Why, how proud I am to see you here on Christmas Eve!
Come on in and get you a chair.
Oh, my, is this some of your cranberry bread? I’ll
have it for breakfast tomorrow before Bernice’s boy comes after me – I’ll be
eating Christmas dinner with them like I always do.
You like my little tree? Don’t it smell like the
woods? It ain't but a little cedar that sprung up in the old pasture over yon –they ain't not good for much but they do make a nice Christmas tree. Them little bows is from ribbons
I saved from Christmases back of this and I made the paper chain with color
pages out of magazines. That feller at the dumpsters is good to save me magazines
with lots of bright pictures. How my Cletus
used to love making them chains – one year he made one so long that we looped
it round the tree and just kept going all round the room.
No, we didn’t have Christmas trees when I was growing
up. My mama was a widder and she didn’t have the
money nor the spirit to make anything much of Christmas time. And she had quit
going to church when my daddy was kilt. So Christmas was mostly just another
day – except . . .
Except this one time I remember – back when my Granny Beck
had first come to live with us. I was the least un and all the others had married and moved off. So it
was just the three of us, Granny Beck and Mama, and me. My granny, oh, she was the
sweetest thing – she was crippled bad with arthuritis and couldn’t hardly walk
but me and her was best friends. She told me stories of all kinds – Cherokee
stories about the Yunwi Tsundi – that’s the Little People in the woods-
Oh, yes, Granny Beck’s mama was full blood Cherokee.
And her mama’s daddy, he had told my granny all manner of Cherokee tales when
she was little. She passed them on to me, alongst with Bible stories like David and Goliath and old Noah and his ark. And stories about Jack the Giant Killer and his rascally ways. She told me about Santy Claus and his
reindeer too and Joseph and Mary and Baby Jesus in the stable. Ay, law, her and me had us a time . . .
But this one Christmas
Eve, she told me that iffen I was to go out to the barn at midnight, I’d find the
old cow and the mule kneeling because the critters in that stable long ago had
kneeled to do honor to the baby Jesus.
Why, yes, I did go and look. Me and Granny Beck shared
a room and she had told me the story and promised to wake me when it was near midnight.
My mama was hard asleep – she took some medicine in those days that was so
strong she’d sometimes fall asleep right at the table. She didn’t hold with
stories and Granny always waited till Mama was somewheres else or sound asleep one to go to story-telling.
Law, I remember
it as good as if it was yesterday –
slipping out the door and hurrying to the barn in naught but my night
shift and Granny Beck’s shawl. There weren’t no snow but the ground was froze
hard and my breath was like smoke wreathed around my head. They had been a hard
frost and it seemed like I could hear little ringing sounds all round. And the
sky, oh the sky! The sky was just as clear and the stars – law, how bright they
were – like great golden lamps shining down from Heaven. You don’t see skies
like that no more along of all them old security lights folks put up.
But I was telling you about the barn. It was some warmer in there and the smell of the
critters and their manure seemed to make it even warmer and homely-like. It was
dark as could be but I had brought a little battery lantern we had and when I opened
the stall door and mashed the button, the first thing I saw was the bright gold
of the hay in the manger and for a minute . . . now you’ll laugh at me . . .
for a minute I thought I saw a little hand waving and I was just as sure as anything
that it was Baby Jesus.
Just like Granny Beck had said, old Poll the cow and
old Nell the mule was kneeling down and I stood there all amazed, kindly like
them shepherds Granny Beck had told me of, the ones the great shining angel
came down and spoke to.
Of course, I was just a young un and so ready to
believe . . . I almost didn’t go forward, thinking that was I to turn off the
lantern and go back to the house, Baby Jesus would still be there and I could
hold that memory in my heart forever, rather than finding out it was a trick of
the light or some such.
But at last I had to look. I held my breath and crept
forward betwixt the cow and the mule to look in the manger. . .
Let me wipe off my glasses on my apron – they’ve got fogged up somehow. . .
You get to be my age, honey, and so much that you loved is gone . . . but for the memories. I picture it like walking down a long hallway and they's doors on both sides. I can go down a ways and find Cletus, cutting a shine over some new playtoy, or I can go back a mite farther and find Luther and me on a certain snowy night . . .
Course, there's some doors I don't never open -- those lead to the bad memories -- but this one about my Christmas with Granny Beck is mostly all good.
So this was the way of it. I tiptoed up to the manger
and shone my battery lantern on the hay, dreading to find that what I’d thought
was Baby Jesus a-waving at me was a possum or some other varmint. And lo and
behold, when I got close enough to see right into the hay, I like to fell
down on that hard clay floor.
There, laying in the hay, just like Baby Jesus, was a baby doll with one arm raised up. I just stood there staring, my
mouth hanging open and the tears starting to come.
You see, I hadn’t never had a real doll – it was hard
times, like I said, and there weren’t no money for play toys. I had made dollies out of old
corn cobs that I wrapped in leaves for blankets but oh! how I had always wished
I could have a real doll. And here one was, just a-waving at me.
Well, honey, I snatched that thing up and took off
running for the house to show Granny Beck. I was so stirred up that I forgot to
be quiet but it didn’t matter – Mama was in her bed and snoring like one thing.
In the little back room, Granny Beck was setting up against her pillow, just
waiting for me.
I went straight
to her. ‘Granny Beck,’ I whispered, ‘Poll and Nell was kneeling down, just like
‘I knowed they would be,’ she whispered back at me.
‘Crawl in under the covers with me, honey; you must be most froze to death.’
I crawled in beside her and showed her the baby doll.
‘And looky what was in the manger – the prettiest baby
doll you ever did see – just like the ones in the wish book. Do you reckon Santy
Claus could of left it for me? He ain’t never come here afore . . .’
Granny Beck put her arm around me and hugged me close.
‘Why, child,’ says she, ‘I’m as sure of it as anything . . .’
Now as I grew older, I begun to wonder how that baby
doll got there. I knowed for certain it weren’t my mama’s doing and, even if
somehow she had made out to order that doll, Granny Beck weren’t able to walk
as far as the barn. I asked her about it a few years later -- not long before
she passed away but she just said she didn’t know a thing about it. And I
reckon it suits me to leave it at that.
No, I don’t have that doll anymore. I kept it hidden
for a time but one day Mama found it when she was rummaging around after some
old clothes. She took on something awful, saying I must have stole it. . . . I tried to tell her how I found it but she
called me a liar and a thief and threw my baby doll in the fire. I cried to see
it swivel up and turn to ash. . .
Oh, honey, now don’t you cry too. I shouldn’t of told you that last part. But what you got to see is that I still have what
matters . . .
I still have the memory of that night – the way the
stars hung so low, the sparkle of the frost on the dead grass and the bare tree limbs, the smell of
that barn stall, the sound of the critters breathing, and the wonder and the
magic of it all.
And I can still feel Granny Beck’s arm around me and how nice
it felt to lay there warm beside her with my baby doll from Santa . . . ain’t
no one can take that from me.