Charlie and Lucy once again have a Christmas story to tell on Star Mountain.
Santa’s Hawaiian Christmas Shirt
The school bell rang. Seconds later, joyous throngs exited the building ready to start their winter break. Charlie, Lucy and their best friends/ next farm over’s neighbors flew out of the building first. They ran down the road laughing between Christmas songs. They were almost home before they slowed to a walking pace.
“Charlie, did you hear what Simon said about Santa?”
Charlie looked back at Rassie, “Nope, what he’d say?”
“He’s gonna come in an ol’ jalopy this year, ‘cause it’s too hot to bring the reindeer down from the North Pole.” Rassie looked at Charlie, hoping for confirmation.
Rassie believed just about anything anybody ever said. He looked up to his friend Charlie, since Charlie had met the real Santa before. If anybody would know the answer, it would be Charlie.
Charlie stopped and looked at Rassie. The little first grader looked so hopeful; his big brown eyes were like windows into his innocent little soul. He really wanted to know that even though times were bad on this side of Star Mountain and it was as hot as midsummer, Santa would find a way to make his yearly visit.
“Rassie, I don’t have a clue. It could be, as hot as it’s been this fall. Santa’s gonna be sweating in that wooly red suit.”
Lucy chimed in, “He’ll make it, Rassie. He always does, but this year, he might need to wear short pants and one of those fancy Hi-why-ian shirts.” She wrapped her arm around his shoulder and jostled him a little before she yelled, “Last one to the creek bridge is a rotten egg!”
All four children ran for the creek bridge that led to their families’ small farms. Charlie hit the boards first, followed by Rassie. Haseltine and Lucy strolled up in the rear, deciding that it was just too hot to be running in their school clothes. So they gathered wild flowers to give to their moms instead.
The cows were cooling in the creek with not much more than their hooves in the water. One cold snap with a dusting of snow had passed weeks ago. There hadn’t been any rain since. With Christmas just days away, everybody on Star Mountain was concerned about how dry everything was. It certainly didn’t feel like Christmas.
The sound of the big bell rang out from the house; time to stop lollygagging and get home quick. There were chores to be done before either family could head back to town for the dress rehearsal for the Christmas Pageant.
Lucy and Haseltine hugged, “See you later, Angel.” They said to each other at the same time, laughing. “Jinx,” they both replied, “double jinx!”
Charlie rolled his eyes. He looked at Rassie shaking his head and with a sigh of mock frustration, “Girls.”
“Yeah,” Rassie rolled his eyes just like Charlie had done, “girls,” plopping his hands on his hips.
The kids split at the paths up to their cabins, laughing and carrying on like kids that had been released from their studies for ‘summer’ vacation.
Lucy ran up to her Mother, “Look Mom, the forsythia is blooming.” Lucy gave her mother the bouquet of wild flowers with a twinkling smile. “Haseltine and I gathered flowers for you and her mom too.”
Mom smiled at the impromptu gift, looking at the bush that shouldn’t be blooming. “Something special must be on the way.” She turned heading back into the cabin. She reached for the knob. “Maybe we’ll have an early spring. The bush thinks so, that’s for sure.” She winked at Lucy, “Poor thing’s probably going to get frost bit. Let me get a vase for those flowers and you two go on, and change so you can get your chores done.”
School clothes were put up and summer clothes were donned in record speed. Lucy and Charlie finished their evening chores in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. Mother was opening the door to call everyone home for dinner when Daddy, Charlie and Lucy topped the stairs to the side porch. “Talk about timing! Go wash up. I’ll finish getting supper on the table.”
Dinner was finished as quickly as the chores. Daddy hitched Bill to the wagon while Mom helped Charlie put on his king’s costume. It was really his Daddy’s robe with a little extra decoration and a foil crown with one of Mom’s pretty broaches. Mom had turned one of Lucy’s old bed sheets into her angel costume. Satisfied that everyone was ready, Mom grabbed the basket of goodies and the young family was on their way.
