One special Christmas that I know is true, because my Grandpa told me so.
Christmas on Star Mountain
I’m sure you remember the verse by Clemet Moore. You know the one, it starts “T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house…” Well, my family has their own version of that famous verse, and I can assure you that it is very true. I know, because my Grandpa told me so.
It all started way back in the hills of Tennessee. My Great Grandpa Carl and my Great Grandma Tennie had six children. They lived on a small plot of land on the side of Star Mountain. They had chickens; a couple of cows. Great Grandpa’s pride and joy was the bountiful garden he kept every year that provided for his brood and he enjoyed traveling around the community selling Happy Home Flavoring to supplement the family’s meager income.
Great Grandma was a lucky woman; she had a sink and water pump inside the house. That was it for the plumbing. If you had to go, you had to go to the outhouse, which was a pretty good clip from the cabin. Times were tough and folks didn’t have much, but they always had enough to make do, according to Great Grandma.
Their cabin wasn’t much to look at, but it was home to the Baker clan. In typical mountain cabin style, the cooking area had a hard packed dirt floor while the kitchen table and the bedroom had hand hewn planking. The four girls slept in the bedroom in the loft, while the youngest slept closer to their parents.
Traditions ran deep in the mountain township, Christmas was a time for family, fellowship and the annual Christmas Pageant. Every year the little girls all wanted to be Mary and the boys just wanted to play outside. Every year, they got hoodwinked and ended up with parts anyway. Their mother’s made sure of it.
The Preacher told the Christmas Story as the children walked down the center aisle and assumed their positions on the dais of the church. He led the congregation in Christmas Carols through the performance. After the Wise Men joined in the singing of “We Three Kings” and presented their gifts to the Baby Jesus the Mayor, dressed up like Old Saint Nick, passed out bags with an apple, an orange, and a few pieces of penny candy to all of the good children. To the naughty ones he’d give bags with a lump of coal and switches for their good mothers to use. I know because my Grandpa told me about the lump of coal he got in his bag, and the bundle of switches Great Grandma Tennie brought home that year. In fact, it was that very same year that something did happen on Christmas Eve, on the side of Star Mountain in the little cabin with a tin roof.
Grandpa was a little boy way back then. His innocent chubby cheeked face framed by blonde curls and icy blue eyes looked so angelic, but he was full of mischief and wonder about everything around. There wasn’t a bug, slug or critter that he hadn’t picked up and brought home to show his mom. He found every mud puddle with his bare feet, sending torrents of mud onto his sisters’ school clothes. He’d make faces at the church ladies lunches, and act like the food they’d prepared was vile. He’d pull Sally’s braids every time she sat in front of him at church. Oh, now he’d had his share of spankings, and corner sittings but it never extinguished the exuberant child’s natural enthusiasm for having fun at someone else’s expense. Grandpa told me that’s probably why Saint Nick gave him coal that year at the Christmas Pageant.
Each Christmas when it’s finally quiet and I can sit down by the fire, I can still hear him telling me the story of that special night.
Every night after the girls went up to bed Momma would make sure the fire was well stoked. (She’d need embers in the morning to start the breakfast for the family and any hands that came to help out.) She’d stop by my bed, and tell me a Bible story. Then I’d say my prayers while she kneeled beside me. She’d tuck me in tight. On cold winter nights I’d snuggle down under the quilts and be as snug as a bug in a rug.
I drifted off to dreamland with visions of Santa’s visit and the big turkey that we’d have for dinner tomorrow. While rainy nights provided a soothing music under the tin roof to lull me to sleep, that special Christmas Eve night was brisk and clear. The light from the full moon shone in the window, making the Christmas tree magically shimmer in the corner.
Somewhere in the distance I heard tinkling bells, like jingle bells on the Mayor’s horses. I stretched and yawned assuming that someone was coming to call on Christmas Morning. I turned and listened as the tinkling got closer and closer.
I knew Momma would be coming out ready to get the morning chores started and Christmas breakfast underway. I rolled over and there he was, warming his hands by the fire. Then he turned around and warmed his rear end, too!
My eyes grew as big as saucers. My jaw dropped, and I caught myself just before I yelled his name. I froze. I didn’t move. I bit my lips together to make sure I didn’t make a sound. If he was here, I was supposed to be sound asleep. I just knew that I was going to ruin Christmas for everybody. I clinched my eyes closed and snored in and whistled out, just like Daddy did when he was tired. I snored and snored for what seemed like forever.
If he knew I was awake, I’d never get anything but coal and switches for Christmas. I silently prayed; please let me go back to sleep, please let me go to sleep, while I pretended to snore on.
I really tried not to peek. Maybe, he’d be too busy to mess with a little boy like me. Maybe, he hadn’t noticed me at all. Maybe, he’d leave in a second, and I’d get to see the Christmas presents first.
I felt a little tickle on my nose. I tried to act nonchalant, with my eyes closed and all. I scrunched up my nose, twisting my mouth just so that I could blow what ever was tickling my nose off. I wanted to continue my snoring to keep up the ruse. It didn’t work. Whatever it was, was still tickling my nose. I decided to swat my hand up by my nose, like I was shooing a fly away in the summer sun. But it didn’t work either; a soft glove covered hand took my hand in his. Oh no, I’ve been caught, I gulped.
