Thursday, November 2, 2017


By Michael Cannata

                    Her smile was the greatest Christmas gift he'd ever received. They named her "Joy."

                She was born on Christmas Eve during a storm that was fierce and furious as it fought them all the way to the hospital. Her mother nearly died during the 14 hours of labor she endured trying to deliver her. The doctors joked that it was like she was doing her damndest to stay warm and resist coming out into the world. Maybe she knew what was ahead.

                He and his wife had tried for years to have a child. She suffered several miscarriages and soon they decided that her health was more important than their dream of becoming parents. They settled into a quiet but loving life and focused on each making the other as happy as possible.

                In a twist of fate, years after they had put the thought out of mind, she unexpectedly became pregnant. He was both thrilled and terrified. He worried that his wife wouldn't be able to handle the stress of delivering a baby, or the pain of losing another one. To the contrary, his wife wasn't worried at all. There was no question or hesitation, she was having this baby and it was going to be the most beautiful child ever born… And she was.

                They were happy beyond belief and spent every moment together indulging and pampering Joy.  But his wife began to become ill frequently. Soon, it became obvious that the delivery had done more damage than they realized. Gradually his wife grew weaker. She survived the delivery but it took a toll she would pay with her life, sooner than expected. It took so much of her strength just to get through the days but she never complained. She made the most of every moment she had to spend with her precious Joy.

                 Her mom passed away when she was five. He was left to raise her on his own, a job he always felt he had failed at miserably. He continued to provide everything his daughter needed, but he fell short when it came to giving her what she wanted the most… his affection. He wallowed in his own self pity and as his daughter grew he just seemed to get angrier. Joy looked so much like her mother that when he looked at her it just made his wife's absence more painful. He missed his wife so much that he also missed much of the life he should have been sharing with his daughter.

                Joy always seemed to be smiling and she was popular with all the kids in her schools. Yet, as her circle of friends grew larger, his friendships seemed to slowly wither away. He stopped going out with the couples he and his wife had spent so much time with
                After her mother died, Joy began to feel her father slipping away. She was too young to understand why, but she knew it when she looked in his eyes. His sadness was like a dark shadow that always hung between them. Nothing she did, no matter how many times she told him she loved him, he always seemed out of reach, even when she hugged him fiercely. She grew older while he just seemed to grow old
                Eventually, she went to college and gradually the passing time pulled them further apart. He rarely visited her at school. She got a job that took her away from home. Over the years she tried to stay in touch with her father and keep him in her life as much as possible. When she met the man she would marry she tried to include her father in her life. But her father never made any effort to get to know him. The first day her father met her husband was her wedding day. It was also the last day she saw her father. He left the next day and he never called or wrote after that.

                It took ten years before her father realized how much he needed her again.  A storm, just as furious as the one that had brought him, Joy, had cut the power; As he sat alone in the dark a beam of moonlight came through the window and settled on the only picture he had of the three of them together.  He had lost his wife, but his daughter had lost even more. She had lost her only chance to have a family. As he drove through the storm he hoped it wasn't too late to have her back.

                On Christmas Eve he stood anxiously at her door. He had been too afraid to call and ask her if he could come for fear that she would turn him away. She would have been completely right if she rejected him now as he had done so often to her. He didn't expect to be forgiven. He only hoped she would give him the chance to tell her how sorry he was and how much he loved her.

                As the door opened, he didn't see his wife anymore. He saw Joy and the family his wife had given him. His tears were matched by hers as he realized it was still true.

                Her smile was the greatest Christmas gift he'd ever received.

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