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Flash Back Friday: Story Time

Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays, and it's always been a special holiday I've shared with my husband. My favorite Christmas with him, of course, was twenty-one Christmases ago, when he drove all the way to Fort Bragg to propose to me on the beach on Christmas Day.

Before that, way back in ancient history (aka the 90s), before I was even dating my now husband and we were "just friends," Christmas was approaching fast, and I was stressed out. I was fifteen, Nathan was eighteen. I really wanted to get him a special present, but I didn't like any of my ideas. Then I found this adorable little mouse ornament at Shopko. Two little mice sat in a sardine can boat. I instantly saw a story there. But if I gave it to Nathan, what would he think?


At the suggestion of my parents, I wrote a story to go along with the ornament and gave it to Nathan for Christmas. Not only did he like it, but my sentimental man kept both the ornament and the story and still has them to this day. Every year, he hangs the ornament on our Christmas tree.

This past year, while going through some old paperwork, I rediscovered the story I wrote. I thought it would be fun to share it here with all of you.

But first, a couple of disclaimers.


Like I said before, I was only fifteen when I wrote this. As you can imagine, my writing skills have (thankfully) improved a bit in the last twenty-seven years. This will not be the best example of my work. ;) It's pretty basic, a bit repetitive, and rather heavy-handed with the moral. And please forgive my excessive use of exclamation points and adverbs. But it's part of my storytelling journey, and it's exciting to see how much I've learned and grown. I've fixed a few minor grammatical errors but have kept the story the same, as much as it pains me to do so.


This story contains a lot of inside jokes and references to actual things in our friendship, so some of it won't make sense to the casual reader. For example, Nathan did bring me cow tongue sandwiches one time for lunch. They weren't bad, but thankfully our relationship has not required me to continue to eat them. ;) And his little blue pickup truck always stopped abruptly, and no matter how many times I rode in it, it still caught me by surprise every time. We also had a running joke about him needing earplugs whenever I sang, but he honestly did like my voice. I hope you can enjoy the story even with all the random references meant only for Nathan.


Without further ado, on to the story.


Once, there was a girl with long, brown hair who went to find the perfect gift for a special friend. She looked in store after store, but nothing seemed quite right. She wanted the gift to be special, but not too sappy or cutesy for him. When she found an adorable ornament in Shopko, she thought it had some great potential. But the longer she had it, the more doubtful she became. Why had she bought the gift? It was too silly. He'd think it was stupid! How silly of her to think he would like it! She shared her uncertainties with her family. After they had calmed her down and told her not to live in her imagination, they came up with a great idea. "Why not write a story to go along with it?" they said. The girl thought long and hard about this. After a while, she decided to give it a try. "If I don't like how it turns out," she reasoned, "I'll just take the ornament back and get him something else." So she sat down and started writing the story you are about to read:


Hattie and Nathaniel

A Christmas Story


Hattie Mouse and Nathaniel Mouse had been close friends for years. Thought they'd grown up in the same church and school, they'd never really noticed each other 'til their high school years.


Through a series of activities and church events, they had grown close and enjoyed spending time together. Hattie was an avid supporter of Nathaniel's soccer games (he played on the Mouseville "Confusion" team). Nathaniel had worked the spotlight when Hattie was performing in her high school drama production. Their get-togethers included studying together, watching "Wallace and Gromit," taking bike rides through Mouseville River Park, celebrating each other's birthdays, and attending high school banquets together. They enjoyed singing together in church, along with Hattie's dear friend, Leena Mouse.

On this particular day, it was unusually clear for December. In fact, the whole month had been rather cool and clear. Hattie was sitting at home, enjoying the first day of Christmas vacation by curling up with a nice romance novel and a glass of milk. Suddenly, the phone rang. Matt Mouse, Hattie's little brother, rushed to the phone.


"Hello, this is Matt Mouse speaking," he answered. There was a pause. "Oh, hi! I guess you wanna talk to my sister, huh? Okay. Hey, guess what? I got this really cool Lego model and ... OUCH!! Hey! Hattie, let go! All right, all right, here's the stupid phone!"


