Blessings in Disguise by Mildred Morris Many years ago, when the twentieth century and I were young, my father was pastor of the small Baptist church in Eatonton, the central Georgia birthplace of Joel Chandler Harris, creator of the legendary "Uncle Remus." We loved the town and the people, but Papa's salary of a hundred dollars a month was stretched past the breaking point for our family. We would have found it even harder to get by if Papa's brother Robert hadn't always sent us a five hundred dollar check on the first of December. In fact, all year we looked forward to that extra income. A small part of that windfall was always allocated for each of us at Christmas, and for weeks we planned what we most wanted to buy with our share. My seventh Christmas is the one I remember best. Uncle Robert's letter arrived on schedule. In our usual ritual. Mama and we children gathered around Papa's chair in the kitchen as he opened the envelope. But this time all was not as usual. Papa caught his breath quickly, then read in a shaky voice: " 'Dear George, It seems to me such an impersonal thing just to mail you a check at Christmas, so I'm sending gifts this year which I hope you will all enjoy. Love, Robert.' " Papa hid the dismay he must have been feeling. Mama couldn't help crying. Papa had a childlike faith in God to provide for his needs; oftener than not, God's provision was Mama. It was her worried-but expert management that helped answer his prayers. Now even she was helpless. The box with Uncle Robert's gifts arrived. We left it sealed and carried it into the parlor. For days we talked about what our gifts might be, and on Christmas morning we opened the box with unbridled hopes. Alas, our hopes were quickly dashed! The expensive, handsome gifts each and all missed the mark. I was a tomboy and I craved a pair of bloomers - that daring garment introduced by the suffragettes. My gift was a doll. A sissy one. Pudgy young Rob, marbles champ of the fifth grade, got a telescope. Papa had set his heart on new baptismal boots; his gift was a leisure jacket-and that was sad, because leisure was the one thing he had less of than money. Mama's gift was a shocker. She wanted one of the new electric motors for her sewing machine so she wouldn't have to power it with her foot. Her gift was a big, gleaming, super-elegant alligator handbag. Even I could see that she would look strange with a bag like the one the banker's wife carried to church. When the last present had been opened we sat with the gifts in our laps and bright wrappings around us, too stunned to speak. Finally Papa rose to his feet. "Fannie, children," he said gently, "I'm sure we each feel that Uncle Robert hasn't understood our needs and wishes this Christmas, that he's disappointed us. But I'm afraid we are the ones who don't understand. As we all know, my brother is a bachelor. He's not blessed as we are with Mother and with one another at Christmas each year. I'm sure he must feel lonely at such a time, but he's gone shopping for us this year, tried to imagine what he would want for Christmas if he were a merry ten-year-old like Grace or a middle-aged parson like me. He has given from the heart. "If we find our gifts a little apart from our usual interests, we can also find that they open new doors." Leading the way, he slipped the brocaded jacket over his faded sweater. "My leisure coat will inspire me to take more time away from my busy schedule." He suggested to us one by one how the gifts could bring a positive change to our lives. "Mildred's doll can lead her, we hope, to an interest in the domestic arts she'll need when her tree-climbing days are over. Rob's telescope can lift his eyes out of the playground sand for a look at the stars now and then." And turning to Mama, "Fannie dear, I'm sure you'll find your magnificent bag a welcome touch of elegance in what I'm afraid is a pretty dreary wardrobe." Each of us began to see our gifts and their giver with fresh vision. Love came into the room as an almost visible presence. Mama began exploring the alligator bag and describing its wonders. "There's a green suede lining and a little amber comb. Even a secret pocket with a snap!" She reached in a finger and drew out a bit of paper. It was crisp, folded and green. It was the five hundred dollar check! Then Papa's voice rose in rich cadence, firm as if he'd been fully expecting a miracle. "Praise God from whom all blessings flow!" And we all joined in. It was the best of Christmases.