From the Children’s Friend, December 1944 –
SANTA COULDN’T GET THROUGH
By Helen H. Jones
Cindy turned away from the peek hole she had made by holding the tent flaps together just above and below her brown eyes. It was 1850 and no one had had time to build real houses along the gold streams of California. Nearly everybody lived in tents even though it was winter time. “It’s still raining,” Cindy said. “Still raining.”
“Of course it is,” Mama said. “We’re living history, I guess. A hundred years from now people will be talking about the great floods of 1850. Dry your eyes now, Cindy. There isn’t a bit of use of having rain inside as well as out.”
“But Papa said if it didn’t stop today Santa Claus wouldn’t get through day after tomorrow.”
Papa spoke almost sharply. “He won’t get through the floods, Cindy. Not a chance in the world.”
“But he got through the deep snow back in Minnesota.”
Tad, Cindy’s nine-year-old brother, spoke from his vast store of knowledge. “Santa drives reindeer and they know about snow but they aren’t used to floods and cloudbursts. Why, I heard Roarin’ Joe say the other day that if it kept up this way even his little donkey, Polly Ann, wouldn’t able to get about. And donkeys can go anywhere!”
Cindy insisted, “Papa, the day we went to Walsh’s store over in Reading Springs, Mr. Walsh said that he expected Santa to stop at his store to fill his bag.”
Papa was cross now. “Forget Santa Claus this year, children. There’s half a dozen streams in flood between here and Reading Springs. He can’t get through. We’re lucky enough that the storm hasn’t washed away our tent and the lean-to.” Then Papa turned to Mama. “We’re just plain lucky to have enough on hand to keep us fed and warm. McManus, Kreymer and Roarin’ Joe aren’t so fortunate. Why, Joe was over here yesterday and he said that everything they owned has been washed away by the flood. Not one of them has an extra pair of trousers to his name.”
“And those swollen streams between them and the store! What are those poor boys eating?” Mama asked.
“They had their extra supply of white beans cached with their gold.”
“And they’re living on nothing but beans!” Mama made a clucking noise with her tongue and teeth. She lifted the lid from the great black pot half buried in red coals in the fireplace and the delicious smell of dried venison stew filled the air. “We’ll have to have them over to share our jerky with us.”
Cindy went back to her old complaint. ‘Maybe Santa Claus doesn’t even know we’re here. Maybe he thinks we still live in Minnesota.” Then the tears came in a great rush. “And I wish we did.” Cindy had forgotten the good times that she and Tad and five-year-old Bobbie had had since they came by ox team to Shasta, California. She had forgotten what fun it was to help Papa dig for gold in the gravel of the dry stream bed and sometimes find in it nuggets as big as nuts. She had forgotten what an adventure it was to go with Papa to Walsh’s store and watch Papa pour the gold out of his poke to pay for rice and beans and flour and molasses. She had forgotten what fun it was to be the only children for miles around and have the men talk kindly to them, remembering their own children at home somewhere back east.
“Cindy,” Mama said quietly, “don’t you know the meaning of Christmas?”
“Yes, it celebrates the birthday of Jesus.”
“Do you suppose Jesus would like to see you pouting because you weren’t going to get gifts? Jesus believed in giving, not getting.”
Cindy’s face grew thoughtful. “I know. But who is there to give to?”
It wasn’t until the family was seated around the bubbling pot of stew that Cindy had her big idea. “I know who’ll we make Christmas for. roarin’ Joe!”
Tad put in, “And mcManus and Kreymer.”
“I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” Cindy cried excitedly. “We’ll each take one of them and play Santa Claus.” Her bright brown eyes glanced around the table. Everybody nodded. “And I choose roarin’ Joe.”
“I’d rather take Roarin’, too,” Tad said. “But it was Cindy’s idea. I’ll take McManus. he knows more good stories than anybody except roarin’.”
The tears came to little Bobbie’s eyes. “guess I’ll take Kreymer. Say, did anyone ever see Kreymer smile? Did you, Papa? Did you, Mama?”
Cindy didn’t wait for Papa or Mama to answer Bobbie’s question. “Tonight and tomorrow we’ll think. Tomorrow night at supper we’ll tell what we’ve thought of for gifts.”
“You can count on me to help in any way I can,” Mama said.
“My part,” Papa promised, “will be to fight through the storm to invite them to come over for Christmas eve and to spend the night with us.”
Mama’s eyes sparkled. “We’ll give those three lonely boys a real family Christmas. They’ll have to bring their own bedrolls, but I’ll clear a place for them to sleep in the lean-to.”
“Well,” Mama said the next evening as she poured molasses over the batter cakes, “have you thought what to give McManus and Kreymer and Roarin’ Joe?”
“I have,” Bobbie said. “I’m going to give Kreymer my worn out socks.”
“What?” Papa’s voice curled up at the end with astonishment.
Cindy giggled and Tad said in his grownup way, “That’s kind of you.”
Mama asked, “What had you planned, Bobbie?”
Bobby stammered, “You said you’d help, Mama. I thought you could unravel the feet like you did my last ones and knit in a thumb and sew the top across to make mittens like you did for Papa.”
“But then the gift would be from Mama,” Cindy objected.
“It wouldn’t either. All the time Mama is knitting I’ll be doing something to help her.”
