The year was 1959. When the orphanage in Omaha closed it's doors that Spring, the last few remaining children who no one had stepped forward to adopt, had been sent to whatever foster homes could be found.
For Julie, now eleven, the orphanage was the only home she had ever known. Her mother had died in childbirth and her father, too grief-stricken and overwhelmed to care for her, had dropped her off at the orphanage in the first week of her life. No one ever saw him again.
Typically, girls were quick to be adopted out to homes where they could help with household duties and caring for small children, but Julie had been born with a curved spine and walked slightly bent over. Her back wasn't strong enough to carry chubby toddlers or heavy baskets of wet laundry. Time and again she had been passed over as child after child went to new homes. She had gotten used to it, but it always hurt. She was certain no one would ever want her.
It fell to the old preacher and his wife to take Julie in when the orphanage finally closed. They were kindly people but Julie understood that her time with them was only temporary, they were well past their child-raising years and received barely enough money from the parish to feed and clothe themselves, much less a young, rapidly growing girl. Everyone in the church knew they were looking for a couple to take Julie on permanently, but times were hard and families were already large and struggling.
As Christmas approached that year, Julie missed the fun and excitement of Christmas preparations at the orphanage in years past. There had always been a big tree lit with real candles on Christmas Eve, gifts sent by people from far away who didn't even know them, extra helpings of dinner, and plum pudding for dessert! A favorite tradition had been each child carefully saving a wishbone to tie in the tree branches with red ribbon as they silently made a wish for something wonderful.
Though she knew that she wasn't likely to get any gifts or special treats this year, Julie still had tucked away a wishbone and hung it from the fireplace mantle with a scrap of ribbon she had saved from last year. She was thankful for the kind way she was treated, some of the kids from the orphanage had ended up being adopted into situations that were far worse, but she longed for a forever family of her own.
The little church was overflowing on Christmas Eve; families had gathered from near and far, and there were many unfamiliar faces in the pews. As the service drew to a close and the refrains of Joy to the World faded, the children gathered in the back to receive sacks that held an orange and an apple, a handful of nuts and a few pieces of Christmas candy. Eyes sparkled with excitement as the treats were passed out.
Just as she was preparing to head back to the small house next to the church where Julie stayed with the pastor and his wife, another couple approached her. Julie knew them as Mr. and Mrs. Johannson that lived not too far down the road, and who often stopped by with a jar of jelly or a freshly plucked chicken for the pastor's family.
Mrs. Johannson introduced the young couple with them as their daughter Emma and Emma's husband Lars. Mrs. Johannson told Julie that Emma and Lars weren't able to have children of their own, and they had heard that Julie was in need of a home. They asked if she wanted to join them at the Johannson's for Christmas dinner tomorrow to see how they all got on and if Julie thought she might like to become their daughter.
Julie couldn't believe her ears. An offer of a forever home and a family, could it be possible? She had to pinch herself to make sure she wasn't dreaming. "Sssure," she stammered, so excited she could barely get the words out. "I would like that very much!"
"Well come by about noon tomorrow then, and bring the pastor and his wife too, we'll have plenty of food to share," said Mrs. Johannson. Emma and Lars were smiling so big that Julie felt warm all the way down to her toes.
Julie turned to run back to the church to tell the pastor and his wife about this wonderful turn of events, but found them standing just a few feet away, smiling just as broadly as the Johannson family. Apparently they already knew all about the offer! She went to bed that night with dreams of a family dancing in her head, and she woke early on Christmas morning to begin what was to be a wonderful new life.
When packing her few belongings to move to Wisconsin with Lars and Emma, Julie carefully wrapped the wishbone in a length of fabric and placed it gently in her bag. She would keep it always, and hang it in a place of honor on the Christmas tree each year to remind herself that wishes and prayers really can come true.
This post is linked up at Two Shoes Tuesday
where the prompt this week is "wish".