Only in Addy's Surprise
Chapter by Chapter Summary
Chapter One: Winds of Winter
One cold morning, Addy is snuggled into the warm quilts when Momma calls her. Snow is blowing through the gap in the garret window, which hasn’t closed properly for some time. Addy and Momma are unsuccessful closing the window, so Momma decides to stuff some rags in the gap instead. Shivering, Addy asks if they can light the stove, but Momma reminds her they only have enough coal for the week’s suppers. She tells Addy to get ready for school quickly so she won’t feel the cold so bad. Addy gets dressed, saving her boots for last because they’re still damp from the walk home yesterday. The heat from last night’s cookfire hadn’t been enough to dry them out. She wraps her shawl around her as she sits down for a breakfast of cornbread and buttermilk, noticing a folded bundle of plaid fabric on Momma’s chair with some sewing supplies on top of it. Addy asks if Momma was up late sewing again, and Momma replies that this dress is for the Howells, whom Mrs. Ford says are very particular. She inspects a seam, commenting that they need a lamp as candlelight is not sufficient to see her stitches. Addy asks if she can count the coins they’ve saved in the milk bottle, telling Momma she’s added her tips from deliveries she’s made. Momma pulls the bottle from its hiding place behind the stove, and Addy carefully counts out the money--a total of one dollar and 57 cents. Momma says that’s not enough for a lamp and they’ll have to wait a bit longer. Addy sits down so Momma can braid her hair, looking at the bright reds and greens in the plaid taffeta. Momma says Isabella Howell will wear that dress to some fancy Christmas party, and Addy remembers the celebration they had last year on the plantation. Master Stevens had given the Walkers a skinny chicken, which Sam refused to eat because it couldn’t make up for a whole year of work. He had, however, eaten and enjoyed Momma’s sweet potato pudding (which is also Poppa’s favorite). Momma, understanding that Addy is missing the rest of their family, tells Addy she’ll make the same pudding that year--Auntie Lula had taught her how and would likely make the same thing, so they’ll be eating the same meal as Lula, Uncle Solomon, and Esther. Momma reminds Addy that Esther has a present from her sister--Addy’s doll Janie. As Momma finishes braiding Addy’s hair, she says Addy’s bright face helps her keep up hope that the family will be together again someday.
As they walk to school, Addy and Sarah talk excitedly about Christmas. Sarah tells Addy all about Christmas celebrations in freedom--a manger scene on the altar in church, a big Christmas dinner after the service, followed by a shadow play for the children. Addy asks what a shadow play is, and Sarah explains that people will be acting out the Christmas story between a lamp and a sheet so the story is told by shadows. She adds that she’ll be in the children’s choir, which practices on Saturdays, and Addy explains that Saturdays are when she runs errands and deliveries for Mrs. Ford. Sarah offers to teach Addy the carols herself, and the two girls hurry to school singing “Joy To The World”.
Chapter Two: Something Pretty
Addy is running her Saturday errands for Mrs. Ford when a patch of bright red in the window of Delmonte’s Secondhand Shop (where Addy and Momma often look for bargains) catches her eye. It turns out to be a scarf, partially hidden by a rusty tea kettle. Addy goes inside and admires the scarf--it’s like new and very soft. She decides Momma should have something pretty for Christmas, since she works so hard, and resolves to earn the twenty cents necessary to buy the scarf as a present. Mr. Delmonte promises to keep the scarf tucked behind the kettle so people are less likely to notice it and buy it before Addy can. Later, Addy delivers three packages to Society Hill. Mrs. Ford always lets Addy keep her tips, so Addy decides to split her tips between the lamp fund and the scarf fund from then on. She’s cold and stiff when she arrives back at Mrs. Ford’s, where Momma and Mrs. Ford are busy sewing. Addy asks Momma if she can light the stove and Momma says no, not until dinner. As Addy climbs the stairs, she hears Mrs. Ford ask if everything’s all right in the garret, and Momma answers that they get by before Addy can say anything about the window that won’t shut. She climbs the rest of the way upstairs without a word, knowing that Momma would not want Addy to complain.
Addy counts out her tip money and puts half of it in the milk bottle, tying the rest into the corner of her kerchief with Uncle Solomon’s half dime. She realizes she already has ten cents--halfway to her goal.
