Christmas Story 2014

This year's Yuletide story offering is a little early- I was planning a Solstice post for Sunday. Last Winter Solstice I got lost on Dartmoor just as it was falling dark... but this year the grandchildren are taking me to watch a pantomime. It will be safer but easily as busy, so I'm posting now instead. Happy Holidays to all!

How The Snowdrops Bloomed

Ice crusted over every surface, like the world was an ice pie.
A fire in the wide hearth had been lit for days, slowly warming the stone walls of the cottage. Sat close, two people unlaced their damp boots and wiggled their toes at the flames.
They formed a small family.
A child, a girl of six.
A widower, her father.

Their cottage edged woodland; from this wood they fed their fire and their bellies.
Over the fire was an iron pot; in this they cooked good winter soup.
Next to the fire was a jug.

The widower, now and then, found work at a farm. As payment, the farmer and his family sent over a jug of milk once a week, and a pat of butter. The farmer’s wife would add a pot of jam, sometimes, or a slice of fruit cake, or whatever she could find. She not once asked them how they liked it, lest they feel offended by her charity. She liked to picture the little girl smiling, for her children were grown up and she missed them being in the house. If she had asked she would have known the thing that made them smile the best. It was a tin of sweet chocolate powder.
The jug of milk sat warming was for mugs of hot chocolate.
‘I’ll get a few more logs in,’ Father said, ‘and then the milk should be ready.’

As he stooped in the wood shed he heard a crunch, like footsteps on frozen grass. He paused to listen. Several more slow crunches came.
‘Is there someone there?’ he called.
‘Just an old woman passing; no need to be alarmed, good stranger.’
‘You are far from the village. Are you lost? Do you need help?’ he walked towards the footsteps. It was too cold for anyone to survive a night out, he thought. The paths were hard to follow by starlight and the moon was just a sliver, at the base of her waning.
The woman did not answer. She was stood, barefoot, on the iced path. Her clothes looked thin and so did she.
‘Please come in,’ he said. ‘My daughter and I are about to have some hot chocolate. We should be glad of the company: please, do come in.’
‘You are kind.’ The woman looked at him. ‘I will come in,’ she said.
The widower smiled. He had almost been holding his breath, he realised, the air was so cold. He hefted up the log basket and led the way.
‘We have a guest,’ he called to his daughter. ‘Find the spare mug, little one.’
The child frowned. ‘A guest?’ she said. She eyed the jug and the waiting tin.
The old woman walked in, so cold she was covered in a fine frost. 
‘You’re all icy!’ The child pulled a chair closer to the fire. ‘Sit here, please, I shall fetch a mug and a blanket for you!’

She could not imagine how the old lady had gotten so cold. Her clothes were not good for winter and she wore no shoes, and she looked so tiny, for a grown up. The girl fetched a blanket from her own bed for the old lady to wrap herself in, and brought in three mugs.
Her father patted her head. He spooned the precious sweet powder into each mug, poured on the frothed milk, stirred them each in turn. The fire crackled. Drips of meltwater ran down the old woman’s face. She took the warm mug and wrapped her fingers around it, sighing.
‘You are so cold and tiny!’ The child stared.
‘Oh,’ the old lady paused to shiver, ‘do you know, everything in winter gets smaller? The cold makes it so. Everything tightens up.’
‘Oh.’ The child sat on the hearth rug, smelling her delicious drink. She looked at the milk froth. ‘But,’ she noted, ‘not snow, because that takes up room, doesn’t it? More than rain does, but it’s colder. So is that different?’
‘Well,’ the lady paused to sip. ‘Thank you,’ she said, ‘for sharing your hot chocolate with me. Snow is different. But you have to be especially tiny to see how. There are miracles like that happening all the time.’
The little girl did not understand. She thought about snow, sipped her chocolate, felt the fire’s glow. The rug was so warm and comfortable.
Her mother had sat here, she knew. A long, long time ago. She had been gone a long, long time. Her hair was dark, that was nearly all she could remember.
She tried to picture her mother, to picture her being here with them, drinking by the fire. She would have loved the chocolate. The child rested her back against her father’s legs. He was sat in his chair, watching the flames dance.
‘I met a man, once,’ Father said, ‘he had travelled far north where it snows everyday. He said that snow was made of tiny crystals. Like jewellery made of ice, he said.’
‘Yes, a good description.’ The old lady smiled.
Everyone was quiet, sipping hot chocolate. They watched the fire dance. Sparks flew up, glowing hot, the opposite of snow.
‘I can do magic,’ the old woman whispered: or at least they thought she said that. Their eyes were dropping shut.

The child twitched, aware of the chill that had snuck in, but she was not cold.
She was not indoors anymore either.
Her father was with her still, and the old lady. She didn’t know where they were; under foot was rough, solid, sloped…
This is the roof, she thought: the roof! Only it seems so much bigger- no- we are smaller! We have come out in the cold and shrunk! But I do not feel cold. How strange this is!

