Chapter by Chapter Summary
Chapter One: A Different Christmas
The chapter begins with Molly writing a letter to her dad in the living room. She writes that Grandma and Grandpa were going to bring their tree tomorrow and they already sent their gifts to him. She writes that they haven't gotten his presents yet when Jill comments Molly shouldn't have written that. Molly asks why not and Jill explains that Christmas was four days away and the letter would arrive to Dad afterwards. Jill brings up the idea that Dad may not have sent any Christmas gifts, but Molly interjects and says he wouldn't forget to send them. Jill continues and explains if he didn't send presents, he would feel bad about Molly's letter and it would be too late to make it up to them. Jill asks Mrs. McIntire, who was making a Christmas wreath, if she was right. She only replies that Molly should write whatever she wanted to in her letter. Jill shrugs and returns to her knitting. Brad, who was playing with his toys, suggests that the plane with Dad's gifts could have been shot down by the Germans and Ricky says it was a possibility. Brad asks Mom if the Germans would shoo down Santa and she assures him Santa would be safe. Brad says he hoped so, as he wanted a soldier's hat and a real canteen. Finished with the wreath, Mrs. McIntire and Brad go off to hang the wreath on the door.
After they left, Jill comments she felt sorry for Brad and Molly asks why. Jill lists off that Dad was gone, and it hardly felt like Christmas without him, and he didn't sent any presents. Molly says they didn't get presents from Dad yet, but Jill ignores the interruption. She adds that Brad would be disappointed with getting socks and handkerchiefs and he was too young to understand why he wouldn't get a canteen from Santa. Ricky explains that real soldiers would need all the hats and canteens they could spare, and Molly had the feeling they were right. Jill adds that Mom didn't find it patriotic to spend money on unnecessary things like toys, and the gifts would probably be hand-me-downs. Jill says she was glad she didn't have anything she really wanted so she wouldn't be disappointed, but Molly points out that Jill wanted a ski cap like the one she was making for Dolores. Jill explains that she was saving up her babysitting money as she knew it would be the only way to get it. She comments that it was childish to expect surprises at Christmas, but Molly reminds her that Dad said there are always surprises at Christmas. Jill replies that this Christmas was different due to the war. There won't be any wonderful surprises and they'll just have to be realistic. "Realistic" was one of Jill's new words and it always sounded gloomy to Molly. It meant expecting things to be ordinary and dull, and she didn't want to feel that way about Christmas.
Not wanting to talk anymore, Molly picks up her letter, says she's going to bed, and runs back to her room. Molly sat on her window seat and thought over Jill's words. She knew that Jill was right about it being a simple Christmas, she really should expect more practical gifts. The gift Molly wanted most was unpractical; a doll she could have adventures with. Molly knew it was an unrealistic hope and Jill would say Molly was unpatriotic and childish for wanting something so unnecessary. But Molly couldn't stop hoping one would appear on Christmas Day. She also couldn't stop hoping that Dad would bring something as she knew how much he loved Christmas. Molly looked at the letter again and wondered if she should cross off the comment about his gifts. Molly sighs just as he Mother knocks and asks if she could come in or if Molly was working on her gift-wrapping. Molly says that all her gifts were already wrapped up and put away. Mrs. McIntire comments that Molly was just like Dad, who always wrapped up his gifts before anyone else. Molly says not this year as she tells her Mother about her fear that Dad wouldn't send any gifts. Mrs. McIntire asks why Molly gave up hope on him already and Molly explains that Jill said this Christmas would be different. Her Mother admits this Christmas would be different and they would have to be realistic about somethings. Molly says she wants Christmas to be special, like the way it was when Dad was home, and Mrs. McIntire says they would just have to make their own surprises. She tells Molly that everyone probably had a few surprises planned and it was never wrong to hope for good things, especially at Christmastime. The two say goodnight and Molly looks outside. There were no stars out that night so Molly simply closed her eyes as she hoped her Dad's gifts would come and that there would be lots of wonderful surprises that Christmas.
Chapter Two: Making Surprises
Molly wakes up to the smell of sticky buns and figures that this was one of the surprises her Mom mentioned last night. As Molly changes into her vacation clothes she thinks how if she had a doll, today would be a great day to play with her and pretend to be nurses or scientists. Molly bounced down the stairs, knowing that she had to get down before Ricky ate all the sticky buns. But to her surprise, Ricky wasn't in the kitchen. Mom explains he was moving the furniture around for a tree and Ricky appears out of nowhere to ask Molly for help. After Molly finishes her bun, the two go down the cellar and open the closet. Molly grabs a few boxes as Ricky grabs the lights, commenting he would be in charge of them this year. Molly felt doubtful as Dad usually took care of the lights and even he had trouble untangling them. Molly asks him if he was able to and Ricky assures her he could.
