Title: Molly Book #3 – Molly’s Surprise A Christmas Story
Author: Valerie Tripp
Illustrator: Nick Backes
Summary: Molly and her family face a disappointing Christmas. Dad is off at war in England, Molly’s grandparents can’t come for the holidays, and it looks like there won’t be many exciting presents. Worst of all, the family hasn’t heard from Dad for a long time, and they’re worried. But Molly decides they should make their own merry Christmas – a Christmas filled with the kind of unexpected surprises that Dad would make. Thanks to Molly, the best surprise of all is waiting for the McIntires on Christmas morning.
Yeah, I know it’s May, but I have a good reason why I’m recapping the holiday book now instead of saving it for December. The main Molly books are all part of a progressive timeline, and if I skipped this one for the holiday season it would just muck up the other recaps.
Regardless, this is my favorite in the main series because I love holiday stories and I love tales taking place in the 1940s, so this is a win-win for me. And after last month I could use some perking up.
Our tale begins with a letter Molly’s writing for her father, Dr. McIntire, but her sister Jill’s got a problem with what Molly has to say.
Merry Christmas! How are you? I am fine except I wish you could somehow be magically home for Christmas. Do you have a Christmas tree in the hospital? I hope so. Gram and Granpa are bringing our Christmas tree tomorrow. I hope it’s a big one! Right now, Mom is making a wreath for the front door and Ricky and Brad are listening to the radio. Jill is knitting. I hope you got the presents we sent you. We haven’t gotten any presents from you yet. Probably they will come soon. XOXOXOX
Jill doesn’t believe Molly should say anything about how they haven’t received any gifts from their dad, because there’s a chance he either COULDN’T send gifts, or he DID and they haven’t arrived yet or got lost. Either way, it would just sadden their father and he wouldn’t be able to do anything about. Molly is sure their father has sent them gifts, or he’s going to, because their father would never forget to send gifts. Jill turns to their mom for support. Mrs. McIntire feels Molly has the right to put what she wants in her letter. Jill takes this response like an adult and goes back to her knitting.
Baby brother Brad wonders if maybe the plane carrying their gifts got shot down into the ocean by the Germans. Ricky believes it’s a possibility, since all his info on fighter planes has taught him German aircrafts will shoot anything and everything they can out of the sky. Brad is briefly worried the Germans will try to shoot Santa’s sleigh, but Mrs. McIntire promises Santa will be safe and sound. Brad’s still hoping to get a real soldier’s hat and canteen for Christmas.
As Mrs. McIntire asks Brad to help her put up the newly decorated Christmas wreath on the front door, this gives Jill a chance to talk about her worries regarding Brad and Christmas. Since Jill’s been trying to act like an adult (even though she’s only 14) since their dad was shipped overseas, she’s been looking at things very realistically. Aside from how different things are without their father home for Christmas, plus the lack of gifts from him (which Molly insists are coming), Jill imagines Brad’s gonna be very upset when he only gets socks and undies from Santa. You know, necessary items, but boring ones at that. He’s still a little kid so he may not take it well. In regards to the other McIntire kids, the rest of them are old enough not to get upset or disappointed. Then there’s whether or not Brad will understand why he can’t have the things he wants. Molly asks why he can’t have them; Ricky explains real soldiers will need them to make it through the war.
Plus, Mrs. McIntire wouldn’t be spending her money to buy unnecessary things for Christmas since they have to save due to the war. It wouldn’t be patriotic. Jill expects whatever gifts they receive will either be practical, handmade, or hand-me-downs. Jill’s content enough she doesn’t actually want anything for Christmas, but Molly points out Jill’s been hoping for a new skating hat (she’s even knitting one for her friend Dolores). Jill’s content with saving her money and buying one herself. She thinks it’s childish to expect surprises this Christmastime, even as Molly reminds her how their father always said there’d always be surprises at Christmas. Jill adds there wasn’t a war going on during THOSE Christmases.
