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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Winter Story

            A long time ago. Time before. Time that we can't really know about. We can hear it. We can read it. We can think on it. Can we really know?
            The winter morning was very cold. The snow lay white and wind swept as far as one could see from the window. It was cold in the house, too. The fire struggled . It struggled to keep burning. It struggled to keep the room warm. She had to scrape the frost from off the inside of the window before she could look out. The sun did not come up now, this time of year. Only for a few weak hours. This day would be like all the other days. Cold , and dusky and she was hungry. She was hungry. Hungry for food. Hungry for warmth. Hungry for light. Hungry for some one to love her. Oh, Father did. She knew that. But when Mother had been here, the love was more visible. It was more viable.
             When you are small, you don't always get the right answers from the grown ups. They think you don't understand. They brush things off. The gloss things over. Oh, but she did understand. She understood with every fiber of her being. Her Mother was not ever coming back. Someday, they said, then we can go to her. It will be a glorious meeting. Thats what they said. Sincerely thinking that would give her peace and comfort. They didn't see that she only knew that her Mother had gone away, and her life would never be the same.No some day promises could scab up and heal that loneliness in her soul.
             Every morning she got up in the darkness. Father had poked up the fire and added some meager pieces of wood. He had brought in some water, putting some to heat in the tea kettle over the fire. There was nothing to add to it, but it would be warm. She thought about the lovely feeling of the warm sliding down her throat and warming her from the inside out. She tried hard not to think about how warm, sweet coffee would taste, rich with new milk. Some times there was some small tid bit to eat. A crust of bread, toasted brown and crunchy. Nothing to put on it, but the bread would be nutty and good. If only mother were still here, she wouldn't have to eat her crust alone. Think how pleasant it would be, to break your fast with a smilimg mother! She must not think about it. It would do no good to cry.
           Today was not stormy, so Father had gone off to the hills. To the hills to see if he could snare some meat for supper. Perhaps he could find some dry wood, that would warm the house faster. He had told her she must take the sled and go down the road to the village and ask at the homes. Ask if any one had anything they could spare. She tried to make herself look presentable. That was one thing mother had always insisted upon. Even if you wore rags, you must not have a ragged spirit. She pulled her finger through her hair and braided it loosely. She put on her warmest clothing. Her faded, patched up dress, her woolen stockings,long scratchy woolen stockings, with holes in the heels and her toes sticking out. Fathers old coat. It was too large for her. She had a hard time to button the black buttons, because her fingers were cold. Her shoes. Oh, my they were not fit to be seen. She knew that was what mother would say. She sighed.  She sighed the soft weary sigh of poor girls every where. A silent cry from some where deep down. A cry for something nice. Something warm. Some thing bright and colorful. Some thing pretty.
           She had lost one of her mittens. She couldn't think how she had been so careless. So careless as to lose your mitten! The coat had large pockets. She could wear the mitten on one hand, and keep the bare hand in her pocket , for warmth. She looked askance at the wood pile. It was so very small. Yet she could not let the fire go out, even though she would be gone for a long time. She added two good pieces of wood, stepped out the door into the cold. It was not windy at least. The cold sucked your breath. She put her mittened hand over her mouth for a minute, acclimating herself to the cold. The little wooden sled stood leaning against the house. She loosened it from the snow bank and took hold of the rope.
             The little girl trudged along the snowy road. Her white-gold braid peaked out from beneath her scarf. Her blue eyes looked ahead into the vast white world. One mittened hand pulled the sled, the other hand lay snug in the very large pocket.She did not like begging. If only she could find something to eat some other way. There was no other way. This was the way the world was. She was not the only one who had so little. She didn't know any one who had much.
              She knocked timidly at the doors. They were opened angrily. These women were angry, because they had nothing to spare. Nothing to give to this small girl with chapped cheeks and sad eyes. They were angry because they would help if they could, but they had nothing. It was easier to be angry, say harsh words and slam the door. Slam it against cold and hunger, and orphans, and a government and a God who allowed these thing to happen.
                She didn't know that, though. She thought they were indeed tired of her, little beggar girl, going from house to house every day. Why would they want to be kind to some one who was so untidy and ragged and poor? She didn't know that they she only reminded them that one small twist of fate would make them the same way. No one wants to think about that.
                 The little wooden sled slid easily over the snow. She found a few twigs and put then carefully in the middle of the sled so they wouldn't fall off. At one house some one had thrown bread crumbs out for the birds. Imagine being wealthy enough to give your crumbs to the birds. She stood there watching them hungrily, She wanted to run over and grab some of those crumbs and stuff them in her mouth. The little birds twittered and fluttered and daintily picked up crumbs. They sounded so cheerful and sweet. She remembered that Mother had always told her that birds were Gods special creatures. They sang and made nests and raised their families like God wanted them to. They enjoyed life and were thankful. When you heard the birds sing, you knew they were thankful. You could hear praises in their songs.No, she could not take food from the birds mouths. She trudged sadly on.
                    All those homes, all those doors. Sometimes when a door opened you could smell good things cooking. Sometimes you could hear a fire crackling. Sometimes you could hear childrens voices, or you could hear some one singing. She had walked down all the roads. No one had given her one thing. Her two twigs rattled as she walked back home. Home would only be silent, and dim and dusty. No one to greet her. No one to help her take off her big coat. No one to ask  her any thing. She stood her sled back up against the house, and opened the door and walked in. She put her twigs in the fire, and put the kettle on. She was so cold. So she crawled into her bed, under the shabby coverlid and drifted off to sleep.
                     Then she seemed to feel warm and something smelled so good, and the fire light gleamed  and the kettle sang. She thought she must be dreaming. She heard Father humming softly to himself. She wanted to stay sleeping so the dream wouldn't go away. But she sat up, dazed, and saw that it was true. Father had meat cooking, and water boiling and a crust of bread, and wood was piled against the wall.
                      She threw back the covers. Something flew out on to the floor. Her lost mitten! How had it gotten under the covers! The little girl and her Father laughed, and had a merry supper, and he told her all about his adventures of the day. They were happy and gay. She felt that Mother knew about this and she was glad. She did not tell Father about cold hands, frost bitten cheeks, little birds, or angry women. She said her silent thanks to her heavenly father, and slept , warm and content.
                      Winter would one day be over, spring would come. Things would be better then. The little girl never forgot, though. Always she welcomed into her home the hungry and the lonely and the orphan, and the odd folks. Always she worked hard to have a clean, inviting home. Her door was never slammed angrily. She told this story to her children. She was my Grandmother, and now this story is handed down to me. I wish to give a portion of her spirit to each of you. A portion that never forgets a wainter day  and a little wooden sled. A day with anger and slammed doors, that became a miracle of the wonder of life. A portion of compassion. A portion of love for your fellow man. A portion of thankfulness for what you have, whether it be a crust or a whole loaf. A twig or a fine chunk of oak. A mitten and a pocket, or many pairs of warm gloves. "Godliness with contentment is great gain."
          From stories my mother told me on January afternoons.