Abigayle Price of Sanderson won the young student division of The Florida Times-Unions’ 32nd annual Holiday Short Story Contest for her tale of a working-class father who nearly misses a long-standing family tradition.
The 9-year-old fourth grader in Keller Intermediate School’s gifted program wrote “Family Traditions” after studying short stories in teacher Cathy Hooper’s class.
Ms. Hooper said her students reviewed stories like Edgar Allen Poe’s A Tell Tale Heart and An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, a story by Ambrose Bierce and inspired by Poe’s most famous work.
Students then crafted their own stories.
Ms. Price’s short story is fictional, but she said it includes characters named after real people in her life, including her bus driver.
The plot centers on a father, Jerry, who at the last minute is forced to work the midnight shift on Christmas Eve. That threatens to derail his participation in a yearly trip to his in-laws to celebrate Christmas with his wife and children.
The Times-Union asked that stories entered in the contest be a maximum of 1000 words and set on December 24 in a train station, bus depot or airport. And it just so happens that Ms. Price’s grandfather, Alan Chinn, retired two years ago from CSX.
“He gave her some pointers and some good advice,” her grandmother Blanche Chinn, said.
Ms. Price’s prize for winning the young student division was $50, which will benefit her horse Magic.
“He needs to get his feet done,” she said.
Her favorite book is Misty of Chincoteague written by Marguerite Henry. It’s a story about a family who raises a wild horse named Misty.
Ms. Price has only written a handful of stories in school, but she reads aloud nightly and discusses the books with her family.
The following is her winning story:
“Just another day,” thought Jerry, as he prepared his cart for work. Jerry worked the evening shift as a janitor at Union Train Station in Washington D.C. It was Christmas Eve and everyone was in a hurry. Jerry took his time, pushing his cart to his first stop of the day. He rounded the corner. There stood his boss Robert with a sly smirk on his face.
“Well, Jerry, looks like we need you to stay for the midnight shift because Lenny called in sick,” Robert said. Jerry replied, “It’s not fair. My wife and I were planning to take the kids to her parent’s house for Christmas morning to open presents. It’s a tradition. If I have to stay, it will be impossible for our family to go.” “Jerry, I’m sorry to spoil your tradition, but I need you to work. It’s either work or quit. So, what is your choice?” Replied Robert. Jerry didn’t dare say what he was thinking. He looked at his boss with a smile and said, “sure boss, I’ll be glad to stay.” Jerry didn’t know how he was going to tell his wife and children because they would be heartbroken. Traditions were important to his family.
Jerry’s day went by fast. He cleaned all the stations assigned to him and it was 7 pm before he got his first break. He went into the break room and sat down to call his wife with the bad news. As the telephone rang, Jerry still did not know what to say. His wife answered, and Jerry said, “Hi babe. I’ve got good news and bad news. What do you want to hear first?” Denise replied, “Well, I guess I want the good news first.” Jerry then said, “I get to make some extra money, but the bad news is that I have to stay at work all night because Lenny is sick.” “Oh no!” said Denise. “What about my parent’s house? The children will be upset and I really wanted to go this year because my parents are not in the best of health.” Jerry replied, “Well, the boss told me that I had to work or I wouldn’t have a job tomorrow. I really need this job and I hate to be unemployed on Christmas Day.”
The line was silent for a moment and then Denise said, “Traditions are important, but you need a job. I love you but it breaks my heart not to be with my parents on Christmas Day. Is there some way we can see my parents tomorrow?” Jerry thought long and hard before replying, “I don’t know how we can. I get off at 7 am and have to be back at 3 pm. I’ll be too tired to drive you and the children to your parent’s house and get back to work on time for my shift and still find time to sleep. Denise said nothing but “Goodbye!” as she slammed the phone down.
Jerry thought, “that’s a fine way to end a conversation with your wife on Christmas Eve.” Jerry tried to call his wife back, but all he got was a busy signal. He looked up at the clock and saw it was time for him to go back to work. He gathered up his cart and supplies and shuffled out of the break room. “Now what do I do,” he thought. “I guess I just trust that if God wants us together he will make it happen. Jerry wasn’t happy about the situation, but knew that he had no other option other than working through the night.
At 11 pm, he went back to the supply room and got what he needed for his next shift. He knew that the night would go by fast because of all the work he needed to get done. The later that it got, the more depressed Jerry became. He felt that he had let his family down. What was he to do? He needed his job but he also believed in traditions. Spending Christmas morning with his wife, children and her parents went back 30 years since he first met Denise in middle school and it was an important tradition.
At 6:30 am, as he was thinking about leaving early, he heard his name being paged over the speakers in the station. “Jerry Sanders, please report to the Amtrak desk on the upper level.” “That’s odd,” he thought. I have my own radio and if they need me, they should just call me on my own radio. Again he heard “Jerry Sanders, please report to the Amtrak desk on the upper level.”
Jerry called on his radio and asked if he was the one the Amtrak desk needed? All he heard was a yes and then nothing but static. “This is just great,” thought Jerry. Right at quitting time they expect me to clean up a mess. He knew that it was the right thing to do so he pushed his cart up the ramp to the upper level.
As he approached the Amtrak desk he couldn’t believe his eyes. There around a beautiful Christmas tree sat his children, his wife and her parents. How could this be possible? Am I dreaming? His wife stood up and said, “Merry Christmas, darling! Being together on Christmas morning and celebrating the birth of Jesus with our children and my parents, means so much that we decided to join you here at work. We brought our traditions to you. Please join us around the tree.”
As Jerry joined his family, a group of carolers gathered around and began signing “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.” Jerry looked over the group that had gathered, he thought, “I guess that trusting in God really does work and if traditions are meant to be continued then God will make it happen.” Merry Christmas to All!