I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that I have another one as my entire life has yet to be anything even close to normal.
When my kids were little I tried to make a point of going to the library once a week. It took a chunk of time out of my schedule that should have been spent doing laundry and whatever other endless things moms with full time jobs have to do (at least moms with husbands who didn't help around the house). And even if we didn't read all the books we checked out, we still went back and got new ones. Actually I'm like that now; I'm in the process of reading a Nevada Barr (titled 13 1/2, and it's riveting!), and I have a Kate Wilhelm, and a Michelle Spring waiting in the wings.
Anyway, Christmas was quickly approaching when I stumbled onto Hans Christian Anderson's 'The Little Match Girl'.
What drew me to this book was the unbelievably rich illustrations, and I am a sucker for illustrations. As a child I'd pour over every detail of every picture in my books, and if there was just one imperfection, by God just one, I'd be furious. But this book? The Little Match Girl? Every page was heavy with detail. The colors in this book were beyond vivid and I swear the pages pulsed with life. But what really hooked me was this; The Little Match Girl looked a lot like my Baby Girl. Beautiful long blond Barbie Doll like hair cascaded down The Little Match Girl's back, very much like my daughter's did.
I had to have this book.
Unfortunately I didn't remember the plot of this particular story.
Once we were home I got the girls settled, one on each side of me, and I started reading.
The story took place in England and The Little Match Girl was poor. She lived with her mother, her siblings, and her miserable, rotten, ignorant excuse of a human being, stepfather. Stepfather sent The Little Match Girl out on Christmas Eve to sell matches, and she was told not to return until every match had been sold. The Little Match Girl didn't have a pair of shoes so she had to go out in cold slushy weather wearing her stepfather's slippers. She hadn't gotten very far when some hooligans chased her and she promptly lost a slipper. Slogging along with a bare foot was very difficult but she couldn't go home until all the matches were sold.
The day wore on and finally The Little Match Girl who hadn't made a cent, realized that if she went home with no money, her stepfather would beat her. She found shelter in a recessed store front and huddling deep into a corner she tried to stay warm.
It was right about this time that I started to wonder just where this story was going. But both of my girls were leaning into me and gazing intently at the book so I kept on reading.
The Little Match Girl was so cold that in order to try to stay warm, she, out of desperation, started lighting the matches she hadn't been able to sell earlier. Each time a match was lit a beautiful scene opened in front of us.
There were Christmas trees with limbs groaning under the weight of gorgeous ornaments, and elaborately wrapped gifts were just begging to be opened. Another match was lit and we were treated to a drawing room full of plump, overstuffed furniture basking in the glow of a roaring fireplace. Another match illuminated a dining room table surrounded by a happy smiling family, and a table so full of food it should have collapsed.
The Little Match Girl was nearly frozen and she had only one match left. The streets were dark as everyone had gone home to their families, and left all alone, she finally lit it. Now appearing in front of us was The Little Match Girl, and her hair fell down her back and over the ruffles of her holiday dress in glorious blond curls. She was reaching her arms out to a gray haired woman who was in turn reaching out to The Little Match Girl. The story went on to explain that the only person in the world who had ever truly loved The Little Match Girl was her grandmother, who had unfortunately died a few years earlier.
I may have been puzzled about where this story was going before, but let me tell you I knew right then and there exactly where it was going now.
But I couldn't stop.
The grandmother was smiling and happy, and inviting The Little Match Girl to come with her. The Little Match Girl, in her pretty dress and clean hair couldn't wait to go with her grandmother, and the final picture is of them happily hugging each other.
At this point I was openly sobbing and I had to put the book down. Tears were running down my face and I couldn't get the image of that adorably sweet and innocent little girl in her filthy tattered clothes and one slipper, huddled in that dirty alcove with her pathetic matches, out of my mind. For God's sake! Who the hell writes this crap, I wondered.
I had to close my eyes and take some deep breaths to calm down. I didn't feel any motion beside me but when I opened my eyes Baby Girl had leaned even closer and was almost in my face. She was absolutely giddy with delight, she'd never seen her mother quite this worked up, and she was enjoying every minute of it.
On Christmas Day, The Little Match Girl is found frozen to death in the dirty store front with a smile on her face, and she's surrounded by a pile of burned up matches.
To this day I can not tell this story without getting choked up and even as I wrote this I found myself in tears.
You know what? I'll take Dr. Seuss's Grinch over old Hans Christian Anderson any day because even though The Grinch steals the last can of Who hash and doesn't even leave a crumb for the Who mice, at least he can't make me cry!
And on that note, I do wish everyone a very merry holiday, whether you celebrate it or not!