Molly, feeling rather depressed from all this talk about “realistic this and that,” decides to head up to bed. Taking her letter with her, Molly goes into her room and sits on the window seat, checking out the black, starless night sky and reviewing what Jill said. Logically, Molly knows Jill’s right about a lot of things and knows they’ll be having a simple Christmas. She doesn’t have a problem expecting practical presents instead of flashy ones, but it hasn’t stopped her from secretly hoping for the thing she’d really like. A doll, the type of doll she could take with her and have adventures with. She’d expect chiding from Jill if she mentioned it out loud, and realistically the chances were slim, yet part of Molly wishes it would be so. That same part of her hopes that magic, that Christmas magic, will bring something from her father as well.
The holiday season is Dr. McIntire’s favorite time of year, and he always got in the spirit of things the very first day after Thanksgiving. He’d start off by singing Christmas carols and he’d mix up the words for fun. He always had funny, interesting things to give the family and you’d never know what to expect. One year he made everyone their own kites, and once he gave everyone yo-yos. Looking at her letter, Molly considers crossing out the part about presents because she doesn’t want to make her dad feel unhappy, stuck in a place that, realistically, was full of fighting.
Mrs. McIntire knocks on Molly’s door and asks if she can come in, unless Molly’s wrapping gifts. Molly assures her mom she wrapped and hid all her gifts a while ago. Like father, like daughter, Mrs. McIntire notes. Molly asks her mom if it’s not right to keep hoping there’ll be gifts from dad. Mrs. McIntire asks if Molly’s given up on her dad. Molly’s not sure what to say, explaining she wants to hope since there’s still a few days before Christmas, but mentions everything Jill said about being realistic and expecting things to be different because of the war. Mrs. McIntire sits down and has a gentle, but honest, discussion with Molly.
“This Christmas will be different, Molly. Jill is right. We do have to be realistic about some things. We can’t pretend there’s no war. We can’t pretend Dad is home. We can’t ignore what’s real.”
“But I wan Christmas to be special,” said Molly. “I want Christmas to be full of surprises the way it is when Dad is home.”
“So do I,” said her mother. “And this Christmas can be special, but it will be up to us to make it special. If Dad can’t be here to make our surprises for us, we’ll just have to make them ourselves.” She grinned at Molly. “I think everyone in the McIntire family is pretty good at making surprises. I know I have a few surprises up my sleeve, and I bet you do, too.” She leaned over and gave Molly a quick kiss on the forehead. “But it’s never wrong to keep hoping for good things to happen, Molly, especially at Christmas time. That’s what Christmas is about – hope.”
As Molly’s mother wishes her a good night (and reminds her to brush her teeth before going to bed), Molly wished to herself that her dad’s gifts will come and that there’ll be lots of surprises this Christmas.
The next morning, Molly awoke to the delicious aroma of cinnamon buns wafting from the kitchen, and figured this was one of her mom’s surprises. As Molly got dressed, she thought to herself today would be the perfect day to have an unusual adventure. If she had a doll, that is. Heading downstairs and hoping her brother didn’t hog all the cinnamon buns, Molly’s told Ricky is making space in the living room to put up the Christmas tree. Ricky asks his sister to eat quickly so she can help bring up decorations from the basement.
Molly hurried downstairs to open the closet containing all the ornaments and decorations. Every year, Christmas didn’t really begin in the McIntire house until her father opened the closet and declared “Ho, ho, ho! What do we have here?”
The closet was full of Christmas. It smelled of dried pine needles, mothballs, crushed peppermint candy canes, and bayberry-scented candles. Bags overflowed with curlicued ribbons, paper chains, rolls of wrapping paper, and shiny strands of tinsel. Boxes of Christmas tree ornaments were piled in shaky stacks. They were waiting to be carried upstairs and dusted off, so they could shine in the light and work their Christmas magic again. Molly was glad to see them.
As Molly scooped up boxes in her arms, Ricky pulled out the tangled up tree lights and announced he’d be taking care of them this year. Molly was wary, since their dad was always the one who worked on the lights, and asked if Ricky could handle it. Ricky assures her he’s up to the task.
