By Beth Kennedy from Foul Play at the PTA, July 2011, second in Laura Alden’s PTA Mystery Series
“Tell us a Christmas story, Mom,” my 11 year-old daughter begged.
Oliver, my young son, bounced up and down. “Yeah, a story! Make it have snow.”
“And horses,” Jenna said.
“And lots of snow!”
I looked at my offspring, then at our immediate surroundings. Boxes of Christmas tree ornaments were scattered everywhere. Strings of lights hung over every piece of furniture in the family room, and, despite an hour of trying, the tree still wasn’t what you’d call straight.
“I’ll tell a story,” I said, “as long as you two keep working.”
They bobbed their heads in agreement. I plugged the first string of lights into the wall. Small colored pinpricks of light burst into bloom. A good omen, if there ever was one. Handing the lights to Jenna, I picked up the next string.
“Back in the days before airplanes and cars,” I began, “people used trains to travel.”
“There were trains before cars?” Oliver asked.
“Shh,” Jenna whispered. “You know what she says, don’t interrupt or she’ll stop the story.”
“Back in the heydey of the train,” I went on, “every town had a train depot. There were freight trains and passenger trains and smaller trains that took people back and forth between the towns.”
“That sounds cool,” Jenna said. “Why don’t we still do that?”
“Shhh!” shushed Oliver.
“But in the tiny town where your great-great-grandmother grew up, way up north, there was only one train a day. Everybody knew that it arrived at 1:20 in the afternoon. You could set your watch by it, they said, and people did.”
Simpler times. I went momentarily wistful, then shook my head. Those times also included simpler methods of personal hygiene, medical care, and urban infrastructure. How could the good old days have been that good if they didn’t include indoor plumbing?
“Then one year,” I said, “just before Christmas, it snowed and snowed and snowed. The train couldn’t make it through. The special train plow couldn’t keep up with all the snow that was falling and there was no train for almost a week.”
“Special Christmas groceries were coming on the train. Christmas presents ordered from Sears & Roebuck were coming on the train. People started to wonder if there was going to be a Christmas at all. The grown-ups went around with worried looks on their faces and the children started to wonder if Santa himself would be able to make it.”
“More snow fell, and even more. No train and no hope of one until the snow stopped. On Christmas Eve your great-great-great-grandfather hitched up his horses – the best team in the county – and went off without a word to anyone.”
“All that day, it snowed. Your great-great-great-grandmother spent the entire afternoon at the window, watching for her husband.”
“And still the snow fell.”
I went silent for a moment, feeling the fear she must have felt, raw and scratchy and dark. My breaths grew short and panicky. Chill, Beth, I told myself. I swallowed down my imagination and went on. “Then, just as it was getting dark, she saw dim shapes through the snow. It was your great-great-great-grandfather, his sled laden with barrels of food and crates of presents.”
“And, though he’d left by himself, he had a companion as he drove back into town. Sitting next to him on the sled was Santa Claus. ‘Ho, ho, ho!’ Santa called as they came into town, waving at everyone. ‘Merry Christmas!’”
“Our great-great-great-grandpa saved Christmas?” Jenna asked, eyes wide.
“He sure did.” I stood on my tippy toes and put the angel sewn by my grandmother onto the top of the tree.
“That’s a good story,” Oliver said. “I like it a lot.”
“And I like this good looking tree,” I said. We were standing in front of the now-decorated Christmas tree. Lights twinkled and decorations glittered. It looked so beautiful that you hardly even noticed the slight northward tilt of the tree trunk.
“Merry Christmas, Mom,” Jenna said.
“Yeah.” Oliver threw his arms around my waist. “Merry Christmas.”
I drew Jenna close and hugged my children tight to my heart. “Merry Christmas, Sweetie. Merry Christmas, Ollster.”
Forever and ever and ever.