“It’s your job to open one of these little doors.”
Christmas was coming. Kitty bought an advent calendar and placed it on the bureau in her room. It was her first purchase with her own money. She felt a little guilty buying it, and then she felt confused. Finally, after she unfolded it in her room and opened the first little door, she felt sad. These feelings were more confusing. She sat on the bed and stared at the calendar for a long time until she remembered that day, when she was just twelve, before her father had left, he brought home an advent calendar and placed it on the kitchen table. It was snowing that night, Kitty remembered, and her father was in a good mood, laughing and singing.
Kitty’s third brother was just a baby then. He was asleep in a little wooden crate that her mother had fashioned into a baby bed for him. The crate was pushed against the wall in an alcove off the kitchen of the small house. All the other children shared one room with two beds in it, the girls in one bed, the boys in the other, except for the baby.
Her father’s singing wakened the baby and he began to cry. Kitty’s mother yelled at her father to stop the racket. She tried to calm the baby and then began to nurse him. He quieted down, his little fingers grasping at the air near his mother’s face.
But Kitty’s father began to sing again and then he pulled a bottle out of his coat pocket. The bottle was almost empty. He looked at it, holding it up to the light fixture above the kitchen table. Then he tilted it to his lips and emptied its contents into his mouth. Carefully, as if the bottle weighed a great deal, he placed it in the center of the table. He asked Kitty what she wanted for Christmas. Her mother told him to stop it. Then she told Kitty not to ask for things she knew they couldn’t afford.
Her father unfolded the advent calendar and stood it up on the kitchen table. He opened two of the doors.
“See,” he said to Kitty, “there are twenty-two days before Christmas. That means two of these doors are open. Now every day … ” He took a deep breath and seemed to lose his balance for a second or two. “Every day,” he went on, “it’s your job to open one of these little doors. And the last day before Christmas all the little doors will be opened. See?”
Kitty remembered nodding and looking intently at the little doors, trying to imagine what was behind them all. For the next three weeks, every morning as soon as she awakened, Kitty went to the calendar and opened another door.
On Christmas Eve, all the doors in the advent calendar were open. It had snowed all day. Outside the air coming from the mountains was bitingly cold. Kitty sat by the kitchen table staring at the open doors, at the little pictures inside that had been hidden behind the doors, waiting for her father to come home from work. He never did. Kitty never saw him again. Her mother cursed him for weeks, and then she found a lady who took in wash who agreed to take care of the baby while Kitty and her two younger sisters and two younger brothers were in school. Her mother got a job at the mining company store, Kitty took care of the younger ones after school. Life changed.