Chapter Three: Freedom Ain't Free
Momma and Addy stand side by side in the women’s half of the church sanctuary to sing “This Little Light of Mine”. They sit when the song is finished, and Addy imagines Poppa sitting across from them in the men’s section. Reverend Drake reads a section of Scripture describing Mary and Joseph staying in the stable. He says the time had come for Jesus to be born. Time keeps moving, it can’t be stopped. At this, a church member shouts in agreement--something Addy loves about the church, that people can participate in the service if they feel so moved. Reverend Drake adds that the time for freedom has come for thousands of their people. Those freedmen need the church’s help, because freedom ain’t free! Another shout of agreement follows this. Reverend Drake says a lot of congregation members know what he’s talking about because there was a time when they themselves came to freedom and discovered all that they needed--food, clothes, shelter. This time it’s Momma who calls out “Amen!”. Reverend Drake says there are so many families in need at that moment, all of them must let God work through them, by donating money to the Freedmen’s Fund or volunteering at the pier to welcome the newcomers. On the way home, Momma tells Addy that the sermon had reminded her of how hard their own arrival in Philadelphia had been, and how much the church had helped. She says they have more than $1.50 saved and the freedmen need help more than she and Addy need a lamp. Addy is quiet, thinking how nice a lamp would be but also how much the church had helped them. She finally says they should give their lamp money to the church--it may even help Sam or Poppa or Esther reach them. Momma says it’s bound to help somebody, even a stranger in need, and that’s the important part. Addy considers the money she’s saving for Momma’s scarf, but decides that she can’t give it away since it isn’t for her. Instead, she asks Momma if she can volunteer at the pier next Saturday like Reverend Drake suggested. Momma says yes, so long as Addy can finish all her deliveries and errands first.
Chapter Four: The Cost of Freedom
Addy meets up with Sarah and Mrs. Moore on the pier the next Saturday. She asks Sarah what to say to welcome these people, commenting that Sarah had instantly made Addy herself feel at home last summer. Crowds of people are huddled together in the gritty cold, looking hungry, scared, and lost. Addy wishes with all her might that Poppa, Sam, and Esther would be there, but sees only strangers. A baby begins to wail in a thin woman’s arms, and Addy quickly offers her shawl. She offers to carry the baby so the mother can rest a little, and the woman smiles weakly and thanks her, gently handing the baby to her. Addy cradles the little girl, reminded of Esther, and tries to keep her warm. The baby grabs at Addy’s shell necklace, waving her arms, causing her mother to smile as she climbs into the wagon Reverend Drake had brought. Addy follows closely as the wagon winds through the streets, observing the weary state many of the freedmen are in--some barefoot, some in tattered clothes, one man with an injured foot bound in rags. The baby’s mother tells Addy that most of them came from a plantation near Baltimore when the master ran out of money and turned all his slaves loose. They’d been traveling for a week with little to eat. Addy promises that the church people will help all of them get settled like they did for her and Momma, then leads them into the church basement for a warm meal. She hands the baby back to her mother, then hurries back to Mrs. Ford’s. While she runs more errands, the rich people in fine clothes around her seem silly, not fascinating like they had before. She can’t help contrasting the elegant fur coats to the insufficient rags of the freedmen, or one gentleman’s shiny walking stick to the knobbly branch the man with the injured foot had used. As she delivers packages to fancy mansions on Society Hill, she wonders where all the freedmen will stay. Tips from her deliveries begin to add up, jingling in her mitten and reminding Addy that she’ll soon have enough for Momma’s scarf. The last delivery is the plaid dress for the Howells. Their house is very fine, and Addy catches a glimpse of its well-decorated interior as a maid takes her package and gives her a tip--a dime. Addy is excited; not only does she have enough for the scarf but she can put the extra five cents in the milk bottle to start saving for a lamp again. She hurries home, counts out twenty cents from the kerchief and tucks them into her mitten, dropping the rest in the milk bottle. Addy is excited when Mrs. Ford sends her out with a pair of scissors to be sharpened, as the sharpener’s shop is not far from Mr. Delmonte’s. She’s waiting outside the sharpener’s when a well-dressed woman wheels a baby buggy up to the door of the shop. The buggy won’t fit through the doorway, so the woman lifts a baby bundled in fleecy blankets out of it before entering the shop. Addy is struck by memories of the baby she’d carried that morning, as well as little Esther, somewhere far away, perhaps even now struggling on a long journey to freedom. What if Esther isn’t as lucky as the baby at the pier, to have a volunteer to wrap her in a shawl and keep her warm? Who would donate money to help her? The coins feel heavy in Addy’s hand as she goes inside to pick up the scissors. Addy walks toward Mr. Delmonte’s store, which is still open and the scarf still in the window. She passes it and keeps walking until she reaches the church. There is the box with the slot on top and the sign reading “Freedmen’s Fund”. Addy pulls off her mitten and drops her coins one by one into the slot, including the half dime from Uncle Solomon. He’d told her freedom had a cost, and Addy hoped her money could help more people, like her family, make it to freedom.
