The Family Book (Lynne Joseph)

The winter was fierce that year. The trees were heavy and burdened, some with branches on the ground. Our little cabin sat amongst these trees. We were snug and warm inside. The fire burned brightly, casting its warmth into the room. The one that served as kitchen, dining area and living room.

It was just three days until Christmas. Mother was knitting up a storm, while sis and I worked on our  homework by the fire. Mother had been a teacher, but now she taught us the three r’s. There was no school out here in the woods. It was a whole day’s ride into the little town of Bethlehem, to the one room schoolhouse.

Dad came into the cabin, a gust of frigid air announcing his arrival. He kept us fed and warm by trading for what we needed to live. In summer he grew wheat, corn and raised chickens and pigs. In winter he hunted and trapped.

He’d just come in from a trip to town. He’d been gone two days this time.

“Supper’s hot in the oven dear,” mother said.

“That’s great, I am froze to the bone,” he replied.

She put down her knitting, getting up out of the old rocker that sat by the fire. Soon his dinner and hot coffee were on the old table he had built with his own hands when they were first married.

Sis and I looked to see if he had anything with him from town. He did, in fact, have a potato sack. Setting it on the table, he took out flour, sugar, tea, salt and coffee.  There was nothing else in the bag. We were both disappointed but smiled at dad so he wouldn’t know. After we did our chores it was bedtime. We kissed mother’s cool cheek. As I climbed up into dad’s lap to kiss him, he reached into his shirt pocket. He handed each of us a small red and white candy wrapped in red paper. We both smiled again this time with true joy and climbed up to our loft with the treat.

We heard Dad go out to get wood to bank the fire for the night. Before he came back in with his arm load of wood, we were asleep.

Morning dawned bright and cold. Sis and I were bundled up in boots, warm stockings, and wooly dresses under our coats, handmade by mother. The coats were lined with the fleece from our two sheep.

Dad made his own path from the house to the barn in the knee deep snow so that it was easy for short little legs to go through. I looked around at the wonderland of sparkling white. It was so cold, but it was also very beautiful.

In the barn, the horses, our cow, the chickens and sheep seemed to be just fine in spite of the cold. Dad cleaned out stalls and fed the animals while sis and I gathered eggs. When we went back outside it was dull and dark. The sun was gone, hidden by heavy black clouds. A wind had picked up, and then it started to snow.

It snowed all day. dad made trips back and forth to the barn as the day progressed, bringing in milk from the cow, and firewood. By evening the path into the barn was gone. dad brought in extra wood for the night.

Mother did her best to keep us busy. We cleaned up the cabin, did our chores, helped mother make bread and cookies. The day went by slowly. We were all finally ready for bed.

Christmas Eve dawned and it was still snowing. The snow was now waist deep in some places. Dad tied a strong piece of rope to the post of the porch and slowly, slowly made his way to the barn. It took him most of the morning to make a path, digging with the homemade shovel. It was noon before he pulled himself along the rope and back into the cabin.

Mother handed him a steaming mug of coffee to warm him. His clothes were stiff, wet and cold. Once he changed, Mother hung them on the willow branch chairs by the fire to dry.

And now it was Christmas Eve. We had no Christmas tree. Dad took us out to get one each year at this time, but it would be impossible this year. Sis and I looked out the window. The snow kept coming down. We were very sad.

Mom got out the popcorn. She made a big bowl full. The berries came next, carefully dried beforehand. We spent the evening stringing them as we had done for our Christmas trees of past years. Dad hung our gay garlands on the mantel, the window, and over the door. We sang some old carols. Then mother read the story of the birth of Jesus to us before we went to bed.

Sis and I whispered in our snug little bed. Santa Claus could not find our cabin in all of this snow. If he did there would be no tree for him to put anything under. Sighing to each other, we cuddled up and went to sleep. Sis and I woke up to mother’s voice calling our names.

“Breakfast girls. Hurry, come eat while the porridge is still hot.”

We almost fell over each other as we scrambled down the ladder. It was Christmas Day. Brilliant sunlight came through the window.

Dad sat at the table eating his porridge. Behind him was a beautiful little Christmas tree. The strings of popcorn and berries we had made yesterday, now decorated the little pine. Paper snowflakes and bows made of scraps made it festive indeed.

Underneath it, were two packages wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. Two stockings hung from the mantel. They bulged invitingly. Santa had come.

We had our porridge in record time. Next came the chores. We had not been outside in a whole day. The fresh air was very good.

Back in the house we waited impatiently for dad to come in. After what seemed like hours, he entered the door, took off his coat and sat down.

Now we could open our presents.

Sis was the youngest, she got to go first. Carefully, she untied the package bearing her name. With a squeal of glee she held up the rag doll, painstakingly made by mother while she and I slept. In her stocking she found an apple, an orange and a candy cane.

Now it was my turn. Slowly I opened the package, not daring to hope my wish had come true. Folding the paper back, I saw to my delight that it had. There in the light from the window, I could see the title of the book I had wanted for so very long.  The Writings of Charles Dickens lay in my lap, feeling wonderfully heavy. I could spend many happy hours reading all those stories mother had told us as we lay in our bed at night.

My stocking had the same things in it that sis had, so there would be no hurt feelings and that was fine with me.

Mother gave dad a warm hat and scarf, the results of her knitting. He gave mother combs for her hair which he had carefully carved from the antler of a deer.
We had a wonderful day. That night I read to everyone from that book.

Now at Christmas time, I read from that same book to my grandchildren, telling them their favourite stories of fairies and princes and kings. I knew that the family book would be passed on, the stories read, the names written inside it for many generations to come.

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