Charlie, Lucy and Jesse want to do something very special for Grandma's Christmas.
Star Mountain Nativity
Christmas passed in the valley. Easter was on the way and three rowdy children were excited to be spending the day with Grandma and Grandpa in the little village. Saturday morning's trip included a brisk walk down the only street while Grandpa visited with the men folk at the train station across from the General Store. Grandma had her basket filled with eggs and butter to barter with Mr. Drucker. In the front window, something caught Grandma's eye. She stopped short leaving her entourage to run right into her. Quickly she righted her basket before she lost one precious egg. She stared at the window and a memory from long ago passed through her mind's eye. She dabbed her handkerchief at the corner of her eyes and smiled softly.
"What's wrong Grandma?" Charlie asked.
"Oh, it's nothing son, just seeing that Nativity set brought back some wonderful memories from when your Momma and Daddy were little." She pointed to the angel above the Holy Family, "I do believe who ever created this must have known your Momma when she was the Angel of the Lord, and lookie there at Joseph, he's the spitting image of your Daddy when he was younger. The Mother Mary looks just like little Ruthie and the shepherd looks like your uncle Bobby. I've never seen anything like it. It's just so beautiful."
Charlie, Lucy, and Jesse stood staring at the nativity and tried to imagine their Momma and Daddy being in the Christmas Pageant not to mention their teacher, Miss Ruth Allen as Mary the mother of the Christ Child. Jesse said what the others were thinking. "That was a really long time ago, wasn't it Grandma, cause Momma and Daddy are both so old now."
Grandma laughed, "Well, I guess it was a really long time ago." She tussled his hair, shook her head and headed into the General Store to conduct her business. Grandma made up her mind as she strode into the store. She was going to set aside a little every week from her egg and butter money and buy that nativity set for her family. It looked just like them, after all.
Charlie grabbed Lucy and Jesse by the hand. "Listen, Grandma really loves that Nativity. Why don't we do some extra chores to earn some money and we'll get it for her. It will be her Christmas present from us! What do you say?"
Lucy and Jesse were almost giddy at the prospect of having such a nice Christmas present for Grandma. She always was doing so much for them. "Let's do it!" And the three children started working toward their goal.
All spring, summer and fall the children looked for ways to earn a coin or two. They swept up store fronts. They helped the neighbors picking and canning vegetables. They watched the ground for a dropped coins every where they went. Even the coins they received for their birthdays went into the secret collection box that Charlie kept hidden under his bed.
All spring, summer and fall Grandma tried to save a little extra from the egg and butter money, but the children needed new shoes, Grandpa needed new glasses, the parsonage needed new curtains, several families needed a little help now and then. It seemed like every time Grandma would have a little saved up, something else would come up and the savings would be gone and she'd start all over again.
Christmas was coming, and Charlie pulled out the box with the money in it. They carefully counted each and every coin. Charlie was sure they had enough. The children took the money into school and before they left to go home, they ran all the way down to the General Store. The bell rang as they opened the door and breathlessly walked in. Charlie, being the oldest was the spokesman. Lucy stood behind him on his right and Jesse on his left. "Mr. Drucker, we want to buy the Nativity for Grandma." Charlie took the box out of his satchel and plunked it on the counter top.
Mr. Drucker was surprised, to say the least. He looked at the box of money and looked back at the kids. "How did you kids come up with all of this money?" He started counting the coins.
Charlie explained how they'd worked really hard all year long, just to get this present for Grandma. Jesse and Lucy chimed in about how Grandma does so much for them; they wanted to get her something nice.
The bell rang on the door again, a cold breeze blew through and the mayor walked in. "Good afternoon, Mr. Drucker. Children, what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be on the way home?"
Jesse looked up at the mayor. "It's a secret, sir, can't tell you."
Lucy looked mortified. That certainly wasn't the way to talk to someone as important as the mayor. After all he did play Santa Claus at the Christmas Pageant every year. Jesse would be getting switches or coal if he didn't watch out. "It's for Grandma, sir. We are trying to surprise her."
"For Grandma, well, isn't that something!" The mayor smoothed his beard and continued to walk around the store looking at the merchandise, deep in thought.
"Sorry, kids," Mr. Drucker said, "you're short."
Deflated, Charlie sighed and Lucy and Jesse started to sniffle. "How much?" Charlie looked at the big pile of coins.
Mr. Drucker's heart was softening when he realized the mayor was signaling him. "I'll be right back." He walked over to the mayor. They were talking softly while the mayor fingered a bolt of bright pink fabric. Mr. Drucker nodded and returned to the counter where the children waited.
"Why don't you leave the money here, and you can work the rest of it off before and after school. But, you can't take the Nativity until it's all paid off. It's quite a bit more than what you have here. With Christmas just a few days away, you probably won't get it paid off in time."