When Molly comes up with the boxes, Brad rushes up to Molly and asks for his stocking. When Molly opened the box, Brad found the tin foil star he made last year. Jill, who was eating in the kitchen, glanced at the boxes and asks if they really had to haul that stuff up. Molly says these were the Christmas tree ornaments they needed and Jill says they looked junky. No one said a word as Jill suggested they only use the store-bought balls that came in blue and red to make the tree look more patriotic. Molly says they don't have a lot of red and blue balls, but Jill says the tree will look more elegant with fewer decorations. Brad says he didn't want the tree to look elegant and Jill interrupts him saying he wanted it to be just like last year. She says that he wants everything to be just like last year but it just couldn't be. Ricky asks Mom what she thought and she comments she would miss the old decorations. She suggests they could put up all the old decorations, but put a flag on top of the tree to show their patriotism. She asks what Jill thought but she shrugs and says she honestly didn't care, she was just making a suggestion.
With the situation settled, Mrs. McIntire announces she and Brad were going shopping that day but would be back before Grandma and Grandpa arrived. A little after Mom and Brad left, the phone rang. Ricky asks Jill to answer the phone as he was working on the lights and Jill complies. She smiles as she greets her grandparents but Molly and Ricky notice her smile starts to fade. When the phone is hung up, Molly asks what was the matter. Jill explains that their grandparents couldn't come as they got a flat tire and the spare was too old to use on a long trip. They had to get the tire patched but no one was available until the weekend after Christmas Day. Molly and Ricky grow disappointed. Not only was Dad not home, but now their grandparents weren't here and they didn't have a tree. Ricky glumly says they wouldn't need a tree anyway as they didn't have any gifts from Dad to put under the tree. Molly says they have gifts from each other but Ricky doesn't find it to be a big deal. Molly felt as gloomy as she had yesterday and she wished Mom was home. Ricky says their Mom wouldn't have been able to do anything and they just had to face the fact their Christmas was ruined. Molly, remembering her Mom's words, says they had to rely on themselves to make this Christmas special. Ricky asks if they were just supposed to make a Christmas tree but Jill suggests they could buy a tree. Jill offers her baby-sitting money, saying that a tree was more important than her new hat. Jill says they had to get the tree before Mom and Brad come home but Molly quickly dashed upstairs. She brought down the bag of 50 pennies she meant to give to Brad as a gift, thinking it could be useful.
As Jill leads the two outside, Ricky asks where they could buy a tree. Jill explains the boy scouts were selling some at school. As they arrive, Jill walks up to a scrawny-looking tree and says this was the tree they were going to buy. Molly was about to point out it's flaws but Ricky nudges her and points to the price tag, indicating it was the only tree they could afford. The trio use up all of their money to buy the tree and as they carry it home, Ricky comments at least it wasn't heavy. While the three looked scrawny, it still smelled of pine, reminding Molly of Christmas. Molly suggests they decorate the tree before Mom and Brad arrive as a surprise. Jill shook her head, saying "You and your surprises." But Molly could tell by Jill's increased pace that she was excited too. Molly grins as she thinks all the McIntires were good at surprises.
Once the tree was decorated, it didn't look so scrawny at all. Jill and Molly were admiring the tree before dinnertime and Molly asks if Jill was disappointed that it didn't look elegant. Jill says no as this tree needed all the ornaments and she admitted she didn't like her elegant idea very much. She explains she thought it would be better if things were different this year as when things were just like last year because it reminded her that Dad was gone. Everything would be the same except for one glaring difference: no Dad. Molly says she never thought of it that way as she admires the tree some more. Molly says this was the best Christmas tree they ever had and Jill points out she always said that every year. Molly says it was true this year, even Mom said so. Molly recalls how surprised Mom and Brad were when they saw the tree and Molly shivered with pleasure when she recalled Mom's pleased, proud face.
