The boy trudges through the snow pulling a makeshift sled behind him. Darkness is minutes away, but his merry-sounding whistles cheat the night of its shadows. He has no boots and wears a pair of threadbare socks in place of mittens, but he notices no deprivations on his errand this Christmas Eve.
He spots the yellow glow of light spilling from the windows of Mac Sam’s General Store and aims himself and his sled accordingly. He pushes open the door and begins to unload crates of empty bottles.
“Almost didn’t make it, Mac! Mr. See told me to come by there ‘cause he had a whole pile of bottles saved for me…and it was worth the extra mile,” he laughs and helps Mr. Sams count the empties.
“Well, C.R., it looks like $3.50 tonight. That sound right to you?”
“Yessir! And mighty happy to have it, Mac!” The boy jingles the coins and rolls the dollar bills up in his fist as he orders food from a list in his head.
“Tomorrow being Christmas, I figure on scrambling eggs for supper and for breakfast, so how’s about a whole dozen eggs…maybe two slices of bacon apiece for each of us…lessee…that’d be eight slices…and uh…better give me a sack of flour…that way, we can eat biscuits and gravy, too.” The boy briskly rubs his hands together in excitement. “Gonna be a mighty fine Christmas, Mac…mighty fine!”
Mac Sams gathers the boy’s items and leans on the counter to watch as the lad wanders through the store, looking at the Christmas toys and brightly wrapped candies and confections. Finally, C.R. comes back to the counter with six penny-stick candies, three brightly colored pencils, and a glittery box of Christmas cards.
“These here cards, they look so cheery…I wonder how much they are, Mac?” The boy’s eyes gleam as he stares at the homey images printed on the box, and Mac steals a look at the price written on the bottom…$1.15. The proprietor puts the box on top of the flour and tells the boy all Christmas items are on sale: two for a quarter.
“Hot diggity! Good enough…I’ll take ‘em,” the boy laughs.
The two load the items on the sled, and calling out a Merry Christmas to Mac, the boy sets off in the dark, the soft slush of the sled lingering in Mr. Sams’ hearing long after the young man disappears in the night.
Mr. Sams shakes his head and mutters, “His no’count Pappy ain’t coming home again this year…what gets into a man…leavin’ a twelve-year-old in charge of three little kids?” He sighs and flips the CLOSED sign over.
The boy makes good time and enters the cabin where his siblings have been lined up at the window, watching for him. He grins as they dance around, waiting to see what goodies he’s brought home. Their eyes grow big at the sight of the eggs and bacon, and their mouths begin to water in anticipation.
“All righty, you get crackin’ on some of these eggs, Barb, and I’ll get the woodstove hot and the iron skillet sizzlin’. We’re gonna have some good eatin’ tonight!” and he laughs again at their eager participation. He hides the penny-sticks and pencils away, and before long, the smells of frying bacon and savory scrambled eggs fills the cabin. The boy whistles merrily as he cooks, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”*
After supper, they sit in front of the fireplace, warm and sated. A few minutes past nine, he shoos his young sister and two little brothers off to bed, and gets the small gifts from their hiding place. He secures three battered socks with nails to the old mantel and fills the toes with the penny-sticks, the bright-colored pencils, and hickory nuts he’d gathered earlier.
From the cupboard, he unwinds a length of string and stretches it from one side of the mantle to the other, looping the ends securely around the nails. Then he opens the box of Christmas cards and carefully places as many as can fit along the string between the socks.
The sparkling glitter catches the fire’s glow, and he lies down with his head on his arms. He looks at each homey scene longingly, imagining his Mom alive again, and all of them together as in those warm and happy vignettes. He whistles a Christmas tune softly and closes his eyes with a sigh.
“It’s gonna be a mighty fine Christmas,” he whispers.
Author’s Note: I lovingly dedicate this story to my dad, who lived it as a child.
*Santa Claus is Coming to Town, by J. Fred Coots, and Haven Gillespie, 1934
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