Emilia and the Mustard of Christmas

“I want to do the mustard,” Renzo said.

“No,” Emilia said. “You can watch.”

Emilia was helping Nana make Christmas dinner. This dinner wasn’t a
turkey with stuffing. It was sandwiches — a whole table full! Emilia
was in the kitchen in the church basement, making a free Christmas
dinner for homeless people.

First Nana laid rows and rows of bread on the counter. Emilia put
two slices of turkey on each slice of bread. Nana put two slices of
cheese. Emilia squirted mustard. Nana squirted mayonnaise. And
Emilia put another slice of bread on top.

“Please can I do the mustard?” Renzo said.

“You’re only four,” Emilia said.

“You’re only seven!”

“Why don’t you go play with Mark?” Nana said. Renzo stomped away.

They put the sandwiches on a big platter. “I can carry it,” Emilia

“Okay,” Nana said. “Be careful.”

The sandwiches were heavy. Very heavy. Nana went out of the
kitchen, and Emilia followed her. The church hall was packed with
tables and wreaths and strangers.

“Hi, Emilia!” said Father Poppo. He was wide and loud, like Santa
Claus. “You sure you won’t drop that mountain of sandwiches?”

Emilia nodded. The sandwiches were so heavy she couldn’t talk.

She walked with Nana walked towards a table. Emilia imagined
dropping the sandwiches. Cheese and turkey would go
everywhere. Renzo would dance on the squishy pile and soak his
sneakers with mustard.

At the table, a woman sat alone. She stared at her hands. She
didn’t smile or frown. She was like a statue of ice.

Emilia tried to skip her, but Nana nodded at her. Emilia’s hands
started to shake. “Don’t worry, sweetie,” Nana whispered.

But Emilia knew she was about to drop those sandwiches. She ran
over and slammed the platter on the table.

The mountain of sandwiches collapsed.

Sandwiches slid like an avalanche. They tumbled onto the table. One
skittered right onto the woman’s lap. It left a bright trail of

Emilia wished she could turn into a sandwich herself, at the bottom
of the pile. She tried to say, “I’m sorry,” but she just squeaked.

But the woman started to laugh. “It’s okay, honey. I’m not going to
eat you. Just what’s left of this sandwich.”

Then Nana laughed. And Emilia laughed too, because otherwise she
would start crying.

Nana said, “I hope you like mustard.”

“I look good in mustard,” the woman said. “Everyone always tells

Emilia and Nana piled the sandwiches and took them to other
people. Some thanked Emilia. Others didn’t look up. But everyone
got something to eat.

When the platter was empty, they went to the kitchen to make
more. Renzo was waiting. “Nana, can I please, please do the

“Ask Emilia,” Nana said.


Emilia hesitated. Renzo actually waited, and didn’t ask again, so
she said, “Sure.”

“Hooray!” Renzo shouted. They laid out some bread, and Renzo
squeezed the mustard.

SQUIRT! Mustard went everywhere.

“Oh no! I made a mess!” He looked at Emilia to see if she was mad.

But she smiled. “It’s okay. I look good in mustard. And so does
everything else.”

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