It was snowing again. Prissy sat by the window and watched as the flakes floated gracefully to the barren ground. It looked magical; they shimmered with light, dancing in the setting sun. It was a good one this time, thick and white, a blanket of glistening beauty. She could hardly wait to play outside. The clean, unmarked snow called to her. She made a plan in her head. First, a snow angel, then the biggest snow man ever and finally a snow ball fight. She’d have plenty of competition. With five children in the family, there was always someone to play with. Although, it wouldn’t be easy, she was the only girl in the brood and her brothers didn’t believe in taking it easy on her. She thought back to previous snow falls and how much fun it’d been to play tag and to eat “only the snow that wasn’t yellow.” She turned away from the window and pulled the quilt around her chin. The fire was burning low and the room was starting to get cold; her breath crystalized in a cloudy puff as proof.
“Thomas,” she hollered toward the hallway that lead to the small bedrooms. She could hear shuffling and Thomas appeared, “yeah?” His voice cracked and he shook his head. He despised the cracks and lilts of his voice these days, puberty was a scourge. “It’s getting cold in here.” Thomas looked to the fire and nodded. He headed to the door, grabbing his jacket, hung on a wooden hook, on his way out. The wind blew in the powdery mix as he unlatched then opened the heavy wooden door. Thomas, the oldest of the five, was tall and lanky with a head full of unruly brown hair and eyes to match. He was the one Prissy always called when she needed something. He was dependable and had helped Momma around the small farm since their father’s death two years ago. He wasn’t much for words but could “work circles around most boys his age” his Momma always said. He was glad to help. Anything to keep him out of the one room school house. He wasn’t much for “readin’ and writin’.” Working the small fields and feeding their few animals kept him busy and happy. Of course, Momma wasn’t having it, she worked with him in the dark hours by lamplight teaching him history and mathematics. He would much rather muck the barn, or fiddle with his wood working, but she insisted reading, writing and arithmetic would be important one day. Of course, none of that mattered right now, school was out two weeks for Christmas.
Thomas had loved every moment of it.
He grabbed several pieces of roughly chopped wood and carried them back through the snow into the house. Prissy was grateful as he threw a few on the fire and the flames roared back to life. The room would soon be warm and she could go back to her daydreams. “Thank you, Thomas,” she said thoughtfully. “No problem, Priss, need anything else?” “No, thank you.” Thomas walked over to the couch and made sure the quilt was tucked in around his baby sister. They all spoiled her, but miraculously she remained sweet and untainted by their constant attention.
Thomas looked out the window and realized the sun would soon be down. Momma would be home shortly after. She’d asked him to boil some water so she could make potatoes for dinner. She’d promised to bring home some cheese from the General Store where she worked. Often the store owner would send home items that wouldn’t keep on the shelf. She thanked him often, since her beloved James had died unexpectedly, she and the children leaned heavily on small crops and the goodness of neighbors. When the opportunity to work at the General Store presented itself, she’d sat the children down on the couch in the living room and had a “family meeting.” Family meetings were started by her husband in an attempt to keep communication open and honest in their home. This was something different than devotions, which he’d led at least three times a week. Family meetings gave each member a chance to express their feelings on a matter. To keep the tradition alive, she’d asked the children how they felt about her taking a job at the store over the Christmas holidays. It sure would help to have the extra money and the free groceries were a bonus she hadn’t expected.
Thomas filled the pot with water and brought it over to the stove. He found the long matches and struck one, holding its small flame over the gas eyelet until it ignited. The water should be boiling soon and it’d be potatoes, cheese and chicken again for supper. He wasn’t complaining, but a piece of ham sure would be good tonight. But, he’d have to wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow was Christmas Day and Momma had promised ham, potatoes and beans for dinner. She’d even mentioned the possibility of homemade bread and apple pie. Thomas’s mouth watered just thinking about it. Food wasn’t taken for granted around their home, and they’d talked of a Christmas feast for weeks. Thomas felt his stomach lurch at the thought of Christmas, he’d been working steadily since Fall on something special. With so many siblings underfoot it was hard to keep anything a secret, but somehow he’d managed. This year would be a first for him and he smiled to himself at the thought.
Jane turned the key and locked the door to the General Store then turned to walk down the cracked sidewalk. There were red and green lights hanging in the windows and a bit of garland on the door of a store or two. The snowflakes landed gently on her face as she walked. She was wrapped in her brown wool coat, red plaid scarf and boots she used for mucking the barn. If she hurried she’d get home before dark, and that was always the goal. Tonight she was in more of a hurry than usual because tomorrow was Christmas and she had much to prepare. She’d been working in the General Store for three weeks and, if questioned, she rather liked her new job. The walls of home seemed to close in since her husband died. Knowing employment was temporary helped her to enjoy the busy pace. She couldn’t imagine keeping it up all year. The extra money had been helpful; she’d saved some and spent some on the children. They’d each have one gift under the tree and she so hoped they would love the things she’d chosen. There may not be many presents, but what they lacked in material goods, they made up for in love. The faces of her children came to mind when she thought of God’s goodness. All five of her blessings were the reason she worked so hard, the reason she got out of bed each day and her reason for living.
The cheese was wrapped in parchment paper and fit easily into the deep pocket of her long coat. She’d promised Thomas she’d bring some home and he seemed pleased. Her heart softened thinking of her oldest child and son. He was the sweetest soul. She had no idea how she would’ve managed recent months without him. He reminded her of James: strong and steady, faithful and true. Thomas wasn’t much for words or school for that matter, she smiled slightly thinking of his attempts to convince her that education wasn’t necessary. But, in spite of his objections, he’d listened to her concerns and did his best to finish the assignments given. She was so very proud of the man he was becoming and she was especially thankful for the way he watched after Priscilla. James had lovingly nicknamed their youngest, and only daughter, “Prissy” before he passed and the name had stuck with everyone, except Jane. She would always be Priscilla to Jane, named in memory of her Great Grandmother.
The trek home was colder than expected and Jane felt quite stiff as she walked into the small home. The snow brushed in behind her and even her best attempt to shut the door couldn’t stop it. Jane laughed breathlessly as she pushed the door against the wind. “It’s okay, Momma, it’s clean and pretty. God made the snow for us to enjoy,” Prissy spoke from beneath the quilt. “Yes, dear, he sure did.” Jane walked across the room to her smallest child and kissed her forehead. “How was your day, sweetheart?” “It was good, Momma, Thomas kept the fire going for me. I’ve been imagining all afternoon what it will be like to play in the snow. And tomorrow is Christmas!!” Jane smiled as her small girl talked on of snow angels, snowmen and presents. Thomas came into the room and listened quietly to their exchange. When Prissy took a breath, Jane noticed Thomas standing by the doorway, waiting. “I’ve got the water boiling, ready for the potatoes” Thomas didn’t need to be asked. Jane dug deep into her pocket and pulled out the package smiling brightly, “I’ve got the cheese.”
This story is lovingly dedicated to my late Mother. She was one of the best people I’ve ever known and I miss her every day. She taught me to appreciate the small things; there wasn’t a materialistic bone in her body. Good food, family and laughter were all she asked for and that can’t be wrapped under a tree. Love the ones in your life well, make memories that linger; the kind that make children giggle and bring tears to the eyes of older folks. Life is short and we are only given a limited number of Christmases…make them count.