Oh, my, I was jest setting here remembering and didn’t see
you at the door. Come right in and git you a chair.
This? Why hit's a Christmas angel, jest a singing her heart out. See how her little mouth is open? Funny ain’t, how a thing can take you back to where the past is ever bit as real as right now, down to the sounds and smells too. It was this angel had me wandering in the
past. I found her just now, stuck back in a drawer in Cletus's room. I finally got up the gumption to clean out the rest of his things and pass what I can along to someone who needs it. I was emptying the drawer of his long johns and winter socks when I found her shoved all the way at the back.
Hit’s right smart work for a young un, ain’t it? Made from a dresser scarf and a doily.
She’s been there many a year, I
reckon. We always used to put her on the tree at Christmas but Cletus loved her so he must
have wanted to keep herclose all year round.
Cletus make it? No, not him. It was made long afore Cletus was
Let me go get us some cocoa – that’d go right good on this
cold day, now wouldn’t it? Dor’thy brought me some cocoa mix and a bag of
marshmallows too. I’ll just be a minute.
Don’t that look fine with the marshmallows bobbing in them pretty red mugs? Dor’thy brought
them too. I always have loved red. Careful you don’t burn your mouth; hit’s
Why, yes, I'm going to tell you about the little angel. It’s a memory that’s sad and sweet at the same
time. I think on it this time every year. Christmas can be hard on folks what have lost someone and this little angel always puts me in mind of that . . . that ache that seems even harder when all the rest of the world is rejoicing. . . when someone saying Merry Christmas to you can feel like a slap in the face and Happy New Year naught but a black lie. But you know that . . .
The angel come to us the Christmas after our little Britty Birdsong
passed away. She was our first young un and me and Luther was
near bout as low as two people could be. Hadn’t neither of us even named
Christmas – though back when Britty was born, we'd picked out a fine little cedar growing on the edge of the pasture to be her Christmas tree and I’d made Luther promise that we’d
have some Santy Claus too. Growing up, my mama
never had made anything of Christmas; we was too poor and she was . . . well,
I reckon she was too sad. She’d had her losses . . .
Where was I! Oh yes, when Britty was borned, we’d planned a big Christmas for her – I’d made a little
stocking and started work on a doll baby to go in it. Then she took the summer complaint and was gone before August was out. I laid the doll baby and stocking away, thinking maybe I'd finish the doll baby and lay them both on her little grave come Christmas. But I didn't hardly have the heart to look at them again.
Howsomever, it was just a few days before Christmas -- this would have been in 19 and 38 -- and I was keeping busy with the meanest tasks I could find, scrubbing the walls and floors with lye soap, new blacking the stove, picking the sprouts off the taters in the root cellar, forking out the dookie in the cow's stall, oh, anything to keep me from thinking about the Christmas I'd planned, anything to keep me from looking out at that little cedar tree up on the hill . . .
Luther had begged me to go the church with him and see the Christmas play, but I bowed up like any mule and said I flat weren't able. And I weren't -- law, I would have busted out crying at the sight of the babe in the manger. So Luther went off alone and I stayed home, working by lamplight to finish up that doll baby so as to be able to take it up to Britty's resting place the next day.
I had just finished sewing on the yarn hair and had laid the doll baby in my sewing basket with the stocking when I heard Luther's step on the porch and his deep voice saying, "Let's us get in out of the cold; it's nice and warm inside."
Now, buddy, I could hardly believe my ears. Here I sat in my dirty old work dress, my hands red with lye soap, and my heart sore with grieving, and here was Luther bringing company home. I could feel the red anger rising up and taking hold of me.
Then I heard a child's voice -- I couldn't make out the words but for a moment, oh, just a moment, I had the crazy thought that he'd found our Britty, that she was alive and he was bringing her home.
As quick as that thought come, it left. Fool, I told myself. That ain't your Britty. She ain't never coming back no more.
And the door opened and in come Luther, carrying a little child with one arm and holding a bundle of something in the other.
"Miss Birdie," says he, "look who's come to stay with us a while." And he sets the child down.
I can't speak a word but just stare at the little girl who is clinging to his leg and looking up at me with wide frightened eyes. Her hair is tangled and wet where the snow is melting on it and her face is dirty with tear tracks running down her cheeks.
"Dolly, this here is your cousin Miss Birdie. Her and me are going to take care of you till your mama's better." I look at Luther and see that this ain't no joke. He is leading the child to the fire place and telling her to set on the stool and warm herself, all the time nodding and cutting his eyes at me.
"Could you warm some milk for the child?" says he. "And I believe she'd like a bit of cornbread, iffen there's some left. Then I'll make her a pallet with the quilts in the chest. Once she's warm, inside and out, I believe the pore little thing'll fall right to sleep."