Molly comments she was starting to think that it was more fun making surprises rather than getting surprises and Jill agrees absentmindedly. Molly goes on and says it would still be great to get a surprise from Dad and Jill asks how Molly was so sure they were getting presents from Dad. Molly was silent for a moment, contemplating weather she should tell her thoughts out loud. Molly took a deep breath and tells Jill she had to keep thinking a package would come because if it didn't, she was afraid it would mean something bad happened to Dad. Jill assures Molly that if nothing comes, Dad could still be safe. He just might have been too busy to send anything. Molly felt relieved that Jill had the same worry. Molly goes on to say that she didn't care about the presents, she just wanted something to come from Dad so they would know he was safe. Jill says she was worried about exactly the same thing and she bets Mom and Ricky were too. Molly looks up to the tree and sees Brad's tin foil star. Molly makes a silent wish that Dad would be okay and the star seemed to really twinkle, as if to assure her. Molly wondered if Jill saw it too.
Chapter Three: Keeping Secrets
When Molly woke up, she knew something wonderful happened. Molly got out of bed and looked out the window to see the first snow of the winter. Not bothering to change, Molly grabbed her socks and shoes and ran into Jill's room. Molly shakes Jill, who was still asleep, and tells her it snowed. Jill only tells Molly to go away. Molly asks Jill if she wanted to go outside and play in the snow but Jill only snaps that she wanted sleep. Molly left the room, recalling how when it first snowed last year, Jill woke Molly up and was just as excited as her. Molly sighs as she thinks she should have expected this reaction. Since Jill turned 14, she didn't get excited over anything fun, she was "realistic".
Molly tiptoed to the kitchen as she put on her jacket and gloves. Then she goes outside and jumps into the snow, thinking the world was ready for Christmas now that the snow was here. She wonders how Dad was celebrating Christmas and wonders if the fighting would stop for a tiny bit on Christmas. Molly wishes that she was old enough to be a nurse so she could go to England and help her dad. Molly daydreams about being a nurse until she gets hit by a snowball. Ricky was throwing snow balls at Molly from his windowsill. Molly dodged Ricky's attacks until Jill appeared on the back steps and told Ricky to close his window before the house freezes. Ricky closed the window as Molly says she thought Jill wanted to sleep. Jill grins and says she figured since she was already awake, she might as well come out. The two then play in the snow together.
Molly admires Mom's wreath on the door when they pass by the door later on. She then notices a lump below the door. Molly runs up to the top step and calls Jill over to check it out. Molly brushed the snow off the box and reads an address from Dad. Molly is ecstatic and says they had to show the others the box. The two brush the snow off the box when Molly finds the words "KEEP HIDDEN UNTIL CHRISTMAS DAY!" written in dad's handwriting. Molly shows Jill the message and comments it was two days until Christmas. Jill frowns as she didn't know if they should hide it. Molly suggests they hide the box until they made up their minds. The two carry the box to the storage room above the garage. Once they put the box down, the two stare at it. Jill asks Molly what she thought was inside. Molly says that it was obviously filled with gifts and Jill specifies what did she think they got as gifts. She suggests they open the box to check if anything was broken but Molly tells her it wouldn't be fair as Dad wanted the box to be a surprise. Jill says that Dad didn't know just how much they've been waiting for this box. Molly smiles as she points out Jill said it was childish to hope for surprises. Jill admits she never really gave up hope, thus why she thought they should tell everyone about the box. They were also hoping for the box, and knowing it was here would make them happy. Molly reminds Jill about the message on the box and they would ruin Dad's surprise if they told everyone. Jill thinks a moment before deciding it should be kept a surprise. The two better hide the box in the storage room, covering it with a blanket. Jill admits she didn't want to leave the box, just in case this was all a dream and the box wasn't really there. Molly knew what she meant but says they had to go in for breakfast.
When the girls head back inside, Mom greets them and jokes that they've been up to the North Pole working on Santa's surprises for them. Molly blushes, the joke hitting a little too close to the strut, and stammers they were just outside. Mrs. McIntire asks how they got dirt on their jackets when it was snowing. Molly realizes the dirt on the jacket must have come from the blanket they used to hide the box. Molly remains quiet but Jill calmly says they were in the garage. Mom assumes they were looking for the sleds and she tells them they could sled after breakfast. She sends them upstairs to change and Jill drags Molly into her room. Molly breaths a sigh of relief, happy her Mom didn't see them with the box. Jill says they should tell Mom about the box as Dad probably meant for her to find it first and Molly admits it would be easier if she knew. Jill points out that Molly was bad at keeping secrets and the box was too big of a secret to keep away from Mom. Molly, unable to give in, explains that secrets are either kept completely or given all away. Since Dad wanted to surprise everyone, they had to keep it completely a secret. Jill agrees once more to not tell anyone about the box and asks how long they should hid the box. The two plan to put the box under the tree once everyone fell asleep on Christmas Eve. Jill grins as she says she now knew how Santa felt. Molly grins and says while it would be hard to keep the secret, it would be the best Christmas surprise of all.
