Christmas that almost never was.

 

As Grandpa and I were out back, getting ready to haul in some birch firewood, I can remember the air was crisp and cold; the smell of smoke coming from the chimney filled the air. I then asked my grandpa, “Grandpa, do you have any Christmas stories you can tell me from when you were a little boy?” My grandpa stopped loading my arms with wood. He just looked at me for a second or two, and then said, “My girl, your grandma has got a really good story to tell all of us from when she was a little girl.”

My little sister was in the house with Grandma, just chatting up a storm. As Grandpa and I were coming into the house with the firewood and heading to the wood box, both Grandma and my sister watched us bring in the wood into the living room. My sister jumped up from the floor to run over to the wood box and open the cover for us. After we emptied our arms of the firewood, I turned towards Grandma. I asked, “Grandma, what was it like at Christmas time for you when you were a little girl?” A slight smile came across my Grandma’s face; she had half a cup of coffee in her hand. Grandma sat back in her rocking chair and put her coffee cup on the end table next to me. At that moment, Little Miss, a grey and white tabby cat, jumped onto Grandma’s lap. “Well, my girls let me think back to when I was a little girl with my five older brothers. We lived in a small house not too far from here, but before I tell you both this story, I think you girls and Grandpa need to go into the kitchen and get some ice-cold milk and homemade cookies and a small bowl of milk for Little Miss.”

So, all of us ran into the kitchen and got the milk and cookies and a small dish of milk for Little Miss. My sister went for the cookie jar on the counter next to the old gas stove. I went for the fridge and got the glass milk bottle out. My sister put a handful of cookies onto a dinner plate and I filled the great big glasses with the fresh milk that just came that day. My sister and I hurried back into the living room. Grandpa had just finished lighting the fire in the fireplace; he then turned on the lights of the Christmas tree and went into the kitchen to get Grandma another coffee and one for himself. As we waited for Grandpa to return to the living room, we could hear the old coffee pot on the stove perking. Grandpa could see the coffee splashing in the little dome on the lid of the coffee pot. Grandpa called out from the kitchen, “You girls don’t start the story without me.”

My little sister then got up off the floor and ran towards the entrance to the kitchen to see what was taking Grandpa so long. My sister then said, “Come on, Grandpa, Grandma really wants to tell us her story!

Come on, Grandpa!” As my little sister and Grandpa came back from the kitchen, Grandma was petting Little Miss in her wooden rocking chair. She was staring into the fireplace as if it was taking her back in time. Grandpa went to hand Grandma her coffee and we all noticed she had tears coming down from each eye onto her cheeks. Grandma put Little Miss down and took her coffee from Grandpa. She looked back into the fire and wiped the tears from her cheeks and eyes as she started to tell us about her Christmas that almost never was. Grandma took a deep breath and took a sip of her hot coffee because her mouth was very dry. Grandma started out by saying, “Well, my girls, my momma was sitting in her kitchen crying at the kitchen table. She had just gotten off the telephone with my daddy, who had just phoned to let the family know that he would not be home for Christmas this year. Momma at that moment looked up at me standing at the entrance to the kitchen, standing there, watching her crying and then trying to stop.

“I went over to my momma and gave her a hug and said, ‘It will be alright, Momma.’ Momma then said, ‘Your Daddy will not be home for Christmas this year.’ I then told Momma, ‘I’m going to write Santa a letter, asking him to bring Daddy home for Christmas.’

“Momma smiled then said, “my girl, don’t waste your letter, I have already written to Santa asking just for that. Why don’t you ask Santa for the Barbie dream house you told me about?” Grandma took another sip of her coffee. Grandma started to tell the rest of the story, “That afternoon, we all walked two miles to the Sears store where Santa was seeing everyone. Momma made sure we were all dressed up nice; I had on my best coat and a knitted white hat that Momma had made for me that summer.” Grandma stopped telling her story as she looked at all three of us eating her homemade cookies and slurping milk down, and she smiled.

Grandma started telling her story again, “Well, all of us entered the line to see Santa, my five brothers and me bringing up the rear. I kept looking at Momma; she had her arms crossed and followed us on the outside of the velvet ropes. As the line started to move closer to Santa, Momma reached into her purse and pulled out her last six dollars. This was her last six dollars in the world until Daddy came home from working out of town. Momma gave the money to the salesgirl, so we could get our picture with Santa, and Santa would then hear what we wanted for Christmas. Well, my five brothers told Santa they wanted those green army men and some candy and new clothes for Christmas.”

