Chapter One – A Special Christmas
Two field mice were curled up, all cozy in the slipper. They snored under the pale glow of a setting moon. It shone through a frosted window. During the winter months, they would wait under the big feather bed, for the young boy, and his dog to drift of to sleep. Then they would push and pull that comfortable slipper halfway across the room, lining it up with the window. In order that the mornings first light, would cast upon them.
This Christmas morning, the oldest mouse stirred as the glow of an eastern sunrise cast its first light.
The dog also acted as their alarm clock. He would stick his nose out from under the great down-stuffed comforter, and sniff the air, sensing the tiny creatures, yet not willing to leave the nightly respite of his master’s bed.
It was a comedic scene. One mouse nudging the other out of a deep sleep. The dog finally letting out a low growl which sent the pair scurrying back under the bed, exiting under the lose floorboard.
This morning, they would complete an annual ritual and join Agnes, the old lady who lived across the lane, on her yearly pilgrimage to the tree.
Eventually, Jonathan would stir, rubbing his sleep bound eyes, having his face licked by Typsy, his loving mutt. Finally building up the courage to venture forth into the frigid room.
There was a good reason the room was so cold. It was built over the old summer kitchen attached at the back of a farmhouse. Despite the pipe from the kitchen cook stove, poking through the wall and up to the roof, the room was still very cold. The floor much like a skating rink, in fact a thin layer of frost often coated the old wooden planks.
Every night Jonathan would place his slippers with precision right next to the bed. Yet every morning, one of them would somehow find its way across the room. This morning was no different, as he swung his feet over the edge, his toes groped and only found one. He had asked his mother how this could be happening, she just shrugged her shoulders. “It must be the slipper gremlins.”
Wiggling his right foot into the single sheep-wool lined moccasin, young Jonathan nimbly hopped over to the other and slipped it on. Then he moved to the window, scraped off the frost and gazed out at the wintry scene.
“Well look at that Typsy.”
The dog, as if understanding raised up on his rear haunches in time to see two tiny creatures scurrying down the laneway towards the neighbor’s cabin.
“Now where do you suppose those little critters are off too?”
The neighbour was Mrs. Sweetwater. An older woman who in Jonathan’s eyes was a bit of an enigma. She had a sadness about her. Whenever he visited it seemed to cheer her up.
To his surprise he saw the old lady heading across the fields towards the forest. She moved rather slowly pulling a small loaded toboggan and on her back a great bulging sack almost her equal in size.
“Now where could she be going?” He wondered out loud.
The dog’s ability to see movement in low light, zeroed in on the two mice that managed to catch up to her. He gave another growl.
“Hey Typsy! Why are you growling at Agnes?”
Jonathan was confused. No one lived in the forest, or for that matter for miles around. He figured she must be going to visit someone. After all it was Christmas.
“Christmas! “Typsy it’s Christmas morning!”
In a second they were flying down the narrow stairway into the warm kitchen, joining his family for what would prove to be a special Christmas day.
Now every family has Christmas routines and rules. At Jonathan’s it went something like this. No peeking under the tree until mom and dad were fully awake, had their first cup of coffee, loaded the old browning camera, let out the dog and fed the chickens, etc. etc.
It was enough to drive an eight-year-old crazy, so he and his sister plunged in to help. For only when all the chores were done would the two siblings get the nod. They would rush into the parlour to see what wonderful things old St. Nick had brought, and laid out underneath that tree.
Jonathan knew for a fact they were privileged, as their father had a direct connection to the North Pole. After all his dad’s position as store manager at Mulligan’s Hardware & Dry Goods gave them certain advantages.
You see the store also acted as the local post office and all letters to Santa passed through his father’s hands. His dad assured them he always put their letters on top of the North Pole pile.
In December Mulligans became a magical place for in the weeks before Christmas the store was transformed, especially the toy section. He would study each item in the toy section. When it came time to write the “all important” letter to Santa the kids knew exactly what they wanted. They didn’t always get, exactly what they wanted, but generally one or two items on that list, would pop up under the tree on Christmas morning. Dad was their inside track to good old St. Nick.
That Christmas day unravelled much like the ones before. Jonathan struck gold with three things on his list. A Mecanno construction set, a wind-up Model T car and a game that let you make a Thousand faces.
By late morning Uncle Herb & Aunt Laura showed up from the city in their big blue & silver automobile uncle His uncle called it “The Flying Cloud”. Grandma and Grandpa would climb out of the back.
Grandpa would always complain “my back doesn’t feel like I’ve been riding on a cloud!”
