Homestead Holiday

Homestead Holiday

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Book of Christmas Virtues

Homestead Holiday

I had so wanted to celebrate Christmas at the two-hundred-year-old farmhouse, surrounded by the love of the dear relatives who had labored to preserve it. A delightful throwback to an era of simplicity—no phones to jangle nerves, no electric lights to glare in eyes—the place veritably shouted, “Christmas!” But first things first; we had to settle in.

“Let’s make it easier for our folks to get up,” I said to my cousins on our first morning at the old homestead.

We drew well water in tall buckets and carried split logs chin high. Soon a kettle whistled on the cast-iron stove. In each bedroom, we poured warm water into the pitchers of porcelain wash sets.

Our efforts paid off. Our sleepy-eyed parents climbed out of Victorian beds to chat over cinnamon rolls and coffee.

We girls cranked the Victrola in the parlor and pedaled the empty spinning wheel in the hall. Everything about this place was a novelty. We read century-oldmagazines in the barn and memorized epitaphs in the family cemetery.

We bathed in the fresh waters of Connor Pond and shared teen secrets on the two-holers at “the end of the line.” We purchased a block of ice for the antique box in the shed and even scrubbed down the “Grouch House” for would-be guests.

But we wanted so much more.

We wanted Christmas!

“It might be a little odd,” one cousin said.

“Sure would,” echoed the other.

“Let’s ignore that,” I said.

Cross-legged on the antique bed in our upstairs hideaway, we plotted how we could pull it off.

“We’ll handcraft decorations for the tree,” said one cousin.

“We’ll pick up gifts in the village . . . even a holiday meal,” chimed the other.

“And we’ll send out invitations,” I said.

The wide plank flooring quivered under our combined energy.

On stationery found in the parlor desk, we composed rhymed couplets penned in our best script. Convinced Keats would be proud, we lost no time in posting them.

We begged our moms to pick up a few items at the grocery store—okay, maybe not a turkey, but how about a holiday brunch with eggs Benedict and a fresh fruit cup? “And don’t forget maple syrup for waffles!”

We popped corn in a pan and strung garland, yet so much was missing. There were no ornaments to be found anywhere. We poked through brush along a New England stone wall and fell upon a treasure trove of cones, seedpods and nuts. We tied loops around red-berry sprigs and green crabapple stems. Scissors soon fashioned white paper into snowflakes and tinfoil into a star.

Thoughts of the tree encouraged us—but the mailbox didn’t. Every afternoon, we rode down the mountain to check it. Still no reply to our invitations—even though the event was upon us.

On the morning of the anticipated day, our folks distracted us with an excursion to the mountains. We arrived home late and tired.

Dad went in first to light the kerosene lamps. When the windows were aglow, we girls ambled upstairs. We stopped at the sound of bells.

“What is it?” I craned over the stairwell.

“Ho, ho, ho,” resounded in the distance.

“It’s got to be Chesley!” Dad said, lamp in hand, as he peered out the front door into the darkness.

Chesley and Barbara, I thought. The guests are arriving!

I jumped down the stairs in time to see a fully regaled Santa leap into the lamplight. A prim Mrs. Claus joined him by the house.

“You didn’t think it was a dumb idea, after all!” we girls shouted.

“Oh, we thought it was wonderful,” they said.

Such gameness of spirit spurred us cousins to action. We chopped down a forest fir, placed it in the sitting room and smothered it with our handmade treasures.

Before the crackling fire in the hearth, Mrs. Claus rocked while Santa distributed our carefully selected gifts. Chocolate mints, knickknacks and a dainty handkerchief . . . even Roy Tan cigars for Dad.

The impossible had actually happened: a farmhouse Christmas . . . in August!

True, this was a most uncommon New Hampshire Christmas. Instead of frost nipping at our toes, perspiration beaded our foreheads. Rather than windows iced shut, fragrant breezes blew past. In place of quietly falling snow, a chorus of crickets performed. Where snowsuits would have hung, swimsuits dried on pegs.

Yet the love of celebrating, which knew no season, abounded. And therein lay the joy.

Margaret Lang

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