SUMMARY: A Cartwright Christmas Past. A tradition begun. Rating K (1,407 words)
“Joe! No!” Adam Cartwright made a wild dash across the front room, and was barely in time to save one of his precious books from his baby brother’s sticky-fingered grasp. Snatching it up, he shook a finger at the child. “How many times do I have to tell you? Leave my books alone!”
Joe poked his lip out and scowled. In one hand he held the mangled remains of a jam sandwich. The rest of the filling was spread from his eyebrows to his chin. He lifted wounded eyes to his brother and let out a plaintive howl.
Adam pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation and looked to his stepmother for help. “Marieeee.”
Marie sighed and put down her sewing. “Hush mon petite. You are not hurt. Enough crying now.” She fixed a stern gaze on Adam. “Must you yell at him, Adam? He’s just a baby. He didn’t mean any harm.” Joe’s wails were now fairly rattling the windows.
Ben slammed his pencil down on his desk. “Marie! For heaven’s sake. Can’t you keep him quiet for five minutes? I’m trying to work here.”
Marie’s lips tightened. Without another word she lifted her howling son and bore him off upstairs where he could cry in peace and not bother anyone.
Throwing himself down in the blue chair, Adam scowled and sulked. He hated it when Marie gave him that look.
He hadn’t meant to yell. He truly loved his little brother. But lately it seemed like every time he turned around, Joe was getting into his things. Yesterday he’d snuck into Adam’s room and scribbled all over several of his big brother’s drawings; the day before that, for a reason known only to him, he’d dumped ink on Adam’s rug.
It had been snowing heavily for almost a week now, and no one had been outside other than to do chores. With six people cooped up in the house, tempers were growing short. Ben, with no good excuse left to him, had to balance the account books – a task he hated. Hop Sing was busy with Christmas baking and cleaning. Joe whined and complained and generally made a nuisance of himself. Marie did her best but he wanted nothing more than to go out and play in the snow and rejected her efforts. Adam, his nose buried in a book, ignored his little brother’s antics. Only Hoss seemed to be able to entertain the restless four-year-old for more than a few minutes.
He looked at Adam now, over the game of checkers he was playing with himself, and frowned. “Boy, this is gonna be some Christmas. Everybody’s cross.” Adam just glowered and ignored him.
The fire blazed up and sparked as Hoss tossed another log on it. Ben muttered to himself as he added up a column of figures. It was peaceful and quiet in the big room. Too quiet. In spite of themselves, they missed the child’s friendly chatter.
The stairs creaked and they all looked up. Clutching his mother’s hand, Joe was all smiles again. “We’re gonna make an angel,” he announced. “Me and Mama.”
Hoss looked mildly interested. “What’dya mean, Little Joe? An angel like you make outside in the snow? I think it’s too cold for that.”
Joe shook his head vigorously, causing his curls to bounce wildly. “Huh uh. Not like that. An angel for the tree.”
Hoss thought about that. “Can I help?”
Joe studied him for a moment. “Okay. But not Adam.” Obviously he was still mad at his older brother.
Adam shrugged. He told himself he really didn’t care one way or the other. If he’d been truly honest though, Joe’s rejection stung a little.
Joe’s chubby hands dug deep into his mother’s sewing bag, dumping bits and pieces of cloth across the coffee table. His mother smiled, glad to have him interested in something instead of whining underfoot. “All right, Joe. First, you will need to find me a piece of white cloth. Can you do that?”
Joe eyed the fabric, pushing it back and forth and studying each piece with care. Finally he held one up. “Like this, Mama?”
“Perfect! Now, while Mama sews this, you pick out a piece for the dress. Make sure it’s exactly right.”
She turned to her middle stepson. “Hoss, we need a body for the angel. Do you think you could carve something for us?”
Hoss beamed. “Sure!” Going to the large basket of kindling that sat ready beside the fire, he dug around for a moment, and then selected a piece. Sitting on the hearth, he pulled out his knife and was soon hard at work.
There was silence for a few moments, broken only by the scratching of Ben’s pencil. Marie’s nimble fingers flew like lightning, forming the cloth into the shape of a doll’s head.
Finished with that, she patted the cushion next to her. “Come. Sit beside Mama.” Joe scrambled up to sit next to her and watched with interest as she threaded a large needle with red yarn.
Joe was squirming with excitement. “Me, Mama. Me!”
Marie ruffled his curls. “Just a moment, mon impatient bebe.” Holding his hand in hers, she showed him how to poke the needle through the cloth, and soon the two of them had sewn the angel’s mouth. Then, using a smaller needle and a couple of old shoe buttons, they added the eyes. Joe begged for yellow hair and Marie cheerfully obliged.
Hoss held up his carving. “How’s this, Mama?”
Marie was impressed. “That is wonderful, Hoss! You carved a candle in her hand, too, I see. What a marvelous idea!”
He smiled shyly. “Thank you, ma’am.”
Joe had selected a piece of blue cloth for the dress. Marie stitched it, and then carefully fitted it over the body that Hoss had made. She studied it for a moment. “It needs something else. It’s not quite right.”
Ben had long since laid down his pencil and was watching from his desk. “She needs a belt.”
Marie laughed. “Of course!”
Ben was digging through a desk drawer. “Here. Try this.” He held out a small piece of cord.
Joe scrambled down from the settee and ran to take it from his father. “Thank you, Pa.” Marie tied the cord around the doll’s waist, and smoothed her dress. “All she needs now is wings.”
Joe’s eyes lit up. “Pink wings. Make pink wings.”
Adam was pretending indifference, but he couldn’t let that comment go by unnoticed. He laughed. “Don’t be silly, Joe. Angels don’t have pink wings.”
Joe’s lip began to poke dangerously far out again and Marie shot Adam one of her looks. Properly chastened, Adam relented. “It’s okay, Joe. I mean, it’s not like I’ve ever seen an angel. Maybe they do have pink wings.”
His good humor restored, Joe held up a piece of cloth. “This. Make them with this, Mama.” In his hand was a piece of pink and white calico left from a baby quilt Marie had recently sewn.
Marie’s smile was tender as she took the fabric from him. In no time at all she had the wings shaped and was sewing them onto the back of the angel’s dress. Finished, she held it up and Little Joe cheered. “Pretty, Mama!”
“Let’s put it on the tree.” Crossing the room, Ben took the doll from Marie. Carefully he climbed up and fastened the angel to the very highest point of the gaily decorated tree. Marie smiled and nodded as he climbed down. “Perfect.”
Ben put an arm around his wife’s waist. Adam slid from his chair and came to stand beside them. Ben put his other arm around his eldest son’s shoulders. Hoss, still seated on the hearth, lifted Joe to sit next to him. Joe’s eyes sparkled as he gazed at the top of the tree. And as the snow sifted down softly outside, their voices rose and blended together in perfect harmony.
“Hark, the herald angels sing. Glory to the newborn king. Peace on earth. . . .”
Many Christmases would come and go on the Ponderosa. Some filled with sadness, others with gaiety and laughter. And, from the top of the tree, Mama’s angel looked down on them all, reminding young and old alike of the true meaning of Christmas and the love that bound them all together.
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