 

Little Miss started to purr on Grandma’s lap and Grandma looked down at her and started to pet her. Grandma looked back up at us and started back with her story. “Well, my girls, it was my turn. I must admit, I was a little scared, in a way. Santa looked at me. I climbed onto his lap and the girl took our picture. Santa then asked, ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ I looked at him and said, ‘I want, I want…’ I paused, and then said, ‘I want Daddy to come home for Christmas. He is out of town working, and they won’t let him come home for Christmas, and Momma said I should ask you for a Barbie dream house, but I want my daddy home for Christmas and Momma gave the last of our money for pictures.’ Momma’s jaw dropped as Santa looked at her. Santa had a shocked looked on his face as well. Santa talked to me a few more minutes. Santa gave me a coloring book and a box of crayons with four colors. He was giving them to all of the kids that came to see him that year. I then got down and headed towards my brothers. Santa called my momma over for a moment to see him. After a few seconds, Santa looked over at the girl taking the pictures and gave her a wink. The girl called Momma over. The six of us were standing next to a bench. My brothers just looked at me and all of them asked me what I said to Santa. I started to cry. Did I get Momma in trouble with Santa?

“Momma thanked the lady and Santa. Then Santa said, ‘Merry Christmas’ and the biggest ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’ could be heard throughout the Sears store. Momma said, ‘Merry Christmas, Santa.’  Momma had a smile on her face as we left the store. We all walked back home and then Momma left the house again. She had to go to the store. About half an hour later, Momma came home; she was carrying one brown paper bag of food. Inside was four cans of tomato soup; two loafs of bread and a half a pound of cut bologna that was wrapped in brown wax butcher paper. Momma put the bologna into the icebox and the other items in the empty cupboard. As Momma was coming into the living room, the front door bell rang. Momma went to see who it was. It was the mail man at the door. He handed Momma some letters and then said, ‘Well, Momma, there is nothing from your husband and today is Friday, December 22.’ The mail man then said, ‘Momma, there will be no more mail delivery until December 27.’ Momma looked down at the letters she had just received. They were the power bill and gas bill and phone bill. Momma then looked back up at the mailman, shook his hand and wished a very Merry Christmas to him and his family.”

 

 

 

Suddenly, my sister jumped up and ran into the bathroom. Grandpa started to laugh, because this made everyone jump. Grandpa then asked Grandma if she would like some more coffee and she handed him her cup and said, “Yes, please, my dear.” I got up and followed Grandpa into the kitchen with the cookie plate and two empty glasses of milk that needed to be refilled. After I got some more of Grandma’s homemade cookies and refilled the glasses with milk, I started to walk back into the living room to see Grandma was rocking in her wooden rocking chair, back and forth, petting Little Miss; she was staring into the fire again. She had a few tears on her cheeks. She wiped them away after she noticed all of us coming back into the living room, heading back to our spots on the floor and Grandpa heading to his La-Z-Boy chair. Grandma started back with her story where she had left off.

“Momma then told the boys, ‘We need a Christmas tree, so head out to the bush and get us one.’ Well, all five of the boys got dressed and headed out in single file. My oldest brother was the one carrying a bow saw; he was in front, and at the back of the line, my second oldest brother was pulling an eight-foot toboggan. The boys would be gone for an hour, so Momma and I went upstairs to get the Christmas decorations. We carried the boxes downstairs and started to sort them out. I found the infamous ball of lights that every year seems to be tangled up. As we were untangling them, Momma looked out the kitchen window to the field that was behind our house. In the distance, Momma could see her lumberjacks coming home and she noticed that there were other lumberjacks from the neighborhood coming home with their own Christmas trees as well.”

Grandma then said, “I found the tree stand in one of the boxes, so I got it ready. Momma and I had everything ready for the tree to be decorated, transforming it into our Christmas tree. Well, it did not take the boys long to size the spruce tree up, so it would fit in the living room with just enough room for the star to fit on top. My oldest brother would be in charge when Daddy was not here to put it on the Christmas tree, but Momma stopped him and said, ‘That is for Daddy to do when he comes home after Christmas.’ My brother then finished connecting all of the lights on the tree and after that was done, my oldest brother and my second oldest brother moved the tree gently back into the corner, and then plugged it in.

“We all took our turn decorating the Christmas tree. Once we were done, I went to the radio and turned it on. My favourite song, Frosty the Snowman, was just starting to play, and my oldest brother and I started singing and the rest of the family joined in. After the song was done, Momma got some paper and a pencil and gave it to my oldest brother first with the Sears and Roebuck catalog.

