by Ray Lenarcic

For Kay and me, the Gram Lorraine Children’s Christmas Program is a true labor of love. The love is in knowing that hundreds of deserving children in the Valley and its hinterland wake up each Christmas morning to find under their trees several items of spanking new clothing and the toy, book, or game of their dreams. In this land of milk and honey, no child deserves less. The labor is the hours and hours of work necessary to identify recipients, secure sponsors, match both and then distribute the gifts. And it’s wishful thinking to expect the program to end when it’s supposed to in early December. It would if we’d morph into Scrooge when the phone rings a week later and a nurse or teacher at one of our participating schools asks us if we could take another child. But “Bah Humbug” is not part of our vocabulary. Thanks to our generous donors, there’s always enough coin in the coffers to accommodate latecomers, kids whose parents forgot to turn in their request forms, or who just moved into the district.

While many of our last-minute ventures have been interesting, none was more memorable than the one last year on Christmas Eve. I got the call on the afternoon of December 23rd. It was one of our principals, and he sounded really upset. After we finished our conversation, it was easy to understand why.

Earlier that day, he received a call from the mother of a little girl who had enrolled the previous day. At first, he couldn’t understand what she was saying-it’s difficult to speak and cry at the same time. After composing herself, she related how her husband had for years abused both her and her daughter, physically and mentally. She finally found the courage to pack up and leave after he threw out into the freezing night the puppy she had just bought for her daughter. She said she drove as far as a tank of gas would take her, which was here in the Mohawk Valley. A local pastor fronted her the down payment for a small apartment, and she was looking to get a job at a nearby convenience store. She had called to ask if there was somewhere she could get some help for Christmas. He said he’d take care of it. Then he called us.

The weather that Christmas Eve was particularly nasty-lots of blowing snow with the temperature near zero. The normally 20-minute trip took nearly an hour. When I got there, I grabbed a gift bag filled with a variety of wrapped presents, including clothing, a winter coat, boots, sneakers, and a great big baby doll. There was also an envelope with a gift card for the mother along with a large box of vittles, compliments of the local food pantry.

I climbed the stairs and knocked on the door. It opened, and an attractive, petite woman in her late twenties and a cute little pooch greeted me. I introduced myself, gave her the gifts, and wished her and her daughter Merry Christmas. Tearfully, she thanked me effusively, and I left. The storm had abated. For some reason, I looked upward and saw a panoply of stars, one of which shone brighter than the others. The Star of Christmas. As I went to my car, I heard what sounded like someone knocking on a window.

Turning, I followed the star’s light, and there, in a window illuminated by a Christmas candle, was the face of the most beautiful little girl I’d ever seen. She had rosy cheeks, blue eyes as large as saucers, and blond, curly locks. Shirley Temple reincarnate. The frosted window pane above each of her shoulders gave the impression of a pair of wings. She smiled broadly, waving goodbye with one hand while holding that cute ball of fur in the other.

On several occasions, I’ve been asked why I’m involved with Gram Lorraine and why the organization, unlike our Hunger Coalition (cornucopia), doesn’t have a logo. While my responses once varied, I knew at that moment they never would again. From now until my forever, my image of Christmas and the answers to both questions would always be the same; the face in the window that snowy Christmas Eve-the Angel of Christmas.

Ray Lenarcic is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society