Friday, December 23, 2016

A Christmas Story

Howdy Friends,

I wrote this little story as a thank you and Christmas present to all our Coffee Clutch and Facebook friends a few years ago. I figured it might be a sweet tradition to share each Christmas. I hope you'll enjoy readin' it to your youngin's and grandbabies. Ravishin' Robbie and I, and all our critters wish you all a love filled and HAPPY CHRISTMAS!
A Christmas Story

With a piece of kindling, Sarah scratched ice from inside the lone cabin window. Cupping hands against her face she squinted through the tiny pane to see blowing, swirling snow. Nothing new to see, except the darkness moving in. She shook her head. "Can't even see the barn now."

If he wasn't getting home tonight, and her hopes were fading, she'd better bundle up and tend the animals in the barn. Jed had been sure to load the wood box before leaving the day before. Load the box? She chuckled at the heavily laden box with wood stacked halfway up the wall. "Wood enough for a week," she remembered him assuring her, even though he was planning on being gone only a day.

This would be the first visit to the orphanage she'd missed since they'd wed three years ago. But this year, with a month old daughter of their own, and the threatening skies, Sarah thought it best Jed make the ten mile ride without them. So he'd set out in the shadows of early morning alone.

She bent over the black kettle filled nearly to the brim with simmering duck stew. Stirred it thoroughly and swung the black arm out from the fire to hold the kettle just near enough to the hot coals and gentle flames to keep the stew at the perfect temperature. She'd have a Christmas feast waiting for him when he returned.

The orphanage sat way outside of town, on a little farm well off the beaten path. Out of sight. Out of mind. Run by old widow Martha Bowman, and two ancient broken down ex-cow pokes, Jake and Shorty. Jed had grown up there. "Poor kids." Jed told her once. "Not only don't they have families of their own, but most town folks don't even want to see 'em. They'd just as soon forget 'em."

Jed never forgot them. Each Christmas he'd visit and carry a feed sack of toys to share with the children, usually numbering around ten. Toy horses, he'd whittle, a fishing pole or two, and dolls Sara would sew. Of course a few scarves and mittens too.

Not being able to see the children this Christmas Eve had Sarah's heart a little heavy. She'd grown so used to the singing, laughing and playing. And the happy faces. Even the old cow pokes would join right in and sing along. Jed had a way of really throwing a lively Christmas Eve party.

Sarah tended to the fireplace, wrapped the baby in their warmest blanket, grabbed the milk pail, the coal oil lantern and started for the door. Forcing the door into the wind took all her strength. The gale hit her full on, slamming the door closed behind her, nearly sucking the very breath from her lungs. Leaning low she sheltered the baby, pushed into the wind and hurried for the sheltering barn. Tiny frozen flakes pelting her cheeks like stinging bees. It was a journey of only fifty feet, but tonight it seemed a mile. The snow wasn't deep, but the wind halted her every step.

Cold, full hands made sliding the barn door latch nearly impossible. She could set nothing down for fear it blow away. Struggling with an elbow and the back of her hand she managed to pull back the thick, black, frozen metal latch. Fierce wind ripped the door from her grasp slamming it wide open. She hurried to the far corner, past the cows, the horse and chicken coop.

Inside was a different world. Jed had labored a full summer four years ago to build the barn out of logs instead of boards. "Harder to be burnt out that way," he'd explained. They'd lived in the barn a full year after that while together they finished their one room cabin. She settled the baby snugly in a bed of hay. "There now," Sarah soothed the sweet girl, "you sleep easy, Jessica, while I milk the cows, and I'll bet Daddy will be home before I'm through."

She battled the raging wind to pull shut and latch the heavy door, hung the lantern on its crooked peg in the center of the barn and paused a moment to look around. Three cows and a horse make plenty of heat inside a barn as tight as this one. The wind howled and raged but could find no way in. She settled down on the milking stool and started milking the first cow. Snug as they were in the sturdy barn, her mind was on Jed. The first streams of milk rang out on the pail side. She tried to time the ringing sound of milk hitting the metal bucket to "Silent Night" as she squeezed in rhythm to the hymn she hummed.

"Why isn't Jed home yet?" Worry began to creep into her thoughts.

Only two cows in milk right now, so milking didn't take very long, or give even half a pail. Clover, the youngest was due to calve any day, and her milk would surely be welcome.

Milking finished and still no sign of Jed. Sarah checked on Jessica all snug in her nest of hay, then busied herself giving hay to the cows and horse. The chickens hardly stirred, few even pulled their heads from under their wings.

