She made her way to the kitchen leaving Prissy chattering to Howard, the calico kitty. He’d wandered up to the house in the spring and Jane hadn’t had the heart to send him away. The two were nearly inseparable. “How was your day, Thomas?” Jane asked as she laid her coat on the back of the chair. She opened the small pantry and pulled out several potatoes from a basket and laid them in the sink. “It was good, the boys finished their chores and Prissy is thrilled about the snow. I hope she can play in it tomorrow.” “Me too.” Jane washed potatoes as she spoke. “The word in town is the storm will be gone by then, and the cold should keep the snow on the ground for a while.” Thomas smiled as he thought about how much Prissy and his little brothers would enjoy the winter wonderland.
Andrew rounded the corner to the kitchen and slid to a stop thanks to his worn out tube socks. He was full of life with a teasing smile that got him out of many a tight spot. “what ya smilin’ about, Thomas? You thinking about Santa?” He was wearing an ill-fitted t-shirt and jeans that were an inch too short. Jane sighed when she saw him, guess it’s time for bigger hand me downs. It was clear he’d outgrown his clothes. “Hey, Momma, did you see the snow?” Andrew asked excitedly as he pointed toward the window. At eight it didn’t occur to him that his mother had walked home as it fell around her. “Why, yes, I did!” Jane ignored the obvious. She grabbed his little hands and took him on a spin around the kitchen. “Tomorrow’s Christmas, Momma! I’m gonna help Prissy build a snowman and make a snow fort!” Andrew’s eyes were as bright as the Christmas lights on the spindly tree standing in the corner. “You are?” Jane leaned over so they were face to face; she stole a kiss on his forehead before he could duck. Andrew looked the most like his father, but his temperament was definitely his mother’s. Jane felt as if she could read his mind at times, like they shared the same soul. Jeffrey and Kirk teased him of being a Momma’s boy; amazingly, Andrew didn’t mind. He loved his Momma and didn’t care what anybody said about it.
“Dinner.” Jane raised her voice to be heard through the house. Like little soldiers Jeffrey, Kirk and Andrew filed into the dining room and sat at the table. Thomas made his way into the living room to get Prissy. “Come on, little one, it’s time to eat.” He swooped her from the couch and into his arms. Prissy giggled and buried her face into his chest.
Dinner was Jane’s favorite time of the day. All of her little family sitting around the table talking and laughing. The energy was especially high tonight with Christmas only a few hours away. Kirk and Jeffrey were rough housing as they sat down and Thomas gave them each a swat on the back of the head as a reminder to settle down at the table. Prissy spoke loudly, “I’ll pray!” “Okay,” Jane spoke quietly in return, “you pray for dinner tonight, Priscilla.” All heads bowed and Prissy began, “Dear Jesus, thank you for this food and for Momma and brothers and for Daddy in heaven. Thank you for snow and sunshine and cheese and potatoes. Help us to remember you were born on tomorrow many years ago. In Jesus name, Amen.” The sweetness of this girl child never ceased to amaze Jane. She was spoiled incessantly by her older brothers but remained angelic in her temperament. “Amen,” the boys and Momma echoed.
Once the dishes were washed and the last one put away, Jane suggested they sit around the piano and sing Christmas carols. The little boys whined in protest, but Thomas shot them a warning look and they knew better than to continue. Jane pulled out the bench and sat down placing her hands on the ivory keys. Her mind wandered back to a time when they’d been a family of seven instead of six. She remembered the conversation she and her beloved had about music and the arts and how she’d missed it all. The farm had its allure, but concerts and fine music were found in the city. Unbeknownst to Jane, James made a promise to himself that very day to bring music to their home. He worked an extra job for the entire winter that year to afford this extravagant gift. And, now, here she sat at her very own piano, on Christmas Eve, five little faces surrounding her needing more than she could ever give. The tears came, streaming down her face and dropping onto her cotton blouse. The children stood silently around as she struggled to regain her composure, their own little hearts breaking. Finally Jane was able to speak, “okay, which song first?” “Away in a Manger,” Andrew blurted and Jane began to play. There were high voices and low voices and definitely some out of tune, but, to Jane, it was the most beautiful sound she’d ever heard. Thomas sang along for several songs and then headed to the barn to check on the animals and to finish his surprise. As he made his way through the dark he could hear his little family singing praises and choruses to Jesus on this very special night. Even at fourteen he understood how devastating their loss was, and he was thankful for a mother who continued to shine the light of Jesus through the cracks in her broken heart.
Jane pulled the covers up to Prissy’s chin, the boys were already in bed. Except Thomas, he was still in the barn. Jane could see the candle through the window and knew he was working wood in the dim light. He used to work with his father, whittling and crafting small toys. It was his favorite pastime and, you could argue, it had helped him cope with the loss. Her heart was heavy as she thought about the pain they had endured. She felt so insufficient in dealing with the sorrow of each child, not to mention her own shattered heart. She’d laid awake many nights crying out to the Lord, only to wake up and survive another day. “Are you excited for Christmas tomorrow, Momma?” Prissy’s enthusiastic voice brought her back to the present. “Oh yes, I am so excited,” Jane spoke as she kissed her cheek. “It’s going to be a wonderful day. We’ll celebrate Jesus and eat good food.” Prissy frowned. “You forgot gifts, Momma, you forgot the gifts.” Oh, that’s right, we’ll open gifts too.” Jane giggled as she tousled Prissy’s hair and stood to leave. “I love you Priscilla, sweet dreams.” “Night, Momma,” Prissy spoke faintly then yawned as she turned to her side.
Jane stood at the door and watched as moonlight streaks shone across the room casting light into the dark spaces. Prissy’s face was cradled by a moon beam; Jane smiled and thought her little one looked perfectly angelic as she slept. She’d already had to endure so much for one so young. Jane turned and made her way down the hall into the living room and sat in the worn out chair by the fire. She was so tired. Her Bible was on the small table beside the chair. Tonight, like so many others, she needed encouragement from scripture. She kept a smile on her face for the sake of the children, but Christmas wasn’t the same without her beloved partner in life. Jane opened the worn script to her favorite book, James. Favorite not just because it bore the name of the man she would always love, but because it reminded her to press on in hardship. She read one of her favorite passages for at least the thousandth time…
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
“I’m trying, Lord,” she bowed her head and prayed. “I really am. I miss James, and Prissy needs so much. I need to see your goodness in these hard days.” Her heart and mind were so intent in prayer, she didn’t hear Thomas come in from the barn. He saw his Mom as soon as he walked in the door. She was in her favorite chair, her head bowed and Thomas knew instantly she was talking to the Lord. It was her habit. He hung his coat quietly, tiptoed down the hall to his room and crawled into bed. He made little noise, careful not to wake his little brothers. It was then, with his head securely on his feather pillow, and starlight dancing on the floor, he thought about the evening and smiled to himself. He had finished the surprise in the barn. Thomas couldn’t wait until morning. It was going to be a Merry Christmas if he had anything to do with it.
When Jane finished praying she noticed Thomas’s coat hung by the door and she could see the barn was dark through the window. She slowly rose from the chair and, with weariness only a grieving single mom could understand, walked to the bedroom. The last thing on her mind as she drifted off to sleep was another Christmas without James.