Hattie released the grip on her brother's arm and grabbed the receiver.


"Hello?"


"Hi, Hattie!"


"Hi, Nathaniel! How are you?"


"I'm great. I was just reading this really awesome airplane book!"


"Really? I was just reading a great romance novel."


"Hey, I was wondering," Nathaniel began. "You know how I talked to you earlier about a boat ride down the river?"


"Yes," Hattie answered hesitantly. "I do."


"Well, do you think you might like to go today? I have my nice sardine can boat all ready. We could take a picnic lunch and spend the day on the river Would you want to?"


"Nathaniel, it's December! We'll freeze to death! I bet that water's icy cold! And what if we fall in?" Hattie had been nervous from the start about this whole river business. All she could think of was huge, foamy rapids and jagged rocks ripping the boat apart and flinging them to their watery graves.


Oh, knock it off! she told herself. I'm sure that's not what it's like! Nathaniel wouldn't take me somewhere like that! Don't live in your imagination, Hattie! She shook her head as if trying to clear it.


"It won't be that bad! Just dress warmly and don't fall in!" Nathaniel's voice had a teasing tone, and Hattie could imagine him grinning over the phone. Nathaniel continued. "So, do you want to go? I understand if you'd rather just sit at home and read all day."


Hattie blushed. He was teasing her again!


"Well, I suppose I could pull myself away from my book, even though I am at a really good part!" she teased back.


She could tell Nathaniel was grinning as he answered. "Great! When can I pick you up?"


The times were soon arranged, and in no time, Hattie and Nathaniel were on their way to the river. The boat was tied to the truck. It did look nice. Hattie knew she would have fun as soon as she stopped letting her imagination get in the way.


As they drove along, Hattie's thoughts wandered to Christmas. She had secretly brought Nathaniel's gift with her. She thought it might be nice to give it to him in the boat. She hoped Nathaniel would like his gift. She had worked so hard on it, yet it seemed a bit silly. Would he even like it?


Hattie's thoughts were interrupted by Nathaniel's little blue pickup jerking to a halt. Hattie, who never seemed to be able to prepare for sudden stops in this truck, pitched forward and then slammed back into the seat.


Nathaniel gave her an apologetic look before climbing out of the truck and rushing around to open Hattie's door for her. Somehow, she managed to hid his present in her parasol as she crawled out of the truck.


After a bit of a struggle and a few silly blunders made by Hattie, they managed to get the boat into the water. Hattie jumped in as Nathaniel pushed it away from the sandy bank before leaping in beside her. In no time, the boat began moving with the current. Nathaniel guided it with the help of his oar (the key to the sardine can), and they were off!


Hattie soon realized that all her premonitions about raging rapids had been as silly as she'd thought. The river was calm and almost completely smooth, and the trip was actually very relaxing.


They spent the day floating lazily down the river. Nathaniel pointed out some of his favorite spots on the shore, and Hattie listened with great interest to the stories he told of previous boating adventures. Then, after some time had passed, Nathaniel put away his oar and pulled out his banjo. He serenaded Hattie with a few of the songs he'd been learning, among them being several well-known Christmas carols. Hattie sang along with some of them, always, of course, being sure to offer Nathaniel some earplugs before doing so. He declined each time.

It wasn't long before Hattie's stomach started growling. Without a word, Nathaniel whisked out a picnic basket containing the promised picnic lunch. Hattie eagerly opened it and found two cow tongue sandwiches (from a very little cow), jello (along with two straws), and chocolate milk.


They ate heartily, enjoying their meal and trying to make each other laugh. They both ended up with chocolate milk all over them, but they didn't care. They were having too much fun!


As the sun began to start heading toward the west, Nathaniel suddenly pulled a festively wrapped package out from under where he was sitting in the boat. He smiled a little nervously.


"For you. Merry Christmas!"


"Oh! Wait!" Hattie said quickly. She had forgotten about Nathaniel's present until now. Bending down, she picked up the package and handed it to him. "I brought your present, too. Merry Christmas!"


They both sat there for a moment before Nathaniel said, "Do you want to go first?"