When Addy returns to Mrs. Ford’s, she makes for the stairs as soon as Mrs. Ford tells her there are no more deliveries that day, but stops when Mrs. Ford calls to her. She says there’s no sense in sitting upstairs and that Addy can stay in the shop with her and Momma. Momma says Addy will be all right upstairs, as Mrs. Ford is running a business and doesn’t want children underfoot. Mrs. Ford says Addy has served her business well and will not be in the way, handing Addy a needle book and a plain apron for Addy to practice her hemstitching on. Addy thanks Mrs. Ford and sits down next to Momma, making neat, even stitches. She’s glad to have a job to do that takes her mind off the scarf, but she’s even happier to be with Momma.
Chapter Five: Christmas Surprises
In the last week before Christmas, Addy spends her afternoons sewing or straightening up the shop as Momma and Mrs. Ford finish the last items commissioned before the holiday. Addy is happy to be helping--she loves sorting the beautiful fabrics, trims, and thread. She is picking up the pins that had fallen on the floor when an angry woman and a plump girl burst into the shop. The woman is holding the plaid dress Momma had worked so hard on, so she must be Mrs. Howell and the girl must be Isabella. Mrs. Howell fumes about the dress--its side seams have split and several buttons had popped off. She says the dress was made too small and she’d never seen such poor work, causing Momma to stiffen. Mrs. Ford firmly tells Mrs. Howell that Ruth Walker is the best seamstress that has ever worked for her, and that the dress was made to the exact measurements taken at the fitting a month ago. Thus Isabella must have grown since then. Mrs. Ford gives Mrs. Howell a refund--not because the dress was poorly made, but because Mrs. Howell is dissatisfied. Mrs. Howell takes the money and slams out of the shop with Isabella following. Mrs. Ford picks up her sewing, saying some people have no idea what the Christmas season is all about.
Addy only has one delivery on Christmas Eve--a red hat. There are no customers in the shop, so Mrs. Ford decides to close the shop early in the afternoon and take a rest, like she’d let Momma do. However, she has one last package, this one for Addy herself. Addy opens it to find the plaid dress that Mrs. Howell had returned, mended and refinished like brand new. Mrs. Ford says she wants Addy to have the dress because she’s been such a big help to her and Momma over the holiday season. She adds that the dress should fit Addy but she still needs to shorten the hem. Addy puts it on and stands on a crate, turning in a slow circle as Mrs. Ford marks the right length with pins and cuts the extra material away. When Addy changes out of the dress, she sees the wide strip of plaid hanging around Mrs. Ford’s neck and has an idea. She asks if she can keep the spare fabric, and Mrs. Ford replies that all of the dress belongs to her. Before Mrs. Ford leaves, she tells Addy she can stay in the shop as long as she needs to finish hemming the dress, so long as she remembers to blow out the lamp when she’s done. Addy and Mrs. Ford then wish each other Merry Christmas.
