“Hello. Kathy, Niki and Tammie are here to visit!” I called out as I opened the farmhouse door and walked into my childhood home, My two daughters rushed ahead of me. As I stepped from the entryway into the kitchen, I heard the back door open again. Glancing over my shoulder I saw my brother Billy entering the house. Seeing my car enter the yard, he had stopped doing chores to come inside for a visit.
Hearing us, my mother ordered, “Come on in!” I pulled off my coat and hung it up on the stairway newel post. Noticing my daughters had tossed their coats on the steps, I stopped long enough to drape them over my coat on the post. Grammie was comfortably settled in her upholstered rocking chair in the living room. Niki and Tammie were on the floor leaning against her knees. The Christmas tree stood in the corner of the room, glittering and sparkling. From the other room I heard Silver Bells playing on the kitchen radio that always played from morning to night.
Billy sat on the sofa. My brother Casper strolled out of his bedroom a moment later and sat down on the other end of the sofa. I sat down on a dining room chair near the tree. My eight and twelve-year-old daughters were gobbling Christmas candy from the bowl on the table.
Glancing over at the candy dish, Mom pointed out that it needed to be refilled. I jumped to my feet. I knew where the candy was kept. Carrying the green glass bowl into Casper’s bedroom, I opened his closet door and knelt down. Just as in my childhood, a box on the floor contained various brown paper sacks filled with a variety of candies. Scooping handfuls of angel food, bridge mix, chocolate covered caramels, butter finger bites and peanut brittle into the dish, I remembered all the times I had raided the Christmas candy stash as a teenager.
Back in the living room, Billy commented on how the shadows on cold winter days were blue-colored. I stood by the large living room window and studied the clear sky and the lengthening late afternoon shadows. He was right. The shadows cast by small pine trees near the house did look very blue against the snow. On the distant radio I heard Bing Crosby singing, ‘Adeste Fideles’.
Leaning against Mama, I whined, “Why can’t we put up our Christmas tree?” Longing for Christmas was beginning to make me feel sick. Hearing holiday music on the radio, listening to letters to Santa on the radio, knowing everyone in the family was secretly wrapping presents behind closed doors and talking about Christmas with my second-grade friends was nice, but I had an anxious, deep desire for it to finally come. In the past week, my longing for Christmas had started to feel more like pain than pleasure.
Mama sighed but patiently repeated, “I told you, we don’t put up the tree until Christmas Eve.”
I wailed, “Other people don’t wait until Christmas Eve! My friend Peggy said their Christmas tree was put up last week.”
“Peggy’s family has different traditions.” The look Mama gave me as she answered told me no amount of begging would change things.
December 24th finally arrived, but I continued to wait, pining for Christmas. Daddy and my brothers had time to bring the tree into our house before the noon meal. Mama wouldn’t hear of it. She insisted we sit down to eat first.
Looking forward to having a few minutes of peace and quiet, I pulled into a parking spot next to the building, turned off the engine and leaned back. One minute later the dismissal bell rang. In a remarkably short time a steady stream of grade school children poured out of the school. Hoping my daughters remembered not to take the bus home tonight, I scanned the crowd.
They had remembered. Ten-year-old Niki stepped out of the building with six-year-old Tammie at her side. Niki must have gone to her sister’s kindergarten room to make sure they didn’t get separated. Stopping in front of the school, Niki studied the row of parked cars. Both girls quickly spotted me and ran towards the car with big grins on their faces.
Tammie clutched something in her hand. Giving the object to me, she excitedly blurted, “Angie is having a birthday party and I’m invited!” The crumpled card gave the date and time of the party.
“It’s a good thing we’re going shopping today.” I said, mentally adding Angie’s birthday gift to my shopping list. “You can help pick the gift out.”
I drifted sleepily down the stairs into a busy Christmas preparation zone. Cut out sugar cookies covered the kitchen table. Stopping at the foot of the stairs, I sniffed appreciatively. I could tell that a different kind of cookie, one with a lot of spices in it, was baking in the oven. The linoleum hallway floor sparkled from having been freshly scrubbed and polished.
Seeing that I was up, Mom scolded, “I thought you were going to spend all morning in bed. Hurry up and have breakfast. Then get dressed. I want you to help me rearrange the living room furniture.”
All the sleep cobwebs in my brain cleared instantly. Christmas was less than a week away. Deciding to change out of my flannel nighty first, I turned around and bounded up the stairs back to my bedroom. Eating breakfast wouldn’t take long.
Moments later, as I ate a cookie and drank milk, I glanced out the kitchen window. Fine flakes of snow were falling heavily like a thick curtain. A sudden gust of wind escorted a white veil of ice crystals past the house to a growing drift along a bank of pine trees. Feeling cozy and happy, I smiled.
In the living room, Mom described what she wanted. “I’m going to put the Christmas tree in the southwest corner this year. That means the davenport will have to be along the kitchen wall and my rocking chair in front of the big window.”
Excited, I questioned, “Does moving the furniture today mean you’ll let us put up our tree before Christmas Eve for a change?” Most of my classmates said their Christmas trees were up and decorated already. Only Mom and Daddy and a few of the other parents clung to the tradition of waiting until the afternoon of the 24th to do it.
A cluster of crisp, pale-orange leaves twirled through the air and fluttered down to land with others I’d rounded up earlier. The leaves on the top of the growing mound impatiently twitched with each passing breeze. In my mind I played Frankie Laine singing the theme song of Rawhide. Using the leaf blower to herd another thick mat of leaves toward the pile, I gleefully sang along with my mind song, “Move ‘em on, head ‘em up. Rawhide! Keep movin’, movin’, movin’…”
Instead of accompanying cowboy shouts and snapping whips, the leaf blower purred as I rolled another batch of leaves to my leaf corral. “Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’.” With the happy memories of a cattle-drive television show that I had loved during my childhood and a little imagination, I was turning a boring job into fun. I smiled to remember how I had a big crush on the show’s actors when I was fifteen-years-old. I never did figure out who I liked more, Gil Favor or Rowdy Yates.
Looking up, I eyed the leaves that still clung to the maple tree branches. They were stubborn like cattle that refused to cooperate. Why hadn’t they joined the other leaves several days ago in their great stampede? For one glorious, windy hour, leaves fell like heavy snow.