Archive for Friday, October 8, 1999


October 8, 1999


and Mark Victor Hansen

Patty, the treasure of the story, was Catherine McCarthy's middle child. Kathleen is her other daughter, and Brian is her son. All were adopted.

Christmas Bells for Patty

By Catherine McCarthy

It took an unassuming immigrant cobbler to show me the true meaning of Christmas.

We were approaching the holidays with heavy hearts. Two days after Thanksgiving, we said good-bye to our little Patty. Her pediatrician had told us in September that the acute leukemia would take her in two months. She died on Nov. 26. She would have been 2 on Dec. 16.

We were looking back to, perhaps, two weeks before the diagnosis, when this little tomboy knelt beside her daddy to "help" him with some carpentry work. She kept her big sister busy too, begging to be pushed on the swing that Daddy had made for her.

Her condition stymied her pediatrician, too. This tiny, blond bundle of energy had suddenly developed a limp. Dr. Wells believed it might be just a "kid thing." X-rays showed, however, that a hemorrhage had developed in her hip.

Just before Patty died, we were begging God to take her. Her tiny body had taken so much abuse. While lovingly administered, the transfusions, medications and tests had taken their toll.

We three heartbroken souls moved through our daily routines like robots. "Life must go on," Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote in one of her poems, "But I Know Not Why."

And so it was that I found myself one day at Andy's shoe repair shop. He, of course, knew about our loss, as did all of our friends and neighbors. When he began to talk about our Christmas plans, I was dumbfounded. How could this dear man, always so soft-spoken and considerate, be so cruel? Without hesitation, I said, "Andy, there will be no Christmas at our house this year. How could there be?"

He was already leading me to a well worn bench where we both sat down. I was relieved that the shop was not busy that day. Andy took my hand. I remember being aware of the smell of leather. I remember more clearly this kind face looking into mine and saying, "You may not celebrate Christmas, but you must commemorate the birth of Jesus. Just think, your baby will be there with him. You must remember, too, the sadness is in all your hearts, but for the sake of your little girl, you must not let it consume you."

I couldn't speak. I moved toward the door. I'd forgotten that Kathleen, who was in her ninth year, surely deserved some recognition of Christmas. Andy added, "I know I'll see you at Mass on Christmas morning, and, when you hear the church bells, you will find comfort and know that Patty is there with you."

You were so right, dear friend. Christmas that year, while still sad, was one of the most meaningful holidays I can recall. While Patty was with us only in spirit, there really were four of us worshipping the newborn king that morning. Thank you, dear Andy.

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© 1999 by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. Distributed by King Features Syndicate.

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