“I know you’re awake, Charles,” in a whisper as soft and gentle as a kittens purr.
I opened one eye. There he was. His nose inches from mine. His bright cheery eyes looked right at me. “Nope, I’m not awake. I’m sound asleep.” I closed my eye as quick as I could and resumed snoring even faster. His whiskers blew in the breeze I was creating, tickling my nose even more. “Aaah, aaah, aaah, choooo!” I sneezed and our heads crashed together.
Dazed, he stumbled back and sat on the edge of my bed, rubbing the knot that was fast growing there. Oh brother, I’m really in trouble now. I’ve hurt Santa Claus.
“God bless you, Charles. Now stop pretending and fess up, you’re quite awake.”
I shifted and twisted, pulling myself out of my quilt cocoon. “Yes, sir,” I finally relented, starting to sniffle and feeling the tears well in my eyes. “I’m awake.” I paused, then blurted, “I wouldn’t have been if it hadn’t been for the jingle bells.” As if pleading for my life, “I heard them coming, honest I did. I really, really did!”
Santa stood, still rubbing his head. “So you, little Charles, heard my bells tonight?” He walked over to the fire and opened his pack.
“Yes sir, I did sir.” My head bobbed up and down emphasizing the point.
He bent over started rifling through it searching for something deep in its depths. “Its hours before you’re supposed to be up. All of your family is fast asleep. There’ll be lots of chores to do in the morning and you son, should be sound asleep, too. How about I read you a bedtime story, before I finish my rounds?”
I bounced on my bed, “Oh could you please, would you please. I promise I’ll be good.”
He brought the book back to my bed. He propped himself up in the corner at the head of my bed. “Come on, and snuggle down Charles.”
I snuggled up at Santa’s side. He wrapped his arm around me, pulling up the covers, and opened the book so I could see the beautiful pictures that were drawn inside. Softly in a mellow baritone he read. The pictures came to life with each word he said. As each page turned, the sleepier I got. By the time he’d finished the first verse, my yawns were nonstop. I’d rub my eyes trying hard not to miss a page, but finally sleep came and over took me.
I woke the next morning to Momma’s shouts. “There’s an old peddler, here in the house!” She screeched and she hollered, causing quite a commotion.
My sisters all clamored to see what the ruckus was all about. “It’s Santa!” they screamed and shot down the ladder.
Poor Santa had fallen under the same spell as me and fell fast asleep while reading his book. He too, was taken aback by Momma’s hollers, and jumped to his feet all befuddled.
Daddy came out, and rubbed on his chin whiskers. “Well, I’ll be,” was all he said.
The girls were all jumping around in their night gowns shouting, “Can you stay for breakfast? Can you please?”
“Now ladies, you each know the answer to that. I had a short nap and the sun’s coming up. I’ve got to finish my rounds or some children will be out of luck.” He started to leave, without another word.
I stretched out my arms. He wrapped his arms around me and gave me a big bear hug. He whispered to me where no one would hear, “Now Charles, remember your promise. I expect you to be good. Well, at least as good as a little boy can be.” He winked then placed me gently down on the dirt floor, mussed my hair and headed out the door.
He waved to us all, as he started his team. “Merry Christmas to you all.”
The jingle bells broke the early morning quiet as Santa drove his team out of sight that very special Christmas morning, at a little cabin with a tin roof, on the side of Star Mountain.
Little Charlie held my hand as we looked at the ramshackled old cabin with a tin roof. With his innocent chubby cheeked face framed by blonde curls and icy blue eyes that looked so angelic. Another Charlie that was full of mischief and wonder about everything around.
He pulled on my hand, “Is this where Great, great… how many greats, Grandma?”
I laughed, “Too many to worry about honey.”
“Can we go in?”
“We’ll see if it’s safe, first. You stand right here and I’ll check it out.”
Little footsteps followed right behind me, up the granite stone step to the cabin door. The door was hanging loose from its hinges. There was the kitchen my Great Grandma had cooked so many meals. The chimney had started crumbling in. The table and chairs were still on the dirt packed floor. Where my Grandpa’s bed had been was a small wooden box.
“Charlie you wait right here. This time, I mean it.”
I entered the old cabin, filled with the memories of love and family and gingerly picked up the box.
“What’s in it?”
“I don’t know, Charlie, I can’t imagine what would be left after all this time.”
“Is it a treasure?”
I tried hard to stifle my building laughter, “I don’t think so. It wasn’t buried, you know.”
We kneeled together and peeked into the box. A warm glow filled it and there was a tinkling of little bells, like jingle bells on a horse team in the distance.
Charlie's eyes were as big as saucers. He gasped, “Look Grandma, it’s the book! The book Santa read to great, great, great, great, great grandpa!”
So you see, Clement Moore’s little poem has nothing on our family. Charlie and I both know the story of Christmas on Star Mountain is true, because my Grandpa told me so.