted. ‘It’s got a star on like the ones in the sky.’
Stockings forgotten the children all hurried over and gathered around Freddy’s bed.
‘Open it, open it,’ they chorused.
Freddy looked up at Nancy.
‘Is it for me do you think.’
‘Well it’s your bed Freddy,’ she replied smiling.
There was hardly a sound as Freddy reached out and pulled the special gift towards him. The children leaned forward and watched as he began to unwrap the paper and they all gasped as the little star fell off the bed just as the precious gift was unveiled. No one spoke for a few moments then Freddy leapt up and jumped off the bed to reveal to the world an ice skate in each hand.
‘Mummy and daddy must have been watching me skating on the white magic Aunty Nancy.’
‘Yes I expect that’s it,’ she replied.
‘Nobody else knew how good I was at skating,’ he shouted.
‘Indeed,’ replied Nancy.
There were further screams and chaotic excitement when Nancy told them she would be taking them all to the local ice rink next week as a special treat.
Many white magic years later Freddy Miller looked down at the skates in the corner of his room and smiled. They were old, worn and tattered and he would never ever part with them. They were the reason he was here today. He could hear the roar of crowds in the distance and the tanoy in his room told him he had five minutes. He finished lacing up his new boots and stood up. He checked himself in the mirror and decided he would do. An old tatty star sat in a photo frame on the table. It was his lucky charm and went everywhere with him. There was a knock on the door and he called out he was ready. As he made his way along the corridor and out into the rink he heard his name being announced and Freddy Miller made his way out onto the ice to represent the United Kingdom in the Winter Olympics Figure Skating Championships. As the music started Freddy turned to face the corner of the rink where an elderly lady sat in a wheelchair covered in a warm tartan blanket. He blew her a kiss, bowed and then began to dance over the ice as people watched mesmerised.
Nancy’s fingers gripped the tartan blanket. The crowd roared as he seemed to fly through the air spinning, jumping, twisting, landing perfectly with grace every single time. Nancy watched yet saw none of it. What Nancy saw was a young child skating around the playground on a cold and frosty morning, children clapping and cheering on that long ago Christmas day when little Freddy Miller received one of the greatest gifts of all. Hope.
Merry Christmas to you all. If you would like to read more of my stories please visit my website http://www.suzannelambert.com