Everyone in town was there. Dads were outside of the tiny church getting ready to find the perfect Christmas tree for the pageant. Moms were busy either fussing over the children in their costumes or preparing goodie trays for tomorrow night’s party after the performance.
The doors and windows were open wide to the church. Children were whining about how hot they were in their wintry costumes. Miss Higgins tried her best to convince everyone that they weren’t hot and it would be fine.
Mary took her place by the manger. It was really Anna the preacher’s daughter. She patted the baby doll Jesus as Joseph, the preacher’s son John, stood behind her. The toddlers sang Away in the Manger.
In the back of the church waiting for their cue to enter, Charlie and Lucy noticed Haseltine and Rassie weren’t there. The angel choir was cued and took their places singing Silent Night. The rehearsal was going without a hitch, other than missing two kids. It was time for Lucy to step forward and say her big line as the shepherds walked in. “Behold,” Lucy froze. Her eyes were glued out the front door.
Joseph, turned and loudly whispered, “I bring you good tidings. You know the line.”
Lucy stared out the door of the church. “Behold” She paused raised her arm and pointed toward the door. “There’s a fire!”
Little children started screaming. Moms started scurrying making sure everyone in the church was alright.
Charlie turned and looked out the door. It was a fire alright, and it was back towards their house.
Preacher Tom started ringing the alarm, commonly known as the church bell. The horses were hitched to the fire wagon and everyone in town went to help. With the hot and dry autumn, a fire could easily spread throughout the whole valley.
The mothers packed up the goodies. Some of them stayed with the little kids at the church, while the older kids went to help with the bucket brigade.
Charlie, Lucy and their Mother headed down toward their home. Mom was praying the whole way that it wasn’t something she’d forgotten on the stove since they’d left in such a rush. They crossed the wooden bridge over the creek when they realized it wasn’t their home, but Haseltine and Rassie’s cabin.
Lucy screamed, “Haseltine! Where are Haseltine and Rassie?” Darkness was falling fast. The eerie glow and heat of the fire made the job of defeating it even harder. The fire wagon blocked the path. Men and women manned the pump, filling buckets as fast as they could. The fire seemed to be winning. The fire completely engulfed the cabin by the time they got there.
Lucy finally found Haseltine holding Rassie by the spring house. Relieved she’d found her friend she grabbed Haseltine and hugged her close. Rassie coughed and moaned at being jostled. His eyes were closed and breathing was hard. Haseltine smoothed a cool wet cloth on his forehead.
“It’s okay, Rassie. You just rest here a bit.” Haseltine looked up at Lucy tears filled her eyes, “He’ll be alright in a few minutes. He just needs to rest a bit.”
Lucy got up and ran to find Doc. Rassie wasn’t going to be alright in a few minutes. His hands were burned, he needed help. When she found him, she immediately sent him over to where Haseltine was sitting. Then she went to find her mother.
Mother brought the wagon as close as she could get it to the spring house. Doc and Lucy helped Haseltine onto the bed of the wagon. Once she was settled, Mom and Doc lifted Rassie’s limp body into the wagon. Mom charged Lucy with finding Haseltine’s mother to let her know where the children were going to be.
Mother drove the wagon home. The fire’s eerie glow lit the valley. She and Doc carried Rassie into the house, Haseltine brought up the rear carrying Doc’s bag.
Lucy stayed with Charlie in the fire brigade line. Bucket after bucket of water was thrown onto the fire. Men and women worked well into the early morning hours before they had the fire contained.
Daddy, Charlie and Lucy, filthy with sweat and soot walked around what was left of the little cabin.
Mr. and Mrs. Coffee stood huddled together, looking at what had been their life. Like the others in the valley of Star Mountain, what little they had was in that cabin. Now it was nothing but ashes and embers finally going cold. Mrs. Coffee cried in her husband’s arms.
Daddy placed his hand on Mr. Coffee’s shoulder, “Come on Gus. Your kids are at the house. You can stay with us.”
Daddy turned and started walking to the house, “Come on kids, better get on home.”
