A pile of old newspapers stacked on the floor in front of our large living room window nearly caused me to fall. I was eager to see if it had started to snow yet. There was no change in the overcast December afternoon weather. Everything looked just as it had, when I came in from playing in the yard before our noon meal.
A proper Christmas snow needed to be deep. We had snow on the lawn and flowerbeds, but I didn’t think it was deep enough. There were bare spots here and there in the yard. Christmas was in only ten days. I ruefully speculated, “If there’s any snow in those clouds, it’s refusing to fall.”
At ten years of age, I didn’t believe in Santa Clause anymore, but I did want Christmas to be perfect. Glowing memories of past Christmases guided my fevered holiday expectations. Trying to sled on the sparse snow on the barn hill in the forenoon had been disheartening. Feeling restless, I decided to go outside, but not to play in the scant snow again. I wanted to spend time in the barn instead.
Leaving the living room, I crossed the hallway on my way to the entryway. My coat and boots were kept there when I wasn’t using them. A loud scream startled me. My sister was on her knees scrubbing the floor in the kitchen. Her face was red with exasperation. She snarled, “Were you born in a barn? You’re walking on my freshly washed floor!”
Glancing around, I noticed the linoleum underfoot was indeed damp. I volunteered, “My feet are clean.”
My sister screeched, “I don’t care if your feet are clean. You’re leaving footprints!”
Walking across a freshly washed floor when it was still damp, was an egregious offense to my older sisters. It was clearly time for me to make myself scarce. In four short moves I slipped into my boots, pulled on my coat and slammed out the back door of the farmhouse.
Pulling a large, wrinkled cotton scarf out of a pocket and onto my head, I tied it tightly under my chin before buttoning my coat shut. My mittens were disgustingly wet so I pulled them off and began to run, slipping and sliding toward the milk house.
Stepping into the milk house was like stepping into a different world. The air had a pleasant milky smell. A large cement tank along one side was filled with water to cool the cans of milk filled during each milking. The tank was empty now, because Adolph, our milk man, took them to Clover Hill Dairy for us each morning.
Cold drafts of wind blew through the small breezeway between the milk house and barn. I slid the barn door open and quickly closed it behind me. The moist warmth of the barn felt wonderful. The Holstein in the stanchion next to the walkway stared at me with wide, innocent eyes, reflecting tints of iridescent blue-green. Sticking out her slimy, raspy tongue to lick me, she grunted and mooed a friendly hello.
Two of the cats who lived in the barn greeted me. The tabby stropped against my legs affectionately, while the orange and white cat stood on hindlegs to see if I had brought anything to eat.
After greeting all the cows, I went to sit on the haymow staircase. More cats began to show up. I relaxed. The cows busily chewed their cuds, their hooves squeaking as they shifted their tremendous weight. Long sighs accompanied their laying down to rest. Some lowed in a quiet, conversational tone.
I recalled my sister’s scolding and asking me if I had been born in a barn. I knew I was careless about some things, but wondered what was so terrible about being born in a barn? I loved the atmosphere around me. Our barn was well cared for and clean. I even liked the way it smelled. All the animals were amazingly beautiful.
I suddenly realized that Jesus had been born in something like a barn. I closed my eyes and thought about the things he may have heard, like the donkey chomping on grasses Joseph had gathered for it. Were there cooing doves resting on ledges overhead? Cats like to be around animal feed because mice are usually there, too. Did a meowing tabby rub affectionally against Mary as she caressed the miracle baby in her arms?
The sound of the barn door sliding open startled me from my reverie. Daddy and my brother Billy came to feed the cows and do the before-milking chores. Billy turned on the barn radio. The strains of O Little Town of Bethlehem filled the barn. Several cows mooed loudly and tossed their heads, happily anticipating their serving of ground oats. I smiled. With or without snow, Christmas would be perfect this year.