I can't find no words but hateful ones so I don't say nothing but fetch the milk and set it to warming. When I go to the chest to take out the quilts, Luther comes up behind me and whispers, "Now, Bird, I know this ain't easy for you but she's Cousin Amos's little girl. I heard at church that his wife was bad sick and stopped by his place to see was their anything I could do. The pore feller is all but out of his mind, trying to care for his wife and the twin babes and he asked could I bring Dolly here for a time. . . "
My heart was cold as ice but I got out some words, allowing as how I'd not turn a dog away, much less a child but I hoped she weren't expecting no Christmas doings.
Just like Luther said, the little thing fell right to sleep and didn't stir till I was making up the fire the next morning. Then I felt those big eyes on me, following every step I took. I brought the chamber for her to use, and helped her wash her hands and put on some of the clothes that was in her big bundle. But I could hardly bear to touch her, thinking all the while that it should of been my Britty whose hair I was brushing.
Children know more than you might think. With me she was quiet as can be but when Luther was about, they whispered and had jokes together and she hung on his arm and fair begged to be hugged. And that hurt me too, thinking that those hugs should have been for our Britty.
It pains me to think what a hateful someone I was during those first days. I crept about the house, pretending Dolly wasn't there. Poor Luther tried to make out everything was all right but he was in a pickle, trying to lift my sadness and trying to keep Dolly from seeing my meanness.
On Christmas Eve morning, I just had to get out of the house and away from the two of them. I told Luther I was going to walk up the road to visit Britty's grave and left them there. I had hidden Britty's baby doll and stocking in my apron and meant that she should have them.
There was a light skift of snow on the ground and the markers in the graveyard sparkled in the morning sun like they was coated with sugar. I had plucked some wild holly with the berries on it and I laid a bit of it with the doll baby in the stocking against the white rock that marked where Britty lay.
I stood there and told her how bad I missed her and cried till the tears wouldn't come no more. Then I set off back down the road, feeling plumb empty and hating myself for not being able to open my heart to the child back at the cabin.
My feet drug on the road and I dawdled along, in spite of the cold, hoping that maybe Dolly's mama would have gotten better and her daddy would have come and taken her home.
Before I had got halfway home, there was a rattle of wings as a crow rose up from a tree to the left of the road, circling above me and making the awfullest sounds like he was scolding me. I stood watching, somehow knowing that this was a message. And without even thinking what I was doing, I hurried back up the hill and snatched up the doll baby and stocking from off the white stone.
When I got back to the cabin, Luther was setting by the fire with Dolly on the little stool by his side. He was whittling at something -- he liked to make little rabbits and birds and I had no doubt that this would be for Dolly.
"Luther," I said, "Don't you think it would be nice to have a Christmas tree for this young un? You go cut that little cedar and I'll pop some corn to make a string. I can cut out some stars from the pages of the wish book and we can have us a pretty tree. What's more, I have a stocking laid by that would be just right for Dolly."
Oh, law, saying that was like having a tooth pulled -- it hurt so bad but then the relief it brought was worth the pain.
Dolly's face lit up and she come over to me. "Miss Birdie, Cousin Luther told me about you unses little girl. I'm awful sorry. I want to give you something my mommy helped me make before she got sick."
She went over to her bundle and pulled out this same little angel from the cloth it was wrapped in. "She was going to go on our Christmas tree but Daddy said we couldn't have one this year. Maybe you could put her on yours."
And she laid the little angel in my hand.
I had thought I was all cried out but my eyes just flooded when I knelt down beside her and she came into my arms. It was so sweet . . .
And by Christmas morning, we had us a tree with a popcorn string all around it, paper stars everywhere, and this little angel on top. There was the stocking hanging from a nail on that mantel right there with an orange and some peppermint candy (Luther had hurried off to beg some of a neighbor) and the doll baby I'd made for Britty, just a- smiling out of it.
Dolly stayed with us a good three months, like a little sunbeam in the house, singing and dancing and always wrapping her arms around us . . . It weren't easy parting with her when her mama finally got well, but the family lived not a mile away and Dolly was always running in and out to visit and many a time to stay the night. Little Dolly . . .
What happened to her? Why, she growed up. And she still runs in and out. You know her -- she took against being called Dolly when she went to school -- "My name is Dor'thy," she said, just as solemn, "and that is what you must call me."
She saved me that first hard Christmas and she saves me every year -- I'll be going to Christmas dinner at her house tomorrow, with her and Calven and I don't know who all. Dor'thy always gathers in whoever's alone and in need of cheer. She's my real Christmas angel.