Lucy watched her Mother comfort Mrs. Coffee as she took up the vigil over Rassie. The kids washed up and headed to the loft to sleep. Haseltine and Lucy slept in the bed, Charlie slept on the floor at the foot of Lucy’s bed since Rassie was in his bed.
Morning came, Daddy and Mr. Coffee were already gone before the kids started to stir. Today was the big day, but it didn’t seem like it was right to be excited. Rassie was in a lot of pain. He moaned most of the night. Doc knocked on the door, Lucy peeked over the edge of the loft. She smiled, waved and scurried to get dressed.
She was the first down stairs. Doc was shaking his head, talking softly to Mrs. Coffee. She burst out in tears again. It wasn’t good news.
Lucy headed back up to the loft, and shook Charlie awake.
“Aw, Lucy, can’t I…”
“Hush up and listen.” The children scooted to the edge of the loft. Doc had his serious face, the one you only saw if something was wrong. They listened to the quiet whispers; looking at each other in disbelief.
“What can we do, Charlie?”
“Let me think about it.” Charlie rolled on his back. Studying the rafters, thinking, wondering, what could a kid do?
The Christmas Pageant was to start in an hour. Despite the complaints of the children that wanted to stay home and look after Rassie, all four parents agreed that the children had parts to play, and they should live up to their obligations.
Lucy’s angel costume was a sooty mess, not to mention the mud and soot on Charlie’s King costume. Even after scrubbing, there wasn’t much hope for looking as good as they did yesterday. Charlie felt horrible. His crown was missing and there was no telling where his mom’s brooch was, and his best friend in the world was going to miss his first time as one of the shepherds in the Christmas Pageant.
Daddy drove the wagon and Mom sat quietly beside him. Haseltine wore Lucy’s old Sunday dress, while Lucy wore her dirty angel costume. Charlie wore his Dad’s robe, but the trinkets and crown were missing. None of them wanted to leave Rassie, but they weren’t given much of a choice.
The pageant proceeded without a hitch. Lucy recited her lines, right on cue. Charlie led the Kings in at the perfect pace. Haseltine and Lucy sang Oh Holy Night in perfect harmony to end the pageant. There wasn’t a dry eye in the church.
Miss Higgins stepped to the front of the children on the dais, and thanked everyone for helping under such a difficult situation. She was about to dismiss the children when the jingle bells started jingling outside of the church. Then there was the old familiar “Ho, Ho, Ho,” as Santa lumbered down to the front of the church.
The children were laughing and jumping up and down. It was time for the party for the whole town; well, almost the whole town. The youngest children sat on Santa’s lap first. They told him their wishes and he always came through with something they wanted.
Charlie watched Haseltine move quietly to the back of the church. She stood by the door, hugging herself with tears in her eyes. She slipped out into the darkness as Charlie took his place on Santa’s lap.
“Ho, Ho, Ho! It’s my little buddy, Charlie. What would you like to have for Christmas this year?”
Charlie looked at Santa, he looked at the door and back to Santa. A spark of an idea dawned on him. “I don’t want anything this year Santa. Well, I don’t want anything for me.”
Santa cocked his head and looked back at the door. “You want something for someone else?”
“Yes, Santa,” Charlie nodded.
“What do you want, little buddy, and I’ll see what I can do?” Santa winked.
Charlie looked up with tears in his eyes, “It’s my best friend, Santa, and his sister.” Charlie sniffed.
Santa rubbed his back, “Go on, tell me about Rassie and Haseltine.”
“Rassie was hurt last night in a fire at their place.” Charlie sniffed, and wiped his nose with his sleeve. “Santa, will you pray with me for Rassie and for Haseltine. Preacher Tom says when two or more are gathered in my name, God will listen. Will you pray with me, please?"
Santa hugged Charlie tightly, “Of course, I’ll pray with you.”
So Santa and Charlie kneeled on the dais. They bowed their heads and closed their eyes and prayed to God for a miracle for Rassie, for peace for Hasseltine and for their family. One by one, the children of the little church joined Santa and Charlie; each with their own prayer for Rassie and Haseltine. Pretty soon, the dais was filled and parents started joining in the pews. The Spirit filled the little church that night.