The threesome looked at each other, their desire to get the Nativity set for Grandma won out. They'd work at Drucker's General Store for as long as it took. Now they had to figure out how to do just that because Grandma and Grandpa expected them home right after school to do their chores. The bell rang as they walked out of the store, whispering together and making plans.
The mayor grinned, "So Drucker, how much are they short?"
"Aw, Mayor, I would have given it to them if you hadn't signaled me. Why, have you seen all that their Grandma does for everyone in town? Just last week, when Silas came home early, his boy was running over here to get eggs for his ma. Sally'd used the last of hers baking a cake for his homecoming. Mrs. Lucinda loaded up that boys pockets with eggs and sent him home so his pa could have eggs for his first breakfast home. It made her short on what she wanted to buy, but she made do with what she could afford. That woman is always doing something for folks around here."
"I know, she's got a heart as big as the valley. Well, I'll pay the difference and wrap it up. I think I know someone that will make a special delivery for the children." He winked.
The weekend before Christmas Charlie, Lucy and Jesse spent the morning at Drucker's General Store. Jesse swept. Charlie helped Mr. Drucker with carrying parcels for customers and Lucy practiced making change for Mr. Drucker. The children were so busy they didn't even notice that the Nativity was gone.
Grandma, on the other hand, noticed it was missing. She knew she didn't have enough but it was still disappointing to see that it wasn't in the window anymore. She sighed, someone must have bought it. The bell rang as she opened the door of the Drucker's General Store. She looked up, "What are you three doing here?"
Four pairs of eyes as big as saucers looked up at Grandma. Charlie stumbled over his words, trying to find a word to say. Lucy looked like she'd been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Jesse clearly and calmly stated, "I'm sweeping the floor, Grandma." Mr. Drucker thought fast, "They've offered to help me out so they can earn a little money, but you know it's too close to Christmas to ask too many questions."
Grandma looked at the threesome, then at Mr. Drucker, then back at the children, "You know your Grandpa is waiting for you to help with the chores. Don't be too long." She turned to Mr. Drucker, "I've brought eggs, butter and some fudge for you and yours." Grandma walked around the store and picked up the items she needed.
She looked at Charlie, "Don't forget, not too much longer. You have chores to do." The bell tinkled as she left the store.
Mr. Drucker and the kids all let out a loud "Whew!" after Grandma left. "That was close!" Mr. Drucker leaned on the counter. "Jesse, you finish up sweeping and you all head on home. I don't want you all to get in trouble."
"Yes sir." Jesse finished up the corner he was working in and put the dustpan and broom away. The kids bundled up and headed for Grandma's house. All the way home the kids chattered about Christmas, Grandma's present, and the Pageant.
Grandma was waiting on the front porch rocking in her favorite rocker, wrapped up in her heavy coat. She didn't look happy. Thankfully Grandpa came out the door and yelled at the kids to meet him up at the barn. Three kids zoomed past the house and didn't slow down until they reached the pig sty.
Grandpa opened the door to the barn, "Alright, what are ya'll up to? Grandma came home from town all flustered. She thought ya'll were with your parents this morning and there you were in Drucker's."
Lucy looked at Grandpa, "We're working for Mr. Drucker to earn some money for Grandma's Christmas present. We don't have enough money yet. We've saved all year, but it just isn't enough."
Charlie chimed in. "We're supposed to help Mr. Drucker every day a little before and after school, Grandpa, to help finish paying for the Nativity that's in Drucker's window. Grandma just loved it, and we wanted to get it for her all by ourselves."
Grandpa could see the pleading eyes of three kids. "Well, maybe I can help you out, just a little and you can help with some extra chores around here to earn the rest of the money. I'll talk to Mr. Drucker tomorrow, but you three go straight to school and straight home, just like you're supposed to. I'll smooth things over with Grandma."
Grandpa looked back toward the house and saw Grandma still in her rocker. "Now Charlie, let's get the hay out to feed the cows. Jesse, you and Lucy go and slop the pigs. I left the buckets by the gate." He looked back at the house again relieved that Grandma had gone inside. "Then we'll do some of Grandma's chores to sooth her ruffled feathers. And, no matter what, be on your best behavior! I'm pretty sure, that alone would be a great present for your Grandma."
Grandma appreciated the children doing so many of her chores. She watched from the window as Grandpa helped them clean out the chicken coup. A basket full of eggs, showed up at her back door being carried by Lucy and Jesse. Charlie carried a bucket full of milk. How he got it down from the barn without spilling any she'd never figure out. Grandpa's arms were filled with the evening's fire wood. Their reward spread out on the kitchen table. Grandma fried chicken and opened some of her canned green beans the children had picked over the summer, mashed potatoes with gravy and the lightest, flakiest biscuits in McMinn County sat on the table.
