Christmas, 1918

(*Update: anyone in the Danbury, Iowa area, be sure to pick up a copy of the December 23rd, 2015 edition of The Danbury Review where you’ll see this article! I entered it in a writing contest where it won 1st!)

Snow glistened upon the bare branches, and her cousins, the Browns, arrived by horse and sleigh. The jingling of the bells broke the silence and bright moonlight shone upon their path. The little house glowed with warmth as the sounds of a Christmas party within echoed upon the barren fields.

For the first time in years, she felt elated. The war had ended and that was worth celebrating. Since that day in November, she would catch herself humming a jolly tune as she did chores and she felt like jumping for joy. It no longer felt like work, rather, she felt that each moment was something to be treasured. She thought of the selfless acts of the brave souls who had fought across the world, and since that day, she had thought of ways that she and the children could share that sentiment with others. They had spent most of the cold winter evenings making little gifts that they had given to their neighbors as they arrived at the party, and her heart overflowed when their faces filled with joy.

Earlier in the day, her boys had brought in a shrubby little tree to brighten the household. Together, with their little sister, they had decorated it with bits of twine and scraps of red calico as her brother sat nearby giving suggestions and advice. The bandage had slipped from his eyes, revealing clouded pupils, and his pink and puckered skin shone red as the blisters cracked and oozed with the cold. He wheezed and coughed and his once gay laugh was broken now with phlegm. The war had expected and taken so much from him, just a boy when he had left, and it had returned him a crippled man. But she was thankful that he was alive when there were so many more who now lay beneath the frozen fields of France. She had adjusted the bandage over his damaged eyes and placed a gentle hand upon his shoulder as she viewed the tree.

They had sat to supper at a sparse table. The Browns provided a laying hen that had refused to lay, and her neighbors had spared canned beans that they had put away for the winter. From the few remaining apples in her cellar, she had made a meager pie, made even more paltry once she had cut away the bruised and spotted areas. But laughter and smiles helped to fill the holes. Her family was together. Or, very nearly together.

The party moved to the glowing sitting room, where little Ruth lead them in singing Christmas carols. God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing filled the warmed home and her heart. As she stepped between her cousins, wrapping her arms about their waists and joining her voice to theirs, she thought of the missing tenor. Her husband had left two months ago and she had received only one letter that had told her he would likely be going overseas once his training was complete. That letter had arrived only days before Armistice. Was he on a ship now headed toward France? She didn’t know and she sang louder to drown out her sudden saddened thoughts.

There came a sudden gust of wind with the opening of the front door. The small gathering turned to see who had entered and her hands flew to cover her mouth. In his uniform, her husband entered, his sweet voice announcing his arrival. She rushed into his arms, followed by the children, her cousins and their neighbors. It was the greatest gift they could have received.

And from the yard the melodious words could be heard:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men.”

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