Once he picked the one item he wanted for Christmas, he passed it to the next oldest. I was the youngest, so I had to wait what seemed like forever. As the Sears and Roebuck catalog was finally passed to me, I noticed a few pages were missing on purpose.

“Well, after supper the dishes had to be done before Momma would make us all a cup of hot chocolate. We would sit down in the living room in our spots and Momma would want to know how our day was and how everything went in school, what was happening with our friends that day. My oldest brother would go and light the fire in the fireplace to take the chill out of the air in the house. It was coming to the end of the day, and Momma would start knitting and listening to the Christmas music being played on the radio. I would start to yawn; my brothers would be doing the same. I would soon go upstairs to my bedroom and crawl into bed, and I would hear my brothers fight every night before they went to sleep as for me, I would fall fast asleep.”

Grandma then stopped telling her story. She then said, “It’s time for me to make supper.” We all stood up and Grandpa then said, “We will order supper in tonight, honey, you can’t leave us hanging like this.” Grandma started to laugh. She knew that Grandpa would order supper in, so he would get to hear the rest of her story. Grandpa then reached over for the telephone to order a pizza for supper, and Grandma started her story once again. “The sun was shining through my frosted bedroom window. I blew some warm air onto the glass so I could see out the window, and Momma was already up making all our breakfast, a hot porridge with brown sugar and milk. Since school was out for Christmas, we all had chores to do. I could see Momma getting stuff ready for us; she always made sure we had food in our tummies and every time she opened the cupboard to see those cans of tomato soup, she knew that was going to be our Christmas dinner this year. She had just enough food in the house to last until Daddy came home after Christmas.

“As the day went on, it was the annual neighbourhood snowball fight and we all built our snow forts. We each made lots of snowballs for throwing at the other kids. Momma would always watch from her kitchen window to make sure no one got hurt. This always put a smile on Momma’s face, to see snowballs flying every which way and seeing me in my white knitted hat being hit by snowballs as I was trying to get my brothers more snow to make snowballs.

 

 

“Well, it was time to come into the house to get dried off and put some dry clothes on; it was suppertime. As we were about to sit down for supper, Momma made us spaghetti and melted butter for supper. After supper, Momma would read to us from one of her books. She would light a hurricane lamp that was sitting on an end table next to her chair in the living room. Once Momma finished reading a story to us, it was time for bed. Once again, we all got up and walked toward Momma and gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek and said, ‘Good night, Momma.’ All five of us went upstairs to bed. I was the last one to head up the stairs. I stopped and looked back at Momma to see her wiping the tears from her eyes; I turned and went running back at Momma to give her a great big hug, and I told her, ‘Everything will be fine and Santa will bring Daddy home.’ Momma said, ‘I know, my girl, I know!’ I then went up the stairs to bed.

As I lay in my bed, I looked out the window to a clear cold night sky and a full moon that lit up our front yard. I looked out of my bedroom window I could see the new snowman that all six of us had made that day. I called him Mr. Frosty. I then lay my head down on my pillow and fell fast to sleep.

“The sounds of Momma calling my name woke me up. I did my morning stretch and then wiped the sand out of my eyes left there from Mr. Sandman last night. I crawled out of my nice warm bed and got dressed, then headed downstairs to see my brothers eating breakfast. As I sat down in my spot, I looked at Momma and said, ‘Good morning, Momma.’ Momma looked at me and said, ‘Good morning, my girl.’ I looked at what Momma had in front of her; it was a black cup of coffee. I asked her, ‘Are you not eating, Momma?’ She replied, ‘I have already eaten, my girl.’ I picked up my spoon and then put a little bit of milk on my cereal, because there was half a bowl of it. After I ate my breakfast, I went to the sink with my bowl to see there were only five bowls in it. I looked back at Momma; she had not eaten breakfast.” My baby sister then asked me why she didn’t eat breakfast; I looked at her and said, “Be quiet, so Grandma can finish the story.”

Grandma paused, took another sip of her coffee, and was about to start when there was a knock on the front door. It was the pizza that Grandpa had ordered. “That was a good place to stop,” Grandma said, “until we get our food.” After we all had our plates and were about to eat our pizza, Grandma then got up from her rocking chair and headed to her bedroom for a few seconds. She returned with a little white knitted hat in her hand; she sat back down in her rocking chair. Grandma started back where she had left off. “Well, I looked towards the calendar on the kitchen wall; it was December 24, and Santa was coming tonight.