The merry threesome watched as Grandpa talked to Mr. Drucker. Between winks and nods everything was settled. Grandpa reported back that Mr. Drucker would hold onto the Nativity so Grandma wouldn't find it.
That year's Christmas pageant went off without a hitch. The children sang Christmas carols, the Holy Family walked in and took their places, the parson read Luke 2, and the mayor snuck out during the reading just like every other year. The ladies pulled back to curtain to signal time for refreshments. Once everyone was settled with their plate of goodies, the jingling bells of Santa's wagon could be heard getting closer and closer to the little school house/ church.
The mayor, with his round belly and white beard made the perfect Santa for the town. He'd lumber up the steps and enter with a boisterous "Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Christmas!" The children would clamber to be close to Santa. His pack was always so heavy; making sure every child had something for Christmas. This year was even more special with one very special package for one very special Grandma.
One by one the children sat on Santa's lap and his helper handed him something from the pack for that child. Santa was getting more excited, he couldn't wait to call Mrs. Lucinda up to receive the present her grandchildren wanted her to have. He reached the bottom of the bag and started searching. It was gone. He flipped the bag and shook it from the bottom. The special present was gone. He looked toward Charlie, Lucy and Jesse. They didn't know he had the Nativity, but Santa was heartbroken. He looked toward his wife; she was just as bumfuzzled as he was.
Once Santa had passed out all of the gifts, he got up to leave the party. Mr. Drucker and Grandpa met him at the door. They all walked out together. The mayor couldn't believe someone would unload all of the presents and reload them into the bag while everyone was at the pageant, but that's what had to happen, there wasn't any other explanation.
Mr. Drucker and Grandpa returned to the party as the jingle bells of the horse drawn wagon left the little village, just like always.
The party started winding down and families helped clean up the school house/ church. Christmas Day service would be in the morning, folks needed to get home.
Grandma, Grandpa, Charlie, Lucy and Jesse road in the wagon back to their little farm. Jesse was already asleep as they pulled up to the house. Grandma carried him in, and put him straight to bed. Lucy was next, tucked in as snug as a bug. Charlie helped Grandpa with the horse and wagon. Grandma had his bed turned down and ready for him when he came in. Once the children were all tucked in, Grandpa and Grandma settled down under their thick warm quilts and quickly fell asleep after such a special day.
In the wee hours of the night, Grandma woke to a strange sound. She sat up in the bed listening. It sounded like the soft tinkling of bells. "Now, who would be up and out this late at night?" Grandpa snored his funny little peep, peep, peeping snore. She laughed softly and slipped out of bed.
She padded to the window and looked out. The frost covered the pasture and shimmered like new fallen snow under the light of the full moon. The valley was beautiful no matter the season, but this night was glorious. In the distance she heard the tinkling of bells again. She pressed her nose to the glass, trying to see further down the road. It wasn't any use; she wouldn't get a clear view from the bedroom.
She tip toed to the kitchen and looked out the dining room window. The view was even more spectacular. Deer were crossing the valley close to the creek. The tinkling was getting louder and Grandma could see a light moving along Strawberry Pike. Whoever it was, they were getting closer to their road.
She watched the deer following along the edge of the creek, the light turned down their road and the bells were more distinct. Grandma turned and stoked the embers in the wood stove. If someone was going to stop by at this time of night, the least she could do would be to have a warm kitchen with something warm to drink. She put a pot of coffee on and then went back to the window to check on the traveler.
She looked up toward Star Mountain, then back toward the village. The light was gone, the tinkling was gone, and the deer were gone. All that was left was the shimmering frost on the pasture and the hoot of the barn owl. Grandma shivered as the chill of the evening settled around her. She walked back to the stove and placed the pot back on the counter top.
Grandma headed back to bed, thinking that she must have dreamed the whole thing. She stopped at the door to the sitting room. "Grandpa, what are you doing up?"
The man stood, and pulled his pack to his shoulder. "Merry Christmas, Lucinda, you're such a special woman. So many around here wouldn't know what to do without you," and with that, he was gone.
Grandma sat down in the rocker. She couldn't believe her eyes. There under the Christmas tree sat the Nativity. An envelope sat beside the creche. Grandma picked up the envelope and read the letter.
You saw this in the Drucker's store window and Charlie, Lucy and Jesse have worked so hard all year long to earn enough money to buy it for you. Of course, I've known about their plan all along. I know you remember this special Christmas and the children that were in the Christmas Pageant. I'm really happy to deliver their gift to you.
Tears filled her eyes. She studied each piece more closely. She remembered the year, the Christmas pageant, and the children and all of their parts. She rocked and closed her eyes, remembering all of the wonders of Christmas in the little village that sits beside Star Mountain.