Little Alan sat in front of the old “Warm Morning” coal stove, his backside, a mite warmer than it had been in the early frigid morning—so cold that ice had formed around the inner edges of his window sill. He’d picked a small piece off to slip down brother Paul’s shirt. Probably a good thing it melted before he could.
Now he sat smacking walnuts open with rocks. He, and Danny, and Paul. Uncle Dewey too.
“What do you want outta that Wish book, Uncle Dewey?” He’d eyeballed a race car set more times than he could count. But he knew what they always said about wishin’ and spittin’.
Dewey slammed a walnut apart. “A nutcracker.”
Little Alan chipped away at his nut, full-well knowing what that nut would go into. Jam Cake. His mouth watered.
“Ahh. Ouch!” Danny tossed his brick aside.
Uncle Dewey grabbed the nut from the middle and popped it in his mouth. “Supposed to hit the nut, not your fingers.”
Mom stepped into the room, her pear branch switch grazing the tops of their heads. “I’ll get you with my switch if you eat another’n.” She pointed straight at Dewey. An innocent grin spread across his face.
Little Alan looked over to the corner of the room where the chalk statue of Ole Santy sat and dutifully cracked another nut. Brothers Paul and Danny worked faster. It would be Christmas in only three days. Gee-o-moley. Working faster felt like it would come faster. The bowl filled and was rescued from Uncle Dewey’s hungry hands.
Little Alan gave up the wish book to his brother Danny, and stood, looking into the Christmas tree. A short stubby cedar covered with icicles, ornaments, only a few strands of large, glowing lights. The tree had been unknown and forgotten before yesterday, when all the brothers had trooped through the woods and found it. Now it sat in a coffee can full of gravel, and seemed as though Christmas had lived in it all along.
His eyes flashed up to the wise men marching across the desert of a shelf. Coated in silver paint, they glistened with richness. Could gold be found in a desert? Mammow said that all animals could talk at midnight on Christmas Eve. What would a camel have to say? A movement caught his eye from the window. Snow…
“C’mon down to Mammow’s.” Uncle Dewey led the way.
Paul, Danny, and Little Alan marched behind him, down the hill as wet sticky flakes of snow floated to their eye lashes and outstretched tongues.
Granpaw, with his stern eyes and set mouth, held an old burlap sack. “Now look here, this is all yer gonna get for Christmas, ‘cause I’m gonna yoke ole Santy.” He handed them each an orange. “I’ll get ‘im, you just wait and see.”
The boys stood, each with an orange clamped between two hands. Little Alan gulped. He had no doubt that Granpaw could do anything he wanted. He was mean. He was tough. He could shoot in a hair’s breath. Little Alan thought of that pet rooster that had pecked his forehead, and didn’t live to see supper. Granpaw must be the meanest man alive to wanna yoke Ole Santy…
Danny bent to his ear. “Come on!”
The boys rushed back up the hill to the safety of their room and sat in the middle of the floor.
Danny laid out the one, dreadful fact. “If Granpaw gets Santy, we won’t be gettin’ any presents.”
Little Alan’s eyes watered. “Where do you think he’ll hide him?”
Paul began peeling his orange. “Hornback holler, I betcha!”
One tangy smell and Little Alan had his thumb poked in to peel his too.
Danny shook his head. “I’d like to yoke Granpaw.” His eyes lit with the idea. “That’s what we’ll do. We’ll yoke Granpaw. We’ll jump him while he’s in bed and catch him before he catches Ole Santy.” Danny popped an orange section into his mouth.
Paul raised his brows. “I got me some rope. You and Little Alan hold his arms an’ legs down, we’ll tie him to the bed.”
Little Alan bit his lip. “What’s Mammow gonna think?” He didn’t want to make her upset. Earlier in the day, Uncle Dewey got in trouble for dancin’ in her house. There’d be none of that on the inside. Dancin’s for porches. Maybe a yokin’ was too.
“You want Christmas presents, right?” Danny asked.
Little Alan and Paul nodded.
“We’ll stay up on Christmas Eve. When we hear the reindeer sleigh bells, we’ll run down there and get him before Granpaw gets Santy.”
They all nodded in agreement and finished their oranges.
The boys kept their faces close the widow on Christmas eve night. Mom and Dad wouldn’t let them sleep by the tree. “What was that?” Little Alan sat up straight, straining to hear…
“The wind, I think.” Paul murmured.
Danny wiped his nose with the back of his hand. “It’ll sound like jingle bells.”
They sat there for a long time. Little Alan stretched and hung his fingertips in the groove along the ledge. Just hold on. Hold on a little longer. He’d come.
Paul clutched the rope they were going to use on Granpaw.
Little Alan gulped with fear. “You’ll hafta tie him good and tight.”
Danny’s eyes drooped and shut and Paul gave him a shove. He stuck his forehead back onto the window. “I just don’t hear nuthin’.”
“You think Granpaw got Santy already?”
“I don’t think so. We woulda seen the reindeer by now.”
“What time is it?”
“If Mom catches me lookin outta the doorway, we’ll catch that switch.”
Little Alan’s eyes started blinking. He couldn’t help it. Ole Santy…Ole Santy…he…
None of them knew they had fallen asleep until sister Alice squealed from the living room the next morning. Little Alan ran behind his brothers to the doorway—stopped still only for a millisecond before plunging into the pile.
“That Ole Santy! Granpaw couldn’t get him!” He shouted. He held up a double holster cap gun set. Gee-o-moley. They’d all got cap guns! He buckled it around his waist and spied his Christmas stocking—a store bought sack filled with candy and toys.
The boys held a fastest draw contest for awhile. Little Alan won on a left hand draw. Then they went to see Granpaw. See what he’d say about Ole Santy.
“You didn’t get him!” Danny goaded.
“That Santy’s a purty sly customer!” said Granpaw. “But I tell you what. You better never pull that gun unless you have ‘er smokin’. Get watcha aim for.”
Later that evening, Little Alan sat near the tree, his cap guns still belted around him. He took a bite of walnut-filled jam cake. His gaze went from each person, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters. Mom and Dad. Back to the jam cake. Back to the glowing cedar. Over to the Ole Santy statue, with his sack of toys, brimming. He looked over to the silvery wise men again, still trudging across an imaginary desert. Where were they going? Where ever it was, he’d like to follow. Get what they aimed to find.
“My son, if you will receive my words and treasure my commandments within you…if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver and search for her as hidden treasures: then you will discern the fear of the LORD and discover the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:4
*Note: When Dad was growing up, they didn’t have a full nativity set. Just those three silvery wise men pictured above. And that chalk Santa Claus too. Christmas would often be meager in those days–for his family. Each bite of food was precious, a pair of new shoes often unheard of. The greatest gift? The one he never gave up looking for: wisdom, and this he found in Christ. The answer to every question.