They always had a bag of liquorice for Bonnie and me. In no time, the little farmhouse was alive with laughter, chatter, and the smells of roast turkey, gingerbread, and hot apple cider.
At one point Jonathan left the hubbub. He retraced his steps back up to that cold bedroom and looked out across the fields. The mystery of old Mrs. Sweetwater troubled him. Where did she go with that sack on her back, trudging through the snowdrifts towards that old trail in the forest? Her tracks where quite visible on the glittering snow, until they disappeared into the green of the Spruce and Pines.
He headed back to the festivities and asked his mother if she knew where their neighbour went.
“I have no idea” she replied, “You had better ask her yourself when you take her Christmas dinner over.”
This was another Christmas ritual. Later Jonathan would slog across the road to the old woman’s place with a platter full of the best from their family table and a package all wrapped in Christmassy paper and bows.
He thought this was terribly one sided as he always returned empty handed. It was only later he realized every boxing day a prime turkey was missing from the old lady’s flock. That made the trade a little more even. A home cooked meal and a selection of the best seeds for a grand bird.
Only this time there where two plates of food.
“Why two plates mom?”
“Well it is my understanding that Agnes has a special guest staying with her.”
His curiosity aroused he headed across the road. After all it might be someone his age. He hurried to the old log cabin, built so low to the ground sometimes the snowdrifts went right up and over the roofline. Often he would look across the road and see this great snowdrift with a chimney sticking out of it.
As well as the cabin, there was a small barn, an orchard, a rather large garden, and a parade of unruly animals. Two sheep, a goat, numerous chickens, two geese, an old mare, one cow and a small flock of turkeys. Now less one of course. When it came to turkeys, there was one old tom, Jonathan avoided him with a passion. He was a miserable soldier that guarded his domain by chasing everything, and everybody that entered his barnyard. The young boy always kept a respectable distance.
He knocked meekly on her door. He never had to knock twice, it was as if she was waiting with her hand on the latch.
“Well hello Giggles, come in child” Giggles was her nickname for him. Apparently, she christened him with that name at the age of two when visiting with his mom he had burst into uncontrollable laughter at the antics of two geese and a goat being chased around the barnyard by, you guessed it, old tom the turkey. From that day forward she would occasionally call him Giggles.
He handed over the two platters and the parcel and waited for the usual invitation to join her. A loud crash from around a corner sent her scurrying into the kitchen, hollering Bartholomew what have you done. He thought, Bartholomew must be her guest, was it a boy? Was he the same age? Visions of skating on the pond or tobogganing with a new-found friend filled his head. You naughty, naughty boy she exclaimed.
It was a boy! Jonathan got down on all fours and peeked slowly around the corner right into a pair of beady black eyes set in a sinister mask. The creature jumped two feet into the air, Jonathan fell backwards whacking his head on a small table. Bartholomew was a racoon!
Then I heard something I hadn’t heard in a long time, Mrs. Sweetwater laughed. She laughed so loud, and so hard, and so long that he started laughing as well. As they both laughed, Bartholomew the racoon waddled off to the other side of the cottage and sat under a table. As if offended at being the brunt of their humour.
When they finally quit laughing he asked her. “Where did he come from?”
He couldn’t help but notice, the animal had what looked like a plaster cast wrapped around one hind leg.
“Is he hurt? Does he bite? Has he got rabies?”
“Slow down with the questions. Take off your boots and set yourself down. I’ll get us a cup of hot cocoa and tell you all about old Bart.”
Jonathan plopped myself down in a big easy chair next to the old Franklin cook stove. Bart eyed him suspiciously from under the table.
“I reckon I’ll have to keep him here till spring she said. He’s not strong enough with that leg of his to romp around in the bush just yet. Near frozen when I found him.”
She handed Jonathan a piece of turkey. “You want to be friends with Bart? You just give him some of that. Why he’ll be your friend for life.”
He cautiously reached out with the meat. Bart sniffed at the offering, then keeping his eyes on the boy reached forward and grabbed it. Without so much as a thank you, he retreated under the table to enjoy his Christmas snack.
“Mrs. Sweetwater, I couldn’t help but notice you heading off into the woods this morning. I just wondered where were you going?”
“Oh that’s my secret.” she replied. “It’s something I do every Christmas.”
She studied him. “Maybe someday I’ll show you.”
His curiosity skyrocketed, what was she up to? Once a year at Christmas? This was interesting. No this was exciting; anything to do with Christmas was exciting. He asked probing questions like why off into the woods? What’s in the sack? Why Christmas morning but it was no use. She wouldn’t give up the secret and he was left to ponder and wonder…
when someday would arrive.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish