Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi often stayed overnight with her grandparents in their shoebox-size house on the lovely corner of Sheffield and Stockton roads. It wasn’t just because Little Suzi’s grandparents loved her so very much that they looked forward to frequent visits from their granddaughter, it was also because Suzi’s mommy Wilma needed a break now and then from working all day and caring for Suzi (and her invisible friend Albert) every evening of every week of every year!
This particular Friday in December, Little Suzi came straight to her grandparent’s house directly after school. It was the last day of school before Christmas, and the children were let out early, so Little Suzi’s mommy made arrangements for the girl to stay at her grandparents’ through the weekend. Suzi especially loved to visit around Christmas time because Granny cooked up delicious pies and cookies that perfumed the whole house with tasty scents of cinnamon, apples, nutmeg, walnuts, pecans, and cherries that she used in various delicious ways. The small house stayed warm and smelled wonderful all December from all the cooking going on in the kitchen.
The kitchen alcove had a special table with two chairs just the right size for a little girl and her invisible friend, and so that’s where Little Suzi and Albert took their breakfast, lunch, and snacks whenever she stayed with Granny and Granddaddy Hood.
It was on this particular Saturday morning in the kitchen that Suzi looked at Albert across the table in a funny way while she continued eating her breakfast of oatmeal with brown sugar and toast with honey.
“I saw some boxes on the top shelf of Granny’s closet in her bathroom,” Suzi began.
What were you doing snooping in Granny’s closet? Albert challenged his friend. You’re not supposed to snoop at Christmas time, you know.
“I know,” Suzi continued. “But I needed a roll of T.P.”
T.P.? Albert asked as he tilted his head in a quizzical way.
“You know, toilet paper,” Suzi whispered in the same way that Granny did whenever she told Granddaddy to buy some at the market. The way she said it made Albert laugh.
So you think you’re getting T.P. for Christmas? Albert joked and giggled.
“No, silly,” Suzi replied as she let go of her spoon and left it to sink slowly down under the thick porridge. “But I think I saw a small box that a necklace could fit into!”
Albert understood why his friend would be excited about finding a hint that she might be getting the silver necklace she wanted so badly for Christmas. After all, as her invisible best friend, he knew all of Little Suzi’s secrets.
Well, you remember what Granny says about snooping around at Christmas, don’t you? Albert reminded his friend.
“I know, I know,” Suzi replied impatiently. “‘You might get disappointed’.”
That’s right, Albert confirmed.
“So will you help me climb up to the top shelf in Granny’s bathroom when she and Granddaddy take their naps this afternoon?”
Of course! was Albert’s ready reply, in spite of the warning he’d just given the girl.
And so it was that when Granddaddy and Granny went into their separate rooms and closed their doors for their customary Saturday afternoon naps that Little Suzi and Albert quietly dragged a chair from the kitchen table across the linoleum floor of the alcove, across the carpeted hallway, and into the open door that led from the hall into Granny’s bathroom.
Wait, Albert whispered. Better check the other door in from Granny’s bedroom. It might be open too!
After making sure Granny’s private door into the bathroom was closed and that she could hear Granny snoring a little on the other side, Suzi carefully dragged the chair on two legs toward the closet next to the tub inside.
“Hold it steady while I can climb up,” Little Suzi instructed Albert.
But Albert just looked at her as if to say: I’m an imaginary kid, remember? I can’t hold anything!
Little Suzi ignored him and used the chair like a step-stool to reach the top shelf. Reaching in among the several boxes there, she found one that was a special size and shape.
“All these are just tissue boxes,” Suzi called down to Albert, “except for this small one.”
She held onto the small box with one hand, opening it with the other hand right there as she stood on the chair.
Better put that back now, Albert warned. Before it’s too late.
But Little Suzi was far too excited to listen. She lifted the lid off the square cardboard box.
What is it? Albert asked.
“Don’t know,” Suzi answered. “There’s another box inside.”
The box inside was covered in velvet and had the most beautiful silver cross glued onto the front of it.
“Oh, my goodness!” Suzi exclaimed.
What is it? Albert asked again.
“Oh, my goodness…” Suzi repeated, but a little quieter this time as she remembered that Granny was napping right next door.
The little girl knew she should have stopped right then and replaced the velvet box back inside the first cardboard box. She hesitated a few moments while Albert stared at her and hoped she would do the right thing. But, instead, she took out the velvet box once more and opened it to look inside. Then she suddenly closed it shut, put it back inside the cardboard box, and quickly placed it back on the shelf exactly where she had found it.
Suzi stepped down from the chair, closed the closet door, and dragged the chair very quietly back out of the bathroom and over to the kitchen table, where she sat down and lay her head upon her arms.
Little Suzi remained strangely quiet the remainder of the day. She didn’t watch cartoons on television. She didn’t read to Albert or play with him outside. And she didn’t even go with Granddaddy to the barber shop (and get a lollypop from the barber) as she did nearly every Saturday afternoon.
Instead, Suzi was so quiet and acted so strangely all that day that Granny finally asked “Are you sick?” and felt her forehead for a fever. But Little Suzi told her granny ‘no’ in a soft, weak voice and lay on the living room couch doing nothing and feeling sad.
I told you not to go snooping! Albert reminded his friend.
Little Suzi’s mommy came to Granny’s house on Sunday morning so that they could all go to church together. No one knew that the little girl felt terrible all through the service, even when she and Albert were having cookies and milk with the other children after Sunday school.
All the next week, Suzi thought about the present in the closet. Christmas Eve would be here in six days, and for all those six days, the little girl felt sick and miserable.
Why are you so unhappy? Albert finally asked his friend at the end of the week. Don’t you know Christmas is coming?!
“When we open our gifts to each other on Christmas Eve,” Little Suzi explained, “Granny will know.”
How could she possibly know? Albert asked.
“Granny always knows,” Suzi told him sorrowfully.
And when Christmas Eve finally did arrive, Suzi and her mother Wilma (and Albert, of course) got into their car to drive the short distance to Granny and Granddaddy’s house.
“Why so glum, little miss?” Suzi’s mommy asked on the ride over. “You love Christmas Eve at Granny and Granddaddy’s.”
“I know,” Little Suzi sighed.
“What about Granddaddy’s Christmas ham! And the pies and cookies Granny’s been baking all week!”
“I know,” Little Suzi sighed once again.
“And you know they always have one very special gift for you on Christmas Eve—to show how much they love you.”
“I know,” the girl replied, as a tear ran down her cheek and fell onto her red and white Christmas dress.
Well if you cry, everybody’s going to know what you did! Albert spoke up between Suzi and her mommy.
So Little Suzi wiped her tearful eyes on one of her new white Christmas gloves and said nothing more about it in the car.
“Merry Christmas!” Granny exclaimed as soon as Suzi and her mommy entered the front door, giving them each a warm holiday hug.
“Merry Christmas!” Granddaddy hollered out from the kitchen, where he was stealing a taste of his own holiday ham and yams.
Before dinner, Granny brought out a wrapped gift for each person, and they opened their gifts one by one.
Little Suzi opened hers and held it in her hand: A silver Christmas cross necklace adorned with a sparkling jewel and strung on a delicate silver chain.
“In the middle of the cross is the star of Bethlehem that the wise men followed in the East,” Suzi’s Granddaddy explained.
“The star they followed to find the baby Jesus, remember?” Granny told her.
Suzi’s mommy gently took the necklace from her hand, placed it about her neck, and clasped it at the back.
“It’s so beautiful,” Suzi’s mommy said as she admired it.
“I know,” Little Suzi replied, as tears filled her eyes once more.
“But why are you crying, dear?” Granny asked.
“Because I don’t deserve it.”
“Of course you deserve it,” Granddaddy told her. “You’re our sweet little girl and we want you to have it for Christmas.”
“But I snooped,” Suzi confessed.
“You snooped?” Granny repeated.
Yep, you snooped all right, Albert added uselessly.
“And it ruined the surprise for you?” Suzi’s mommy asked.
“And you’ve felt guilty about it all week?” Granny asked. “And that’s why you moped about the house here all day last Saturday?”
“You poor child,” Granddaddy concluded for everyone. “I guess you’ve learned your lesson and suffered quite a lot.”
Yep, you snooped and suffered, Albert chimed in.
“Must I give the necklace back, then?” Suzi asked as she began to cry once more.
“No, dear,” Granny told her. “Keep it as a reminder not to spoil surprises for yourself and others—especially at Christmas time.”
“I promise,” Little Suzi said as she hugged first her granny, then her mommy and granddaddy.
And, finally, even Albert got a big joyful hug for Christmas!
When children snoop to find
Their presents ahead of Christmas,
They could end up tearful, instead of cheerful,
And steal the joy of giving
From dear old mom and dad.