Santa and Preacher Tom led the Lord’s Prayer and said “Amen.”
Santa clasped Preacher Tom’s shoulder, “My friend, I need to take my leave. Lots of toys and children to visit, you know.”
Preacher Tom thanked Santa and walked him to the door. The children followed and waved as he made his way to his wagon. He clicked his tongue and gave the horses the reins and rode out of sight.
Meanwhile, Haseltine walked slowly in the darkness. Her heart was torn. She knew Rassie had gone back into the burning house to fetch their Christmas Pageant costumes. She heard the big boom as something fell blocking the door to the cabin. She circled the house watching hoping that Rassie would find a way out. These flashes of terror followed her on the road back to Charlie and Lucy’s house. She needed to be with Rassie.
Haseltine’s tears clouded her eyes. She stopped and wiped her face. When she looked back toward the town the most amazing thing she’d ever seen was happening. A golden glow circled the church. It grew and fanned out across the night sky putting on a fantastic show. Colored ribbons of light floated and blew through the sky and they were heading toward Charlie and Lucy’s house.
Haseltine started running with the lights illuminating her path. Her Pa, Gus, was standing out in front of the cabin. He stared at the sky as the lights wrapped the cabin with their brilliance.
“What is it, Pa?” Haseltine whispered as she wrapped her arms around her father.
“I don’t know, Baby Girl, but isn’t it marvelous.”
Haseltine and Pa walked up to the open door. They saw Ma standing with her arms folded in front of her with a big smile on her face. The streams of multicolored lights wrapped around her and filled the little cabin with a soft warm glow.
Haseltine looked to where Ma was staring. There was Santa Claus, sitting in Charlie’s Dad’s big old chair. His beard was snowy white falling on his big round belly which was covered with a blue flowered Hi-why-ian shirt. He had on knee britches, and strappy sandals so you could see his toes just a wiggling as he laughed. Rassie sat upon his lap, laughing just as hard as Santa while the bandages magically fell off of his hands. A huge smile blossomed on Haseltine’s face. In her heart she knew everything was going to be alright.
Pa and Ma stood there watching Santa fussing over their children. He opened his bag, “Rassie, this one’s for you. Haseltine, this is for you,” and he handed her a package. “This one is for Lucy.” He reached into the bag again, “Rassie, you give this one to Charlie.” Then he stood up and finished emptying his sack under the tree.
“Got a lot of children to see, better be on my way.” Haseltine and Rassie waved and Santa disappeared into the darkness.
Lucy and Charlie had brought the presents from under the tree at the Church home to open with Rassie and Haseltine. The ride home was somber, even for a Christmas Eve. Dad stopped at the house, to let everyone get out of the wagon.
Peals of laughter rang out of the cabin.
Charlie looked at Lucy. His eyes were as big as saucers. “I’d know that laugh anywhere! It’s Rassie!” Charlie hurdled over the side of the wagon, bounding up the steps and into the house in a split second.
“Rassie!” Charlie swooped in, hugging his little friend. He swung him around in delight.
Lucy, Mom and Dad watched in amazement from the doorway.
“Charlie, Santa left this for you!” Rassie shoved a package into Charlie’s hands.
Charlie opened it. He was surprised to see a brand toy truck, with a small package wrapped in silver in the bed. He opened the little package. “Oh, Mom!” he held out the brooch he’d lost in the fire. “Santa found your brooch!”
His mother smiled and pinned it to her dress.
Haseltine called Lucy over. They sat facing each other and opened their presents together. Each girl received a music box. On the top were two little girls. One girl with brown hair and brown eyes in her best friend’s old Sunday dress and the other with blonde hair and blue eyes wore a slightly sooty angel costume. The girls turned the knobs to their music boxes, Oh Holy Night tinkled softly, in perfect harmony.
The golden glow continued to surround the cabin with peace and joy as an ol’ jalopy backfired up on Star Mountain and the echos of “Ho, Ho, Ho!” filled the warm winter night air.