Worry kept her busy. Finished the feeding, Sarah found cloth and strained the milk, a job usually done on the tiny table in the cabin, but she dreaded the trip back through the wind and biting ice crystals, so she did it right there in the barn. Besides, somehow the barn seemed a better place to be tonight, Christmas Eve. Her mind kept busy fretting over Jed. Was he lying in the bitter cold somewhere, hurt? Or worse? She began to build a plan to go search the vast openness that lay between them and the orphanage. That would have to wait for daylight. But wouldn't his horse have found its way back to the barn? Jed's horse, Scout was a big, powerful horse and very smart. Surely had something happened to Jed, Scout would have come home?

Nervously she nursed baby Jessica, to the unsettling sound of relentlessly raging wind tearing at the walls of the tight barn. Gathering Jessica she moved closer to the cows so the sounds of them peacefully chewing might sooth her worried heart. She nestled into the straw next to Clover and rocked gently. The barn was a peaceful place but tonight even its warmth and embrace could do little to sooth her. The ride to the orphanage and back, even with a first class Christmas party should only have taken Jed and Scout about six hours. He should have been home well before dark.

Weary with worry, Sarah almost drifted off.

Her horse pacing and nickering in its stall roused her. "It's okay, Goldie, the wind can't get us in here."

Knowing she must check the fire and the stew in the house, she carefully tucked tiny Jessica safely back in her nest of hay. "I'll be right back, you sleep tight." She kissed her cheek, and wiped a tear from her own. Turning to the cows and Goldie she said, "You all watch over her while I'm gone."

She snatched the lantern from its peg and made the dash from barn to cabin, the never-ending wind at her back. Inside she found the fire nearly out, but the stew still delightfully warm. Building the fire back up, stirring the stew and gathering another blanket to swaddle Jessica took only moments, and through the bitter, blinding darkness she ran for the barn, shielding her face from the stinging snow.

Fighting the wind to pull closed the heavy door, for an instant the wind's roar was blocked. Was that a bell? Did she hear ringing bells? Or were her ears simply ringing in the wail of the wind? She strained her eyes in the direction of what she imagined was the ringing bells. Is that a light? Could that be a light? But what could there be out there moving in this horrible wind? It didn't appear to be a horse and rider, so her hopes sank as quickly as they'd soared. The bells stopped and the light vanished. Sarah pulled tight the door, made fast the latch, then hurried to Jessica to add the extra blanket.

Clover mooed, Goldie stomped and whinnied. Before Sarah could react, from the outside, above the wind, came an answering whinny. “Scout?” Sarah yelled, tears streaming her face. Terrified of the possible answer she yelled, “Scout, is that you? Is Jed with you?” Bells, did she hear bells again? With wings on her feet she flew to the door, only to have the latch yanked from her grasp.

Stunned she starred into darkness, and there stood Jed flashing an ice covered smile as wide as the mountains themselves, holding Scout's rope. Behind Scout stood two horses harnessed to a wagon with canvas stretched over it. “Brought ya a few Christmas visitors Sarah!” Jed waved a hand toward the wagon. Sarah's knees melted, she crumbled to the ground.

“Hey now,” Jed scooped her up with a hearty laugh. “We can't have this, we have us a Christmas Eve party to put on for the young 'ins!”

Jed, Shorty and Jake fought the wind to swing open the big barn door, Martha led Scout and the team right into the barn. Every hand worked together to pull the door closed behind the wagon. Martha flipped down the wagon tail gate, and one by one giggling and laughing children slid out.

Sarah's knees went weak again, she grabbed onto Jed. He could see the love, relief and questions in her eyes.

“Well,” Jed started, “When I rode up to Martha's the wind already yanked the roof off that old shed they call home. Jake, Shorty and me didn't take too long to figure out there was no fixin' that rickety old building. Nobody knew what to do next, not only did they all need a place to live, but heck Sarah, this is Christmas Eve and we got songs to sing and presents to open … so we hatched a plan to stretch this canvas over the wagon, nail 'er down with boards and haul the entire outfit right here.”

With a grin and tip of his hat, Shorty yanked the sack of presents from the wagon seat, and held it high.

The children had settled down in a circle holding hands, except for little Jane, who had discovered baby Jessica. "Look Miss Martha, it's just like the story of baby Jesus, lying in the manger with all his friends in the barn."

Gitty Up and Merry Christmas ~ Dutch Henry