Aunt Sophie's big heart

Susan Manzke

I thought I’d send you a special family story fit for retelling during the Christmas season. It took place in the 1950s, or so I’ve been told. It’s about my father’s oldest sister, my Aunt Sophie, a person with a big heart.

During the Depression, money went for food and bills, not for frivolous extras. That included Christmas when gifts were necessities like socks and underwear. Sophie knew this, but she managed to surprise her little brother (my dad) with six tin soldiers in his stocking one Christmas morning. Dad never forgot that special gift.

Merry Christmas from Bob and Susan Manzke and all the grandkids.

When Aunt Sophie married, she moved with her husband far out into the country, away from her family. The man she married was strict and cared little about showing feelings of love toward their children, but Sophie was still as kindhearted as ever and tried her best to make up for his cold heart.

To make ends meet, Sophie continued to work for a rich family in a city 15 miles away from her home and children. She would catch a bus on the highway after walking a mile down a dirt road. Her children were old enough to take care of each other, so they were often left home alone.

One Christmas Eve, Sophie had to go to the city to work as she did each day, but she didn’t mind because it was payday and there would be enough money this year for presents under their tree.

She kissed her children good-bye and started out in the cold winter day to walk to the bus.

The day passed for the children. They had chickens to feed and chores to do, and a little baby brother to watch over—beats me where their father was.

The sun went down and their mother didn’t come home. Peanut butter and jelly went on bread and the children ate alone.

Susan Manzke's Aunt Sophie (left) poses with her sister, Bea, in this old family photograph.

 A cold darkness crept over the countryside and still no Sophie. The baby slept peacefully on a living room chair as his older sister watched out the window for their mother—she was sure something was wrong. Their mother never came home this late from work.

Carefully, she covered her brother with a blanket and returned to the window to worry and wait. The stars were so bright she could see almost as if it were daylight, but the cold outside grew sharper and lower than it had all season long—would her mother be warm enough in her cloth coat?

About the same time Santa Claus was scheduled to arrive for the rich children in the city, the girl saw a dark figure walking slowly down the road. It was her mother. Sophie was home at last.

Bob and Susan Manzke

She worked longer than planned. After taking care of the rich family and all their holiday needs Sophie had rushed to the only department store open. There she used her pay for Christmas gifts for her five children.

Even though Sophie had hurried, she had missed the last bus home. There was no one to call. No phone at home, anyway. What else could she do? She began the 15-mile walk home where her daughter waited faithfully at the window.

Throughout her life, Sophie’s kindness was felt by all who met her. I was lucky to call her Aunt. Years ago, I wrote about this special woman and then to honor my aunt, I adapted this story for my novel, Chicken Charlie’s Year and in my other novel, Barley Soup and Slug Spit, the grandfather remembers the first gifts given to him at Christmas. They were toy soldiers given by his big sister Sophie.

May the new year bring you family stories worth saving and sharing.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;