The Door Prize

   I already regretted my promise to Mrs. Saunders, the coordinator of the
annual charity Christmas bazaar.  "Would you donate the door prize this year,
dear?" she persuaded.  "There's nothing like a wonderful door prize to draw
shoppers to a bazaar."
   With only three weeks until Christmas, the uncompleted task hung over my
head like a frost-brittled tree limb.  I wanted to craft something really special,
but now on the eve of the bazaar, as I sat at my kitchen table, inspiration
eluded me.  The next thing I knew, I was crawling in the attic, praying for a
quick dose of creativity.  I grabbed a tabletop evergreen tree and two boxes
of would-be treasures and trudged back to the kitchen.  Perhaps some
holiday music would put me in a festive mood, I thought as I snapped in a
Christmas cassette.
   I rummaged through a box labeled "Old Dolls."  Before long, I was singing
the familiar words: "Joy to the
world. . . ."  I gazed down at the pile of nearly two dozen dolls I'd purchased
years ago at a flea market.  I cradled in my hands a Japanese doll in a royal
blue kimono; a Native American family with a brown felt teepee; a "Miss
Liberty" doll bedecked in red, white and blue; and a quartet of dolls in
Scandinavian attire.
   Suddenly something deep within me suggested: Craft a "Joy to the World"
tree!  One by one, I wired the dolls to the evergreen branches until they
nearly sagged from the weight of them all.  A few of the dolls were in pieces.  
Painstakingly, I re-strung their arms and legs with a pair of tweezers and
some rubber bands.  One black-haired doll with darting eyes and a Spanish
costume was forever falling apart despite my efforts.  As I cupped her in my
hands to re-string her limbs a third time, I felt a kinship with women all over
the world who, just like me, need the spirit of Christmas to put them back
   Just then my friend Betsy walked through the door to check my progress.  
Soon we both were full swing into the project.  "How about using some of
these dried flowers?" Betsy suggested, pointing to the bouquet of
cockscombs, baby's breath and sweetheart roses hanging from the kitchen
ceiling beams.  Next we added snippets of ribbon and lace.
   "What are we going to do about that bare spot in the middle?" Betsy asked.
 The two of us combed the house for the crowning touches . . . a small world
globe from my desk, topped with a velvet bow retrieved from the wreath
hanging over my mantel.
   Together we stood back and smiled at our handiwork.  "That's the prettiest
tree I've ever seen," Betsy concluded.  The next morning, I carefully packed
our "Joy to the World" tree in my car.  On impulse, I dashed back into the
house and grabbed an extension cord, a portable tape player and the tape of
"Joy to the World."
   When I arrived at the bazaar, everyone was in the holiday spirit.  A lady
dressed in a cashmere coat tapped me on my shoulder.  "This tree reminds
me of all my travels," she said as she stirred her cider with a cinnamon stick.  
An aproned craftswoman strolled over.  "I'm ordering one of these trees for
my granddaughter in Germany," she announced.  Then the gingerbread
cookies lady joined in.  "I'm going home with this tree."
   Before long, the room was packed with shoppers gazing at the
never-to-be- duplicated tree.  Moments before the drawing, a tiny woman with
tired eyes and a dingy gray coat exchanged fifty cents for a ticket stub.  Her
neatly braided hair, coiled tightly into a bun, framed a face stripped of
everything except determination.
   "We came into town to buy feed for the livestock, and I talked my husband
into stopping here," she said.  "Had a little egg money left to spend."
   The woman admired the satin angels, homemade jellies and a fruitcake
baked to resemble a holiday wreath.  Just then she spotted the tree.  "That
tree, the dolls!" she cried.  "All my life I've wanted a purty doll.  Only doll I ever
did have was the one my Ma made out of corncobs.  Is someone gonna win
all them dolls?" she asked with a faraway look in her eyes.
   I flipped on the cassette player, and the melody of "Joy to the World" filled
the room.  All eyes but hers were now on the box of ticket stubs, and on the
hand that would draw the winning number.  From all over the room, I heard
the blurring of voices.  "That tree is mine . . . ," "No, it's mine. . . "
   But the tiny woman never took her eyes off the tree.  "My grandson Willie,
he lives up the holler from our place," she said.  "He's real smart in book
learnin'.  Why, he could recite every one of them countries on that map."
   Then came the long-awaited announcement.  "The door prize goes to
number 1153."  I glanced down at the gnarled hands that held the winning
ticket and squeezed her thin shoulders.
   "You won the tree!" I cried.
   "You mean it's my ticket?  I ain't never had nothin' nice as this."  Tears
rolled down her wrinkled cheeks.
   I unplugged the lights and tape player and wound the extension cord.  "Am
I gonna get that music box and long cord, too?" she asked.  "I'm settin' that
tree in the winder and we only have one outlet in the room.  I shore could use
that extra cord."
   "Of course . . . it's Christmas," I answered.  A rusted yellow pickup truck
pulled up in front, and a man wearing high-bibbed overalls and a plaid flannel
shirt jumped out.  "Sadie, what in thunderation you got there?" he hollered.
   "Pa, I won this tree!"  Quickly, he rearranged a shovel, tire chains and
sacks of feed to make room in the truck.
   I waved good-bye as the clunking truck disappeared into the violet evening
sky.  In my mind's eye, I envisioned the tree given a place of honor in the
window of a humble, dimly lit cabin in the heart of the mountains.  The folks
who lived there were a happy sort, I told myself.  Not world travelers, but hard
workers, content with what they had.  Black smoke would likely billow from
their chimney into the nippy December air as the family gathered around the
tree.  "Look Granny, here's Japan," perhaps Willie would say, pointing to the
globe that once sat on my desk.  And Josie, still fascinated with that extension
cord, would plug in the twinkling lights and her "music box."
   Yet, I'm convinced that I was the real winner that night.  While I never saw
Josie again, she had helped me discover how to take light and song to the
dark and empty places of our world.

  Roberta L. Messner
The Door Prize