"Oh, no! Let's open them at the same time!" Hattie decided. She shifted uneasily in her seat. "I hope you like it. I didn't really know what to get you, so I just ... well ..."


She was interrupted by Nathaniel. "I'm sure it will be perfect! But ... well ... I kinda had the same problem. I wanted your gift to be really special. It's not as special as it could be, but maybe you'll still like it." Nathaniel was obviously just as nervous as Hattie!


"Well," Hattie giggled. "Since we're both so positively sure that neither of us will like our gifts, what are we waiting for? Let's open them!"


Nathaniel laughed along with her, and then agreed.


They both began ripping the bright wrapping paper. There was nothing but the noise of ripping paper and the river for a while. But then ...


"Nathaniel! This is wonderful ..." Hattie gasped.


"Hattie, this is great!" Nathaniel said, grinning from ear to ear.

Suddenly, they both stopped and looked at one another.


"You mean, you really like it?" Hattie asked hopefully. "You're not just being nice?"


"Of course not!" Nathaniel beamed. Then he hesitated. "Do you really like yours?"


"It's wonderful! How long did it take you?"


"Oh, not long." Nathaniel blushed. "How long did yours take you?"


"A while." Hattie answered softly. She smiled at him. "I'm so glad you like it! I had so many doubts. I was sure you would think it was silly!"


"So did I! About my present for you, I mean!" he said quickly. "I know you aren't really an airplane fanatic. I thought you might think it was dumb!"


Hattie suddenly broke out in laughter. Her eyes were merry as she spoke to Nathaniel. "Here we were both thinking that our presents would be stupid. And we ended up getting each other the same thing. Even better, we both love it! That sure teaches me not to live in my imagination!"


Nathaniel nodded in agreement. "We both so quickly forgot the true meaning of Christmas. It's not the presents that we receive from each other that matter. It's remembering the very best Christmas gift of all, from our Father in Heaven."


"That's right," Hattie agreed. "We were both so silly! I focused so much on getting you the perfect gift, that I forgot to thank the Lord for the best Christmas gift ever."


"Why don't we thank Him right now?" Nathaniel suggested.


Hattie instantly agreed, and they bowed their heads. "Dear Lord, thank you for Your special Christmas gift to us. Help us to always remember Him on Christmas Day and throughout the year. Help us to tell others about Your wonderful gift to us. We love You. Amen."


As they started home, Hattie felt like singing! What a wonderful day it had been! Nathaniel loved his present, and he had reminded her of the best Present of all. She silently thanked the Lord for the lessons she had learned about giving gifts. She thanked Him for the gift of His Son so many years ago on that first Christmas. And then, smiling happily, she thanked the Lord for Nathaniel, a very special mouse.


As the girl finished her story, she read it over a few times and was very pleased with the result. And after all, if it truly was "the thought that counts," as people often say this time of year, why was she even worried about whether or not he would like the gift?


With a smile on her face, she wrapped the ornament and the story and labeled it: To Nathan Prewett from Hannah Roberts.


***

Oy. That was a bit more painful than I thought. I have so many questions. Why did Hattie and Nathaniel both think that taking a PAPER gift on a BOAT was a good idea? Why did I randomly introduce God at the end of the story when it wasn't set up in the beginning? Why does Nathaniel grin so much? WHY DID I USE SO MANY EXCLAMATION POINTS? Also, I'd forgotten how much I was working on not living in my imagination at that period of my life. And I'd just like to add that I did NOT twist my brother's arm in real life to get him off the phone. Though, admittedly, I could be a bit of a brat.


Anyway, thanks for walking down memory lane with me. As much as I cringe a bit while reading that story, it also brings back many fond memories of the early years with Nathan. Drinking chocolate milk while sitting backwards in the school bus. Slurping Jello through straws. Bike rides together in the park. Singing together. Him teasing me about my singing and needing earplugs. Me getting a detention because we were talking in the hallway and I was late to math class. I don't want to go back to those days of wondering how he really felt about me, but it's still fun to look back and see our journey together and how far God has brought us.


Wishing you all a wonderful month full of love and memories.







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