“I think the mittens are a fine idea.” Mama nodded her head in approval. “Now, Tad.”
“I’m going to give McManus a blueberry pie.”
Papa chuckled, “Another gift from Mama it looks like to me.”
Tad explained, “Mama will make the pie, of course, but I plan to go without dessert for six times – a pie cuts into six pieces – and –”
Mama stopped him. “We have dessert just once a week. think of six weeks without anything sweet.”
“He’ll still have his dried berries to chew on,” Cindy suggested. During the summer the family had picked berries along the streams and each of the children had been allowed to keep some of the dried ones for treats when they wanted something refreshing to chew on.
Tad shook his head. “I won’t. It’s my special blueberries that are going into the pie.”
“That’s really generous of you,” Mama smiled. “I’ll make the pie and gladly.” she turned to Cindy. “What are you going to give?”
Cindy went into the lean-to where she kept her few precious toys. She came with a brown wool doll blanket that had been wrapped around her doll all the way from Minnesota. she spread it out on her knees and patted it lovingly. “I’m going to give this to Roarin’ Joe.”
Tad laughed out loud. “Cindy, Sally’s blanket wouldn’t keep Joe’s toe warm. It’d be just a patch on him.”
Father said kindly, “Better keep your blanket, Cindy.”
“How did you plan for Joe to use it?” Mama asked.
The red started on Cindy’s neck and climbed all the way up to her hair. “Papa said Roarin’ Joe didn’t have an extra pair of pants to his name and the ones he’s wearing need – need patches.”
They all laughed. Even Bobbie had seen Joe’s red underwear showing right through the thin places on the seat of his pants.
“Of course,” Cindy added, “Mama would have to sew the patches.”
Papa laughed, “I’ll fix a barrel for him to wear while the sewing’s being done.”
After supper Cindy and Tad cleared up while Mama began the mittens. When the dishes were finished, Tad brought out his precious blueberries and put them to soak. The next morning Mama made the pie and put on a great pot of jerky stew to cook for supper. In the afternoon the children helped to clear the lean-to for the men’s bedrolls, then settled down to wait for Kreymer and McManus and Roarin’ Joe.
Just before sunset the three men splashed into camp, their bedrolls fastened to the back of Joe’s donkey, Polly Ann. They dried out by the fire, then Mama and Cindy served the supper. How the men did eat1 And how Joe and McManus laughed and told stories. Kreymer ate as much as the others but his dark face never smiled. When supper was over Joe took out his fiddle and McManus taught Cindy and Tad how to step to the music. Bobbie’s eyes opened round when Mama and Papa joined in the dance. Only Kreymer sat by the fireside, his face sober and his eyes brooding.
Too soon Mama said, “to bed with you. All of you.”
Roarin’ Joe put his fiddle in the box and the three miners took their bedrolls to the lean-to. As soon as they had gone, Tad and Cindy and Bobbie got out their gifts. Papa carefully wrote a name note for the pie and the mittens. It took a longer note to explain the little brown blanket and the bottomless barrel.
Cindy and Tad had expected to stay awake all night just waiting for morning. “this is the most exciting Christmas I’ve ever had,” Cindy whispered to Tad.
“Me, too. I’m really glad Santa Claus can’t get through.”
The pound of the rain on the tent and the roaring of the swollen streams racing toward the Sacramento River was like a lullaby. Soon they were asleep and very, very soon Papa was shaking them and saying, “Better get up, now. I heard roarin’ Joe clear his throat.”
From the lean-to came roarin’ Joe’s voice, “God rest ye merry gentlemen –”
The children hurried into their clothes. “Come in to the fire,” Papa called. “We’re all up.”
Tad and Cindy watched to see what the men would do when they discovered their gifts, but Bobbie couldn’t wait. “We got something for you. Look at ‘em,” he ordered.
McManus was first to see his gift. “Pie from Tad,” he shouted. “When have I seen a pie? Any objection to pie for breakfast?” He licked his lips and capered about with the pie until Tad feared he’s drop it and waste it.
Roarin’ Joe both laughed and cried when he saw Cindy’s brown blanket and the empty barrel. “After breakfast, Ma’am?” he asked politely. “I’ll cheat those cold winds, yet.”
Kreymer was slow about taking his gift. Finally he put his cracked red hands into the mittens. He sat down by the fire and looked at them for a time, then he put his face in his mittened hands. When he looked up he said, “I’m going home, folks. Just as soon as the floods will let me, I’m going home. I left because I thought there wasn’t any kindness left in the world and I thought I might as well hunt for – gold. But now I know there’s love everywhere, everywhere.” He took Bobbie on his knee and in spite of the tears in his weathered eyes, his dark face broke into a great smile.
Tad and Cindy wondered why Mama didn’t start breakfast until Joe said, “I loaned Polly Ann to Santa Claus last night and she brought him through.”
For Tad and Cindy there were games of jacks. The jacks were nuggets of pure gold and the balls were made of cork wrapped tight with thread and thin string. For Bobbie there was a beanbag.
“Thank you for loaning Polly Ann,” Cindy said, “but we wouldn’t have minded if Santa had missed us. This is the best Christmas anybody ever had.”
“It surely is,” Tad agreed.
Bobbie didn’t say anything. He was too busy playing bean bag with the smiling Kreymer.