Perplexingly wonderful patterns; starlike, spiky arcs of fine lace; wheeled about them. They were the whitest most sparkling creations the child had ever seen. She thought of snowdrops catching the morning sun, frozen dew like diamonds dropped across the grass She thought of fairy princesses, enchanted towers, angels’ wings, snowflakes.
Snowflakes: they were snowflakes!

The old woman reached her hands into one of the flakes and pulled herself into it. The child and her father followed suit.
They each had a carriage that pulled up into the dark sky.
How big the sky is, the child thought, and how beautiful. I will never be afraid of the dark, if this is what dark is. It is only what the night sky is made of. I love it.

Above them the stars shone, and were reflected in all the surfaces of ice. Rainbows arced and bounced, strung between snowflakes.
The sky brightened, glittered, became a canopy of unique light.

Basking in the glow of this light, the white haired lady leant back and sang. She sang absentmindedly, as though the words blew in and out of her mouth, as though they came from the stars themselves.

Sky dark earth deep
shining cold so sharp
cut, ice, cauterise
warm soft mother earth
dense, deep, as a diamond press
seeds awake, unseen, beneath…
the warmth of a lost mother
is never lost…
the warmth of a lost mother
is never lost…
winter simple winter sparse
winter deep as sky
all the promise of all our years
held inside that ice
in each season seek to grow for
what you seek you find…’

The little girl felt a warmth around her shoulders. She knew it was her mother’s arm. She remembered her face, without looking, the lines of her smile, the way her eyes half shut when she blew the goodnight kiss, then blew out the candle.
The colour of her dress, soft-grey like old cobweb.
How the hem was ragged.
Her bare feet in the summer grass.
Her boots kicking autumn leaves.
Her hands, snarled with work, plump with grease.
How her skin shone, before the hot fever burnt her out.
Her whisper. 'I’ll be there, my lovely, in the morning breeze, in the afternoon sun, in every drop of rain or sun or breath of wind or spit of fire. I won’t be all gone. You won’t be without me, nor I without you.’

A log cracked on the fire. It woke the girl up. She yawned and rubbed her eyes.
‘I had such a lovely dream!’
She looked to her father but he was fast asleep, and smiling. He had a smudge of chocolate on his lip. She chuckled quietly. She turned her eyes to the other chair, to see if the old lady was still there, to check that she was not simply part of the dream.

The old lady was there, wide awake. She looked bigger. The fire had bloomed her cheeks, they looked plumper. And her old legs reached closer to the fire, the little girl was sure of it.
‘Did you grow?’ she asked.
‘Just warming up,’ the old lady winked, ‘so I don’t forget how.’
She stood up and stretched: she was taller, the little girl saw. Her old hands reached to the ceiling.
‘Thank you.’ The lady picked up her cloak. It too had changed. It was thick and warm, spun from a material like woven bark. She pulled it on and the little girl noticed with a start that her old hair was made of evergreen leaves. The lady smiled. The little girl was wide eyed, she forgot to speak. She watched the lady walk out of the house. She ran to the door to watch the old lady walk down the path, back to the woods. Her way was lit by tiny snow-sparks. In her footsteps, from the frozen earth, snowdrops bloomed.


Dixie@dcrelief said…
Dear Lisa,
I was reading your lovely Christmas Story. I reached the part where the little girl feels warmth around her shoulder - it must be here Mom. And the words she remembers her Mom saying. I looked at my clock and it read 12:02 midnight on 12-18-14 > my own Mom's birthday. Bless her she passed on 17 years ago -Christmas has never been the same, but stories like your's help me remember to remember. Thank you do very much. Enjoy your evening out with the grandchildren.

Merry Christmas,
The Cranky said…
We must all remember how to be warm.
Geo. said…
Lisa, that was beautiful. It's 1.30 in the morning here and I was just finishing up some thankyous to folks who called or wrote on my 65th birthday. Now I must thank you for the gift of this lovely story before I go to bed. Good night!
Suze said…
What a beautiful birthday gift for Geo.
Lisa Southard said…
Ahh- thank you Dixie, for sharing back- sad but lovely xx
Lisa Southard said…
Currently wearing two jumpers and a thermal long sleeved vest- so this made me chuckle! But yes, we must not forget our warmth :-)
Lisa Southard said…
Happy Birthday Geo!
And thank you Suze :-)
Cherdo said…
You really know how to write a scene and pull me in.

Love the picture (I think I've said that repeatedly, but it's always true!)
Lisa Southard said…
Thank you Cherdo- and please feel free to repeat praise- I won't get bored of it! These pictures were taken at our old house, the current one is likewise beautifully placed. Lucky us :-)

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