by MARCIA DAHLINGHAUS
The year, 1952. The place, our family farm in a small unincorporated German Catholic farming community in mid-western Ohio. The day, Christmas Eve. Santa Claus is coming tonight!
So. Tonight no one goes to the house until all the milking and feeding is done and then, only if Santa has turned on the Christmas lights. All six of us have chores. I am the youngest and 7 years old. I feed the rabbits, clean their hutches and hold the nipple bucket for the small calves as they drink their milk.
After we finish, my brother Dave and I sit in a pile of loosened straw bales close to the warm breath of the cows in their stanchions while we wait for Jim and Betty to finish milking. As I watch Jim throw straw bales from the loft into the cow stable, I see the date when the barn was built: 1894, sawed into the wood siding under the roof joint.
Dave and I talk about our hopes for the gifts we want. I recite again my tale of Dad loading Betty’s old doll crib bed and buggy into the back seat of our 1950 Ford sedan. Dad told me he would take them to Santa and ask him to have the elves paint them in my favorite color, blue. Mom adds Santa should also tell the elves to make new bedding and pads and maybe some new clothes for my doll, if he thought I had been good enough this year. Dave just smiles and wonders whether the Christmas lights are on yet.
“I’ll go and see,” I say. I run to the corner of the barn and crack open the small door. No Christmas lights yet. A 40-watt bulb hanging above the door sheds a weak light into the falling snow. The flakes drift gently down, forming a misty curtain.
My breath slows as I watch the snow falling. I wonder. The Christmas story says Jesus was born in a stable. Did he have snow on his birthday? Did the animals keep Jesus warm, too? Jesus got gifts from the wise men. Will I get my gifts from Santa?
I look around and see my brothers and sisters excited about their gifts but looking at me. Betty gives me a knowing look and glances toward Mom and Dad.
The barn seems to breathe a response to my questions with the sounds of the calves rustling the straw, the rabbits thumping their hind legs, the lowing of the cows and the suction sounds of the Surge milkers automatically milking the cows. All the ordinary sounds I hear every day become charged with a sense of peace drifting down with the snow.
The Christmas lights come on. Their colors are hazy through the falling snow.
Dave comes up behind me. “Hey, the lights are on! Four more cows to milk. Won’t be long now.”
“Isn’t everything beautiful, Dave? The snow, the lights, the barn?” He’s walking back to our straw nest and doesn’t hear me. “Beautiful,” I murmur.
* * *
Anticipation mounts as we wait for Mom to open the living room door. The Christmas tree with its soft lights and simple ornaments bathe the room and the homemade Nativity scene where Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, the cow, the ox, sheep, shepherds and angels stand in a spattering of fresh straw from our barn.
“All the gifts are on the table across the room,” Mom says. “Your gifts are over here, Marcy, next to Baby Jesus.”
And there they are. The doll crib bed painted a light blue with violets trimming the headboard and footboard. The doll buggy painted navy blue with white trim and new wheels. The new sheets in a floral design I recognize from the sack material our flour comes in. Matching pillowcases finished off with a crocheted edging similar to the edging Mom puts on all her embroidered pillowcases. And in the corner of the crib bed, my doll with a new nightgown made of the same flannel as mine. Plus a new dress and cap made of the same material as my school dress.
I look around and see my brothers and sisters excited about their gifts but looking at me. Betty comes and admires my gifts. She says the elves did a good job with the bed and buggy and that all the doll clothes match mine. She gives me a knowing look and glances toward Mom and Dad. Understanding dawns. Mom and Dad made the gifts? Not Santa?
Puzzled, I put my doll under the covers in her new bed. I look at Mom and Dad sitting on the couch, watching my reaction with eyebrows raised and tentative tender smiles.
Dad comes over and rests his hand on my shoulder. “Do you like the gifts we made for you, Marcy?”
So it’s true. The gifts are from them.
I nod. “I like it that her clothes are like mine.” I feel that peace again that I felt drifting down with the snow. What also drifts into my heart says love. Love in the warm grins and nods from my brothers and sisters that their baby sister “got it.” Love radiating from Dad’s hand on my shoulder and Mom’s misty smile. The love I see in the buggy, the doll clothes, in each gift Mom and Dad made so this last “Santa” Christmas would be special for me.
MARCIA DAHLINGHAUS is a freelance writer from Arizona.