As Molly and Ricky brought the boxes into the living room, Brad eagerly wanted to find his stocking. While searching in the boxes, Brad found the tinfoil star he’d made last year. Jill asks if it was necessary to bring up ALL the decoration boxes and wonders if they could decorate the tree in a simpler style. Jill proposes they only use store-bought glass balls instead of the junky stuff like the homemade ones or the messy paper ones. In fact, Jill suggests they decorate the tree in red and blue to make it patriotic. Molly doesn’t think that would work since they don’t have too many red and blue balls, but Jill feels they don’t need a lot. She wants it to be classy. You know.
Molly declares she doesn’t want “Elegant,” to which Jill cuts her off saying she knows Molly wants the tree to look the same as it does every Christmas even though it’s not possible. Ricky turns to their mom to act as mediator, and Mrs. McIntire thinks they can split the difference. Taking a nod from a recent magazine cover, Mrs. McIntire proposes they keep the old decorations but put an American flag at the top. Brad doesn’t mind, but Jill’s all passive aggressive and answers “It was just a suggestion, but whevs.”
That settled, the family returns to finishing breakfast before they carry on with the rest of the day. Mrs. McIntire’s taking Brad to do some shopping downtown and they’ll be having lunch there as well. Brad’s eagerly bringing all the pennies he saved up for Christmas shopping while Mrs. McIntire mentions they’ll be back before the grandparents arrive with the tree.
A few minutes after Mrs. McIntire and Brad left, there was a call from Gram. As it turns out, they can’t make it after all because their car has a flat tire. Their spare tire’s too worn out to use, and they’ll have to wait until AFTER the weekend to get the tire fixed. So, looks like no Dad, no Gram, no Granpa, and no tree. Merry fucking Christmas. Ricky figures they didn’t need a tree anyway, since they don’t have any presents from their dad to put under it. Molly adds they’ve got presents from each other to put under it, but Ricky thinks this Christmas is ruined already. Molly decides to follow her mom’s advice about making their own surprises, leading to Jill suggesting they buy their own tree. In fact, Jill’s offering to use the money she’s saved for her new hat! Jill believes this is more important. Molly then runs upstairs and gets out her present for Brad, a bag of fifty pennies, believing they might need it for the tree.
The siblings get dressed and head to the school, where the Boy Scouts are selling Christmas trees in the playground. Sadly, the only tree they can afford is a tall, skinny one with a lot of gaps between the branches. Still, it’s better than nothing, and Ricky adds twenty-five cents to the money pool. As the three brought the tree home (which was thankfully easy because it was so skinny), Molly suggested decorating the tree before their mom and Brad returned as a way to surprise them. Molly can tell even Jill’s getting into the spirit of things, and Molly’s feeling good they were able to make this happen all by themselves.
The tree didn’t look so scrawny now that it was decorated, but Molly asked if Jill was okay with it not being as elegant as she wanted. Jill feels the tree needed all the ornaments, and admits she didn’t really like the idea of using only red and blue balls. She admits she originally didn’t want the tree to look the same as it always does because she didn’t want to be reminded of how their dad’s not here.
“Everything is the same except for one big, horrible difference – Dad isn’t here.”
Molly apologizes to her sister, admitting she hadn’t considered this. However, looking at the decorated tree, Molly believes it’s the most beautiful Christmas tree they’ve ever had. Jill smiles as she points out Molly says that every year, but Molly believes this year it’s true and their mom feels the same way. The sisters are pleased, remembering when mom and Brad came home and how ecstatic Mrs. McIntire was when she saw the tree. Molly had never seen her mother look so pleasantly surprised before.
Molly mentions their mom was right about making their own surprises, but is still hoping to receive something from their dad. Jill finally asks why her sister’s so convinced they’re getting presents from their father. Molly…
“Oh, Jill,” Molly said, “I have to keep thinking a package will come because if it doesn’t I’m scared it means…” She stopped.
Jill rolled onto her side and propped her head on her hand. “If nothing comes, it means Dad may be hurt or sick or lost. It means maybe he couldn’t send any presents.”