Chapter Four: The Merry McIntires
Molly was jittery all Saturday. When someone headed to the garage, Molly would hover over them to make sure they didn't get close to the box. By the end of the day, Molly was exhausted and thinks how keeping a secret was hard work. The next day was Christmas Eve and fortunately for Molly, everyone stayed far away from the garage. Finally, it was time for everyone to go to church for the Christmas Eve service. As Molly changed into her Christmas dress, Molly felt relieved as the secret would be safe while everyone was all at church. Molly loved the Christmas service, admiring the church decorations and holding the white candle as they listened to the Christmas story. When the story reached the words "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men," Molly knew her family was thinking of Dad and hoping this Christmas would truly bring pace to men so he could come home. Molly thinks that maybe next Christmas Dad would be with them. Molly looks down the pew and notices her Mother was about to cry. Molly bit her lip and thinks maybe she should have told her about the box so she wouldn't be so sad. But after the service, Mrs. McIntire seemed happy as she wished everyone a Merry Christmas. Molly's family go back home to have their traditional Christmas dinner and story, then go off to bed.
Molly doesn't go off to sleep right away though. Instead, she watches her clock until it was midnight, the time she and Jill agreed to move to box to the tree. When the clock reaches 11:56, Molly decides to get up. Molly creeped slowly to her door, only to run into Jill. The two giggled until Jill signaled they shouldn't talk. The two creep down in the darkness and go out to the garage, not bothering to grab their jackets in order to keep quiet. When the girls carried the box back to the tree, they noticed more presents were under it and Molly comments Santa had been here. After the girls giggle some more, they head back to bed and wave goodnight to each other. Molly thinks "Mission accomplished" as she goes back to sleep.
The next thing Molly knew, Brad was yelling Mom's name following the family rule that no one could go down to the tree until everyone was ready. Brad banged everyone's door and when everyone gathered up, Mom let them go downstairs. When everyone reached the living room, the noise stopped as Brad asked what the big box was. Ricky takes a look and says it was from Dad. Mrs. McIntire grew white as she checked the box herself. When she sees it is from him, she asks how it could happen. Jill and Molly simply smile and their Mom laughs as she sits down. When asked why they didn't tell anyone about the box, they pointed out the message. Mrs. McIntire comments they were filled with surprises just like Dad and she hugs the two. They all open the box and find one present for each one of them. Brad's gift was a canteen and a soldiers hat, which Brad figured Santa must have asked Dad to get. Ricky gets a silk scarf that a real pilot would wear, Jill gets a new skating hat which she states that it's a lot better than Dolores' hat, and Mrs. McIntire gets new leather gloves. Molly gets a doll in a nurse's uniform and as she hugs her doll, she tells herself she'll think about how her dad chosen this doll for her while all the way in England. Molly wished her dad was here to see how happy his surprise made everyone.
Mrs. McIntire asks the time and Ricky says 7:03. She glances at a piece of paper in her hand as she turns on the radio to play Christmas songs. Everyone opened the rest of their gifts and Molly was happy to see not all of her gifts were practical. She got a snow globe from Jill and a homemade pine cone corsage from Brad. When all the gifts were open, everyone ate around the Christmas tree as they played with their gifts and listened to the radio. Then the newscaster on the radio broadcasts a USO Christmas Party in England, letting servicemen send messages to their families over the radio. The newscaster gets an eager soldier on the radio and asks his name. When a familiar voice introduced himself as Captain James McIntire, everyone looked at the radio. He wishes everyone in the family a Merry Christmas, saying he misses all of them, and he hopes their Christmas was full of happy surprises. Molly didn't hear what the rest of the soldiers said. All she could hear was her dad's voice echoing in her head. Molly thinks how what Dad said was true, there were always surprises at Christmas.
Looking Back: Christmas in 1944
Discusses the Christmas season during World War Two. Topics include:
- How some lucky soldiers were able to get home and where they fought.
- Why it was difficult for families to visit relatives during the war.
- Recipes that used little rationed ingredients and how families decorated their trees.
- What gifts children would have received for Christmas, and catalogs that still sold toys.
- How people enjoyed themselves on Christmas, such as singing Christmas carols.
Items associated with Molly's Surprise
- Molly's letter in Chapter 1.