The morning of Momma and Addy’s first Christmas in freedom, both awake early. Momma hands Addy a small paper-wrapped parcel, saying it’s a surprise for Addy. Addy tells Momma she has a surprise too, but Momma insists Addy open her present first. It’s a rag doll with an embroidered smile, a red hair bow, a purple dress, and tiny earrings. Addy thanks Momma, saying the doll is just as pretty as Janie was. Momma says she stuffed the doll with some beans she’d saved, and Addy decides to call the doll Ida Bean. She tells Momma to close her eyes because her present isn’t wrapped, and lays the present in Momma’s lap. When Momma looks, she sees a beautiful green plaid scarf with perfectly hemmed edges and fringe at each end. She asks where Addy got it, and Addy explains how she made it, telling her about Mrs. Ford’s gift. Momma hugs Addy, saying she’s proud of her. After breakfast, Ida Bean is propped on a chair as Addy and Momma make sweet potato pudding. There’s too much to fit in the large pan, so Momma scrapes the excess into a smaller pan and saves it for later. When it’s time to go to church, Addy dresses in the plaid dress, and Momma ties her new scarf in a bow around her neck. Addy tucks Ida Bean under her arm, while Momma carries the large pan of pudding. At church, Addy sees that Sarah was right--it does look magical. Sarah herself is marching down the aisle at the front of the choir, who are singing “Joy To The World” with candles in their hands. After the service, everyone enjoys the Christmas feast downstairs. Addy ignores all the desserts except for the sweet potato pudding, which she heaps onto her plate. Maybe next Christmas, she thinks, their whole family will be together. All the children gather in the small room set up for the shadow play after dinner, Addy and Sarah sitting next to each other. All the lamps in the room are blown out, and it is very dark for a moment before a bright light appears behind the sheet curtain. A deep voice reads the Christmas story aloud as it is acted out in shadows. The wise men have just appeared when the door opens, shining light from the hall into the room. A tall man stands in the doorway, and his silhouette is familiar to Addy. She jumps up, scrambling to meet him. It’s Poppa! He scoops Addy up into his arms in a hug that lasts a long time.
Addy and her parents walk home hand in hand to Mrs. Ford’s. There’s a light in the garret shining under the door, though Momma didn’t leave the candle burning. Addy opens the door to see a bright kerosene lamp on the table, with a note propped against it. Addy reads it aloud: “May the hope of the Christmas season shine in your lives always. Merry Christmas from Mrs. Ford.” Poppa cries tears of joy and pride to hear Addy reading, and Momma tells him about how Addy won a prize for spelling. Momma brings out the small pan of sweet potato pudding, and Poppa exclaims that it’s as if they knew he was coming, to which Momma responds that they never stopped hoping. As they eat, Poppa shares the story of what happened since he and Sam were sold in the summer: Sam was sold somewhere else the very next day, and may or may not have escaped from there. Two months later, all the slaves on the plantation were turned loose and Poppa eventually found his way to Philadelphia. Momma and Addy tell Poppa about leaving Esther with Lula and Solomon and escaping through the woods to Miss Caroline’s house. Poppa is quiet for a moment, before saying he’s going to try his best to bring Esther and Sam to join them in Philadelphia, perhaps with the help of a freedmen’s society. Momma tells Addy it’s time for bed, and Addy protests she wants to stay up and be with Poppa. He says he isn’t going anywhere and he’ll be the first thing she sees when the sun comes through the window. Momma says Addy’s loved that window since they moved in, but it’s stuck and won’t close. Poppa inspects the frame, hits it in two places, then pulls it shut. He offers to build a new sash (which is what the window needs) but it should be warmer already. Addy says it is, and the three hug, their smiles reflecting the glow of the lamplight against the window.
Looking Back: Christmas in 1864
Discusses the Christmas season during the Civil War. Topics covered:
- Families who worried for members fighting in the war or were separated from relatives due to slavery.
- Ways families in the North and South celebrated Christmas, despite wartime shortages.
- Changes in holiday cooking wartime shortages caused in the South.
- Charlotte Forten's Christmas visit to Philadelphia in 1864.
- The holiday fairs Philadelphia's Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church ran to help support the Black men who were joining up during the last years of the war.
- Soldiers receiving gifts from their families that contained holiday treats or homemade socks.
- Slaves celebrating the Christmas season by receiving small gifts from their masters and being allowed to visit friends and relatives on other plantations, with the last day being called "heartbreak day".
- The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, that had freed slaves in most parts of the South, though the South ignored it.
- Celebrations for the Proclamation in Northern states shortly after it was signed.
- Juneteenth being celebrated for being one of the days slaves had first heard about the Proclamation.
- The creation of Kwanzaa in 1966 to honor the African heritage of black Americans.