“It’s not really the presents I care about,” said Molly. “I just hope a box or something – even a card or a letter – will come so we’ll know Dad is okay.”
Molly feels small relief to know Jill was worried about the same thing, and Jill adds she figures their mom and Ricky have worried about the same thing. Looking at Brad’s tinfoil star, Molly wishes for her father to be okay, and wonders if Jill saw the star twinkle, as if it was reassuring her, as well.
The following morning, Molly awakens to a beautiful surprise. Snow. Glorious, pristine snow. Molly excitedly tries to wake up Jill so they can have fun outside, but Jill would rather sleep in and tells Molly to leave her alone. Molly’s shocked, remembering how Jill was the one to wake HER up last year when it snowed and all the fun they had that day. Molly realizes she should’ve figured Jill wouldn’t be into that now that she’s 14 and is so REALISTIC.
Still, Molly’s gonna have fun even if it’s by herself, and quietly tiptoes downstairs to enjoy the winter wonderland. She wonders if it’s snowing in England where her dad should be, and maybe the fighting might temporarily stop for Christmas. There might even be a party at the hospital. Molly wishes she were old enough to be a Red Cross nurse so she could be helping her dad and making a difference as “Nurse McIntire” when a snowball from Ricky shakes her out of her fantasies. Molly looks up and sees her brother made a bunch of snowballs around his windowsill, and begins to pelt them at Molly like he’s a fighter pilot. As Molly playfully dodges her brother’s barrage, Jill emerges on the back steps dressed for action.
But wait, what’s that?
Molly notices an odd shape on the front porch, underneath the wreath on the door. It’s a package, and it’s addressed from CAPT. J. MCINTIRE!
Molly feels the happiest she’s ever felt in a long time as she and her sister dig the package out of the snow, until she notices something written on the package besides the address.
KEEP HIDDEN UNTIL CHRISTMAS DAY
Molly shows Jill the instructions, but Jill’s not sure if they should indeed hide the box. It’s proof their dad is okay, so she wants to tell everyone. Molly wants to tell everyone too, but thinks they should put the package somewhere in the meantime. The girls decide to bring the box into the storage room above the garage, but have to be sneaky and make sure Ricky doesn’t see them from his bedroom. The box is super heavy though, so Jill’s kind of intrigued by what’s inside and suggests they peek. Molly vehemently tells Jill they can’t because it won’t be fair to their dad since he wants it to stay a surprise. Jill reveals she was hoping this box would come as well, after all that waiting and worrying about whether or not something would come. Jill thinks they should tell everyone now since they’re hoping too, but Molly believes it would be better to wait because she doesn’t want to ruin the surprise. Jill concedes to Molly’s idea and agrees to keep the box hidden until Christmas Day. As the girls head back inside, Molly gets to say “I told you so.”
Mrs. McIntire sees the girls coming into the kitchen and jokes about them looking like elves. She asks if they were working on surprises at the North Pole, and Molly almost shits herself but tries to play it cool. Their mom asks how they got dirt on their jackets, but figures they were looking for the sleds in the garage and says they should eat breakfast first. Heading upstairs to change into dry clothes, the girls are relieved they didn’t blow their cover but wonder if they should tell Mrs. McIntire anything. They’re worried about lying to her, and Jill adds Molly was acting like they robbed a bank downstairs. Molly reasons everyone keeps secrets at Christmas and believes they shouldn’t tell their mom, otherwise they should tell everyone. The surprise would be ruined if it was just one or everyone. Molly phrases it as a way to help their dad. Molly reassures Jill they only have to keep the box hidden Christmas Eve night, and then they can sneak the box under the tree. Molly makes Jill promise she won’t tell everyone. Molly thinks this’ll be worth it because of what a great Christmas surprise it will be.
Keeping the box guarded is almost torture for the girls, and Molly is especially vigilant, too vigilant, in making sure no finds the box in the storage room. This includes hovering over Ricky while he tries to get a shovel out for the snow.
