Monday, December 3, 2012
The Christmas Gift
Back when I was a boy of ten, I had a Christmas that was both the worst and best Christmas of my life. I know that doesn't make a heap of sense, but that's just how it was. You see, my mama died of pneumonia that year durin' a real hard winter. We lost most of the livestock to the cold and some disease I don't rightly recall anymore. And that summer there was a drought that took the better part of our crop. It was like all the light went out of the world when mama died. It sure went out for my papa and me.
I wasn't lookin' forward to Christmas that year. In fact I was pretty much dreadin' it. Mama had loved the holiday and always made a big fuss. She'd start off by scrubbin' the house till papa said the timbers would collapse. She baked pies that made your mouth water just by smellin' them. And she made plum puddin' like her mama did when she was a girl. Papa and I didn't like it much, but we pretended we did. We were just glad she didn't make it but once a year. She sang carols for days before Christmas. Then on Christmas Eve she'd make us sing along even though we sounded like a poke of squealin' pigs. Good years and bad, she always managed to put aside a little money so I could have a store-bought present.
Papa treated that first Christmas without her no different than any other day of the year. That was fine with me. I wanted no part of the holiday. If I could have slept straight through till the next day I would have. That afternoon, after we'd finished our chores, there came a knock on the door that made the both of us jump. It being late on Christmas day with the wind blowin' hard and cold, I couldn't imagine who would come visitin'. When papa opened the door I saw an Indian standin' there. Now there'd been a lot of broken promises and bad feelin's over the years between the government and the Yavapai tribes, so it was a sight that made my heart start racin' like a spooked pony. But Papa wasn't actin' worried or nervous, so I figured it was okay. When he closed the door again and turned to me I saw he was holdin' a fresh-killed pheasant. And he was smilin'. For the first time since mama died, he was smilin'. There must have been a world of perplexity on my face, because he took me over by the fire, sat me down and told me about a winter long ago when I was barely two. He'd gone into town for some supplies and was late returnin', because the buckboard broke an axle. It was after dark and snowin' when he finally made it home. When he walked inside, he was horrified to see an Indian man and woman sittin' by the fire with mama and me. He got scared for us and pulled his gun. But mama made him put it away. She told him the woman was carryin' a baby and just needed to get out of the cold for a bit. She said it was the Christian thing to do and she wouldn't hear of sendin' them off until they'd warmed up and had somethin' hot to eat. Once mama made up her mind there was no use tryin' to talk her out of it.
Papa said that the Indian at our door that afternoon was the same one mama had helped way back then. News doesn't travel easily between the settlers of Prescott and the Indians on the reservation, so he'd only found out recently about mama dyin' and he'd come to pay his respects. His visit on that bleak Christmas was a turnin' point for papa and me. We realized mama had paid us a visit by way of the Indian man. And I took it to mean that she was still there with us even if we couldn't see her anymore. I never did stop missin' her, but my heart began to heal that day and I understood that it would be possible to be happy again.
What was the best Christmas present you ever received? Leave a comment and you'll be entered to win a signed book of your choice from "A Portrait of Crime."
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submitted by Sharon Pape