“The first Christmas on the prairie was desolate, lonely. I barely allowed myself to consider how many in my family were gathering in churches, enjoying the warmth and the glow, the company of one another. I hunkered down, listening to the wind howl, praying I had laid in enough firewood to survive this raging winter on my own, all out of stubborn determination to lay claim to a bit of land of my own.”
— Sevren Smith
Homesteading The West
Each life is knitted together by a series of stories: happy, sad, daring, challenging, fiery, frustrating, victorious, uplifting. Knit one, purl two, with the occasional dropped stitch just to make each one unique.
We rarely think of ourselves as having interesting stories, as we just live it out, day by day, often bored with the humdrum beat of making a living while creating a life. There is something about the enormity of this season, though, that prompts us to look back, to take stock of where we’ve been.
We enjoyed simple and sweet Christmas seasons in my childhood, each gift memorable because there were so few of them. Spending time with cousins in a packed house until milking time called us away is how we always spent Christmas day. Later, Christmas has often been bittersweet, as we said good-bye to those who played such a large part in our heart.
It was 11 years ago today that we stood in a place of shock, having survived a house fire. The Christmas tree was adorned with the tiny ornaments of my son’s and daughter’s childhood. Gifts were hidden throughout the big old house. I had just started writing thank-you notes for those who had sent flowers after the tragic death of my best friend, Wendy.
The fire, smoke and water took all of that and plenty more away. To this day, I feel such regret for it all. I also feel mighty blessed that we all walked out safely. I will never forget hearing sirens across the countryside that night, waiting helplessly for volunteer firefighters to arrive.
Christmas is where you make it. We spent that Christmas in a rental house, a tree set up and decorated by my sweet sister who was there to carry us through it all.
This was the same sister I had helped through a Christmas season six years earlier when her son was badly burned in a horrendous cabin fire.
We have laughed and cried and rallied together over a lifetime. We shared a bedroom, barn chores and twice-daily milking. We traded baby dolls, favorite clothes and secrets. We took our punishment together when, one sleepless winter night, my big sister convinced me we could create something absolutely amazing by simply combining flour and water. We made a mess of the kitchen at 2 a.m. and took our licks for it. And by the way, nothing great ever came of that concoction.
Christmas was always made magical by our dear Aunt Marilyn. We remember baking cut-out cookies and date nut bread with her in the kitchen of the home in which she and my dad had been born, our aunt wearing a dress and apron which she had sewn, humming Christmas carols as she worked.
My sisters and I loved her without reservation, but also without the realization how very much she meant to us until she died at age 35, just as her mother had. I lost cards, notes and recipes, all hand-written by our dear aunt, when we had our house fire.
Yesterday, a friend came knocking at my door. He reached in his overall pocket and said to me, “I have something for you.”
It was a greeting card he had received and saved all these years, sent when he was 15 and healing from an emergency appendectomy. It was signed in my aunt’s distinctive handwriting.
“I had helped on your grandpa’s farm lots of times,” Jeff said, “baling hay and other jobs, and they sent me this card way back then. I thought you should have it.”
I felt that happy chill of a thrill, the blessing of joy received.
Sometimes Christmas gifts come wrapped in fancy paper, tied in ribbon and bows. Other times, they come as if from heaven, simple and sweet and meaningful beyond measure.
Happy Christmas to you and yours. May joy and peace be with us all.