From the Relief Society Magazine, December 1952–
The Fabric of Christmas
By Mildred Garrett Enos
It was while John was home from the university for the Thanksgiving holidays that we decided he could do the Christmas shopping for the boys in Salt Lake.
There wasn’t any doubt about what they wanted, and we knew I could buy their gifts at the hardware store in town. But one simply doesn’t buy, and smuggle home, two pellet air rifles, and a pair of compasses, not when Johnnie, age eight, and Drew, age seven, are watching every move.
So John drew the assignment, and I let my mind relax on that score. Goodness knows I had enough to worry about, what with the ranch on my hands, two boys to see to, and a husband tied up with a course in animal husbandry at the university.
The rest of the family gifts, with the exception of John’s, I had provided with my little homespun talents at various times throughout the year.For John’s grandmother, who lived alone in her little house, a box of my best canned fruit and vegetables and jam, and a warm wool shawl. For my mother, a hooked rug, and for John’s sister, and mine, a white blouse each. They were all gift packed and ready for me to mail when I went into town around the tenth of December for our fresh food supply. I planned to take care of John’s gift at the same time. He had needed a pair of new hunting boots for over a year. I had been saving my money since the past June.
The first light snowfall came the eleventh of December and meant little to me except that our rolling acres on the lower slopes of Thousand Lake Mountain were covered with a soft white blanket later than usual. I had laid in a good supply of food staples the day before, and provision had been made for our animals long before. So I rather welcomed the chance for some inside activities. Pete, our aged Navajo Indian helper, saw to the livestock while I checked our wood and put away our food supply.
Everything being under control, the boys and I shelled the nuts for our fruit cake. Of course the boys were more in the way than help, but they enjoyed it so much, and it did help to keep them indoors, so I let them help dice the fruit, too. It made them feel awfully important standing on chairs with towels tied around their fat little middles, dicing fruit I saved a little of the batter and baked it in muffin tins for them. We put the finished cake in a clean cloth and tucked it carefully away.
To me Christmas is more than just a day. it is a season. And it always commences for me with the warm spicy smell of a baking fruit cake. With that smell comes the first feeling of the spirit of Christmas. And each succeeding thing – the lovely carols at church and over the airways, the cutting of the tree, the church and family activities – all add their share to the growing feeling. Christmas day is just the climax.
The house smelled of fruitcake all the next day, and the next, which was Sunday. That day we sang again in our little chapel the old familiar songs of Christmas, and I knew for sure the Yule time season had come.
Johnnie, Drew, and I cut the tree the next day. I was sorry John was not along to help select it – it was the first time he had ever missed. But I knew he would not be home till the twentieth, and in the meantime, the boys could occupy themselves trimming the tree.
We were on our way home when the snow started again, and as the flakes began falling, silent and beautiful, we had no idea of what was in store for us.
It snowed all night long and again the next day, with never a break. By nightfall the drifts were beginning to pile high. Pete had a worried face when I helped him with the livestock, and the animals themselves were cold and contrary.
I listened to the faint hiss of the snow till midnight before I fell into a troubled sleep. Pete awoke me the next morning when he bumped on the kitchen door. He had shoveled a path from the barn to the house through the snow. The electricity was off, and so, I discovered later in the morning, was the telephone.
We lived in a still, silent world for three days. No one got through to us, and I began to worry for fear John would not be able to get through in time for Christmas. And I thought of the boys’ gifts with an uneasy heart.
I worked alongside Pete each day to feed and protect the animals. We kept a fire going in the sheep shed and managed to save every one of John’s prize sheep – the great hope of our future.
On the morning of the twentieth it started snowing again, and I knew for certain that my hopes for Christmas were finished. But how do you explain to little boys that anyone as wonderful as Santa Claus couldn’t get through a snow-storm when he had Rudolf, the Red-nosed Reindeer, to carry his sleigh?
I told Peter about the gifts, for I had to share my anxiety with someone. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell the boys. Somehow, some way, I hoped for a miracle. Reason told me it was impossible. But then, isn’t Christmas the season to hope for miracles?
Christmas Eve the snow ceased. But it was too late. We were almost buried under the drifts, and I knew it would be many days before John could get through.
I searched through all my personal things that day, praying that I could find something to use for gifts. For the first time I regretted that the boys were not little girls, for I had several things that would have made nice gifts – the silver bracelet, the turquoise pendant, and I make beautiful Raggedy Anns. But little boys are little boys, whether it be Christmas or the Fourth of July.
I was baking mince pies about four that afternoon – for I was determined to have a Christmas dinner – when Pete came softly in the back door and laid my first miracle on the table before me. A pair of hunter’s horns!
These were made from cow horns scraped down until they were thin as oiled silk. A hole was bored in the small end, and the mouth piece hand-carved. A leather thong was tied to each end for carrying over the shoulder. To a hunter a horn is a real treasure. These looked exquisite.
I thought of the many hours of patience required to make the horns, and I couldn’t speak. After a few moments I gathered up the box containing John’s hunting boots and handed it to Pete. And, in a way, that was a miracle, too. For didn’t they wear the same size? He would never know they were not bought for him.
We sang a few carols before bedtime, and I read the old, old story “… And there were … shepherds … keeping watch over their flocks by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them…”
I thought of the humble shepherds again while I helped Pete bed down our flock for the night. And I thought of the gifts to the Christ Child, and I thought, why not? Why not one of John’s prize lambs to each of his sons?
I carried them to the house, covered each one with a piece of old canvas and tied a huge red bow around each neck and put them in a box of clean hay under the Christmas tree. They were glad of the warm room and lay down gratefully.
The third miracle came the next morning, and it came right straight down from the sky, where miracles are supposed to come from. Yes, it was John! He parachuted from a plane, and almost smothered before we got him dug out of the snow.
Of course, if this were a story, I could have had him jump holding the boys’ air rifles and a nice gift for me. But the truth is it was just John, shaken, and much worried. I just hung on to him and wept with joy.
Johnnie and Drew were wild with happiness also. They had their daddy home, and Santa had come, leaving each of them two totally unexpected gifts. Of course there were disadvantages, for between the boys, the horns, and the sheep, John and I were forced to retreat to the kitchen. He didn’t have a gift for me, and I didn’t have a gift for him, but we were happy. And that, after all, is the fabric of which Christmas is made.