Sixty Second Parent shares Part IV of this Christmas short story written by Dr. Huff. Previously, Nathan, a young boy living in rural West Virginia who lost his father, remembers first meeting Lige, his mother’s suitor, and pines for Christmas past with his father.
This story, written in five parts, will be posted each week until Christmas Eve. Share this poignant story about a resilient boy as a part of your holiday celebration this year.
Lettie turned up the lamp wick to better see the worn sweater she patched. From time to time she glanced toward the door, willing Nathan to enter. She too had heard the train whistle and had more than an idea of what her son was doing, dreaming in the darkness of the night and the loneliness of his soul. She sighed and shifted the sweater toward the light.
“Preacher,” she had asked just days earlier, when the parson had inquired about Nathan, “Is he ever going to be right again?”
“Give him time, Lettie, give him time.” That was all the parson had said. But Lettie had tired of waiting and the hurt of being so alone herself had begun to make feelings toward her son turn brittle. She wished she had the right words to say, to let him know she understood how afraid he felt and how hard it was to give up somebody they all had loved so much. The harder she worked to say words, the less he seemed to listen, so gradually she had backed away, trying, as the preacher said, to give him time. Her own sorrow had slipped farther into the struggle of each day’s effort to provide for her children and for herself. It was a task that clung precariously to the edge of survival. Little wonder, then, that Lige McIntosh had been welcome in her home. Little wonder, too, that Nathan had been so upset about Lige being there.
Her eyes began to mist as she struggled with all the feelings that remembering brought to her. She turned her head away from the lamp to avoid its glare just as the door opened to admit Nathan and a shiver of raw chill wind. Quickly, she bent again to her mending, partly to hide her tears, mostly to pretend she had not seen those in her son’s own eyes.
“If only,” she sighed to herself, “he would let go and cry it all out, maybe time would finally be up and he’d be OK.”
“I did like you said, Ma. The door’s fastened good. Did you hear the train whistlin’?”
He looked past her, to Eliza, sitting close to the fire, playing with a frayed corn husk doll.
“Yes, lonesome sound. Always is. Makes you kinda’ wish you could go where it goes though, don’t it?”
Nathan blinked and changed the subject.
“‘Liza, get the bread out of the stove. Here’s buttermilk and beans to go with it. I baked a cobbler from one of them jars of blackberries we put up last summer. Figured we needed a little treat to get us in the Christmas spirit.”
Both children agreed and their smiles and sudden animation lifted Lettie’s spirits.
“Lord, Lord,” she whispered again to herself, “Please make it time, please.”
They ate quietly, the murmur of their voices blending with the splutter of the fire and the fading traces of the wind and storm. They had barely finished the simple meal when a knock interrupted them. Eliza ran to see who was out and about at this time of night and weather.
“Mommy,” she shrieked, “it’s the preacher!”
“Well, of course it is,” boomed the jovial, slightly chilled, and welcome visitor. “Did you think I’d be Santy Claus?” He laughed again, a rich satisfying sound coming from his muffled face that made the very rafters in the old cabin shiver. His sparkling eyes, gray hair, and rosey cheeks certainly made him look like a Santa Claus, especially since he had a pack of sorts, slung over her shoulder.
“Well now, can’t stay but a minute. I was over to Hester’s place, figured I’d better run by and say howdy. Uh, just a small touch, Lettie. I’ve had my fill already, thank you.”
Lettie set a small helping of the cobbler, along with a glass of buttermilk, before him. She knew he said the same wherever he went, knew he probably was hungry, as well as cold and tired, and knew too that he accepted only what the courtesy of proud people could spare. She knew as well that he didn’t just happen to be out visiting. No one in Dewberry Creek would doubt that Christmas brought gifts, some fragment of caring that spoke of a greater gift, as long as he had anything to say about it. She watched as he lifted the sack.
“Here, Eliza, I believe this here doll is about need’n a new home. And you, Nate, this little airplane looks like it’ll fly real good. He gave the small gifts to the children, handed Lettie a book of poems, and sat back to rest a moment before going to the next dwelling with its kerosene lamp and flickering pinewood fire. He loved the people in his flock, and they responded to his care and concern with a duty, and yes, devotion too, to the faith he led them to know. For close to three generations now, he had married, buried, laughed with, cried over, fussed at, and lived with the miners and their families who made Dewberry Creek a place called by name. He sensed, without dwelling on it, that he was like some sort of glue that bound them together, gave them substance, and encouraged their will to live it out to the end. He knew that this family needed that will now, so he stayed on a while, waiting for the right moment, hoping for the right words.
“I heard a rumor that it was the biggest box ever, Nate. I can just see it now, sitting’ up there on Miss Jenkins’ desk, steaming up the whole school house with a sweet smell of Christmas!” The parson took a deep sigh of a breath, leaned back in his chair with his hands folded behind his head and continued. “Won’t that be a marvel now? Which color do you like best, Nathan Hamlin? ‘Liza and me, well I’ll bet we go for red and orange!”
Nathan smiled, a thin line of change to his face, but a smile nonetheless. It was the sign the parson had hoped for, the barest beginning of the time of change for which Lettie prayed. Silently, he too prayed, encouraging the good Lord to grant a special bit of healing to come out of that box of Christmas candy and make this boy whole again.
Aloud, to Nathan, he said, “Christmas is very special, Nate. Like the snow outside, it covers us with a blanket that is new and clean, so that we can be new and different.”
For a moment, they looked into each other’s eyes, the older, deeper, experienced ones offering reassurance to the troubled, angry, hurt, and vulnerable ones of the boy.
“Well,” he spoke as he stood, “time to git movin’ along. Snow’s stopped for now. Man on Miss Jenkins’ radio says maybe more tomorrow. Said he didn’t know for sure. Course they never do, do they!”
His booming laughter filled the small room, and the others joined in his response to its infectious call. Then, heeding his outstretched arms, they moved toward him, for his touch, and for the words he spoke, those of hope, and the coming of Christmas.