Thankfully, when Christmas Eve comes everybody’s too busy to go near the garage so Molly was able to relax. That evening the family’s going to Christmas Eve mass, which Molly loved attending because of how beautiful the church and its nativity scene were. While everyone listened to the Christmas story, Molly was sure her family’s thoughts were on Dad and their hopes for true peace on Earth to end the war. Molly hopes her dad will be with her next Christmas, remembering how he would sing “Silent Night,” and for a moment sees a tear in the corner of her mom’s eye. Molly starts to think she should’ve told Mrs. McIntire after all because of how sad she seems, but on the way home Mrs. McIntire appeared happier as the neighbors called out “Merry Christmas.”
Their traditional Christmas Eve dinner consisted of scrambled eggs, cinnamon toast, bacon, and hot chocolate. Ooh, breakfast for dinner I like this tradition. After everyone hung their stockings Mom read “Twas The Night Before Christmas” like Mr. McIntire would usually do. Everyone knew the poem by heart and joined their mom as she read “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!” That was the cue for the McIntires to head to bed.
Molly’s super anxious as she saw her clock inching towards midnight, and tiptoed out of bed towards the hall when she bumped into Jill. The two silently headed downstairs, thinking how scary and exciting it was as they brought the box with their father’s gifts into the house. When they saw there were already some presents under the tree, Molly commented on Santa Claus’s arrival and the two have a small giggling fit. Gently placing the package alongside the other gifts, the sisters proudly returned to their rooms.
Christmas morning started off with Brad eagerly screaming for his mom to wake up. As a rule, no one was allowed to go near the tree until everyone was up and about. Once the kids and their mom are up they stampede down the stairs to the Christmas tree. Brad, Ricky, and Mrs. McIntire are pleasantly shocked and astounded by the package from Mr. McIntire. The conspiratorial grins shared between Molly and Jill gives their involvement away. They explain to their mom their dad wrote to keep the box hidden. Mrs. McIntire beams thinking the two are just like their dad; Molly could feel her mom trembling as she hugged her.
Once the box is opened, five individually wrapped gifts are removed.
- Brad: A canteen and soldier’s hat, which he believes are from his dad AND Santa
- Ricky: A scarf made from a genuine parachute, like real pilots wore.
- Jill: A heather-colored skating hat, nicer than the one she made for Dolores.
- Mom: Smooth leathery gloves containing a hidden note inside.
- Molly: A doll dressed in a Red Cross nurse’s outfit, exactly as Molly imagined herself once wearing.
Even when her father’s on another continent, he was capable of making Molly feel like the happiest girl in the world.
Realizing what time it was, Mrs. McIntire suggested turning on the radio so they could listen to Christmas music while they opened their other gifts. As expected, a lot of the gifts were practical, but there were also a couple of fancy ones. And hey, there’s one more surprise.
Then a scratchy voice on the radio said, “Merry Christmas! We’re broadcasting from the USO Christmas party in England, and we have some servicemen here with messages for the folks back home. Here’s an eager fellow. What’s your name, Captain?”
“I’m Captain James McIntire,” said a familiar voice. They all stopped still and looked at the radio. “I’d like to say Merry Christmas to all the merry McIntires – Jill, Ricky, Molly, Brad, and my wife, Helen.”
Molly held her doll very tight.
“I miss you all so very much. And I hope you have a wonderful Christmas full of happy surprises.”
Leave it to Dad to have plenty of surprises in store for Christmas.
I don’t think I’m ever going to get over what good parents Mr. and Mrs. McIntire are and the lengths they go through for their kids.
I appreciate the amount of honesty shown in Molly, that what was really bothering her wasn’t the gift, but the gift being a symbol of whether or not her dad is okay. Molly wanted things to be the same to help her believe her dad’s gonna be alright, while for Jill things being the same only reminded her their dad’s not here. I’m really glad they talked about it though. Christmas stories always have this tendency to get so goddamn depressing before the ending it’s hard for me to sit through them, so I’m glad this story avoided going in that direction.