I had not wrapped Momma and Daddy’s presents yet, so I went up to my room and closed the door and wrapped both of them. I already had my brothers’ presents wrapped and hidden in my room because those boys would look for them and open them and re-wrap them very poorly,” Grandma started to laugh.

“Well, my girls, that day was a special day for us. We all got ready for church, for midnight mass, and we left early so we could get a good spot in the church. I always remember the boys were always on their best behaviour, because Momma and Daddy would not like them fooling around there. After mass, we were leaving the church, and the priest was at the entrance shaking everyone’s hand and wishing that person a very merry Christmas. As we started to walk home from the church, it started to snow. I looked at my brothers and even Momma trying to catch snowflakes on the tip of their tongues, and I started to laugh.

“We started on our walk back home. We were not far from the house when one of my brothers started to run toward the front gate, then open it and head for the front steps of the veranda. One of the boys looked toward the swing on the porch to see some food on it. He yelled toward Momma that there were bags of groceries here. When Momma got to the swing, there were fourteen bags of groceries and a large turkey with a red ribbon on it. She looked around to see who could have done this. She started to cry. There was note on the turkey and the only thing it said was ‘Santa.’

“Momma then took her key out of her purse and opened the front door. My brothers and I grabbed the bags and brought them into the house. Momma was still wiping the tears from her cheeks when she noticed the house was warm and there was a light coming from the living room. She stopped, and the boys all entered the house very slowly. They put the bags of groceries down as they entered the living room. The fire in the fireplace was lit and the lights on the Christmas tree were on. Once the boys had checked the house, there was no one there and they called Momma and me in. I looked to see candy and nuts and the star on the coffee table. Momma went back outside to check the driveway to see if there were tire tracks but there were none. The boys and I started to bring the food into the house now and Momma went into the kitchen to find her four cans of tomato soup and the bread were sitting on the table and there was a Christmas card addressed to Momma. She sat on a chair in the kitchen, reading the Christmas card that was left on the table. It said:

Not this year or any year, Momma.  Santa.

“Momma was speechless as to who would know other than the children and herself.  After the bags and the turkey were brought in, Momma sent all of us to bed because Santa had not come yet. We all gave Momma a kiss on the cheek and wished her a Merry Christmas. Momma started to put the food away, and once that was done, she grabbed a glass of water. She was still holding the Christmas card in her other hand and headed for the living room. As Momma was sitting down on the couch that was facing the fireplace and the mantel, with empty stockings on it, a set of headlight beams shone into the living room for a second, to say a car was pulling into the driveway. Momma got up and headed for the kitchen window to see. It was Daddy’s car pulling into the driveway! Momma went running outside to give him a hug and a kiss and to tell him what had happened. Daddy got out of the car and opened the back door; he pulled out a red bag that had seven gifts inside of it. Daddy was hugging Momma as they went back into the house. Daddy was telling Momma that this older gentleman flagged him down and said he had something for him and handed him this red bag and said it was for you and the kids; then the stranger opened the back door to the car and placed the bag on the back seat. ‘As I was getting out of the car to say thank you and give him a ride home, he was gone and the back door to the car was closed, but the bag was in the back!’ The grandfather clock struck midnight as they entered the house and Daddy was carrying the bag of gifts.

“Momma and Daddy went into the living room to hear the radio playing Christmas music. Momma stopped and looked at the Christmas tree to see the star was on top, gifts under the tree and the stockings filled. Both Momma and Daddy were speechless. Momma had to take a second look to see six new pictures in paper frames of the kids and Santa from Sears, placed on the mantel of the fireplace. Below each picture was the kid’s stocking that were each filled with treats and toys. On the top of the opening of each stocking was a Lifesavers Christmas book; even Momma’s and Daddy’s each had one. “Momma and Daddy then looked at each other, gave each other a hug and said Merry Christmas to each other. As the music on the radio played Silent Night, they started to dance in the middle of the living room floor.” I asked Grandma, “How do you know they were dancing in the living room?” Grandma then said, “My girl, I saw my daddy’s car headlights come into the driveway as well. I snuck down the stairs halfway and sat there to see them both dancing and hugging each other, and I knew Santa had brought my daddy home for Christmas.”

My sister and I both jumped up and ran towards Grandma and then Grandpa. We gave them a big hug and a kiss each. We wished both a very merry Christmas.