The Years Before…
Chapter 8 -
The Necessary Christmas
Written by Michelle
Margaret Gibbs quickly
stepped down from the wagon and hurried inside the General Store. It was
blistering cold outside and the blowing wind didn’t help matters any!
“Hello, Mr. Marvin!” Margaret greeted the store keeper with a warm smile.
“It sure is cold out there!”
It had been two weeks
since the news of Andy’s death had arrived. Abraham McCain’s birthday would
be celebrated that evening, December 5, and Margaret was excited to be
helping Julie with the preparations. It took her mind off of other things.
“Hello, Margaret! How is your family?”
“Well…” Margaret sighed
as she handed him the list. “We’ll get better. We’re trying to adjust to
things as they are…you know…”
Mr. Marvin frowned as he
looked behind her. “Yes. I understand.”
Margaret turned to see
Samuel Gibbs standing behind her. “Papa!” She hugged him, but he didn’t
return the hug. Margaret stepped away from him. “Papa, you look awful!
When are you going to come home?”
“I thought we went all
through that two weeks ago, Daughter. I’m not coming home. I can’t. I’ve
killed one son…”
“No, Papa…” Margaret
shook her head. “You didn’t. How can I make you understand that? Mother
is so distraught…”
“Margaret…” Scott’s cold
voice sounded in the doorway. “Tend to your chores.” Margaret saw the cold
stare Scott was giving their father. She turned back to her father. “You
heard me, Margaret.”
Margaret went to collect
some of the purchases she was picking up. Scott nudged his head toward
Samuel and Samuel hurried from the building. “I have to go down to the
blacksmith to check on the wheel. I’ll come back for you.” Margaret
watched him walk out.
“I’m sorry for what’s
happened,” Mr. Marvin commented as he gathered her supplies.
“My brother’s working so
hard right now.” Margaret shook her head. “He has the responsibility of
the whole family on his shoulders now. It’s hard. He’s so bitter.”
“Can’t say as I blame
The door opened again.
Emily and Tiffany walked inside. “Margaret!” Emily greeted her. “Shopping
for the surprise party, I take it?”
giggled. “Abraham is very aware he’s having a party tonight, and you know
“I know. He doesn’t
want us having it this year. He doesn’t feel there’s much to celebrate,”
Emily stated with a sigh.
“Not much to
celebrate…pish posh!” Tiffany declared. “I haven’t been a member of this
family long, but we are all healthy…well…” Tiffany sighed. “What I mean
“I know what you mean!”
Emily assured her with a friendly smile. Suddenly, Tiffany threw a hand to
her head and stepped back a pace as she swallowed really hard. “What’s
now. There for a minute I thought…” Tiffany shook her head. “I’m okay
“Are you sure?” Margaret
asked as she reached out for Tiffany’s arm. “We could take you to see the
“Really. I’m fine.”
“Well…” Mr. Marvin
walked back to the post office in the back of the store. “I just may be
able to give you something to celebrate. We received the mail from the army
finally. I have a letter addressed to Ruth McCain and family and one
addressed to Margaret Gibbs and they are both from the same Corporal in the
“Oh! Thank you!” Emily
grabbed the letter. “It was written nearly two weeks ago.” She pressed the
letter to her chest. “This will do a world of good for Laura!” Laura was
still very upset over Andy’s death. She was sure Andy’s death meant her
brother was next. Not hearing from Luke since the tragedy had only added to
looked up. “There was one more letter. It’s addressed to the Gibbs
family. It’s from…Andy.”
Margaret’s mouth opened
in a gasp as she reached out for the letter. She stared at the handwriting
on the front of the envelope. Tears filled her eyes. She bit her lip and
looked up at the ladies. “Excuse me,” she said as she dropped the material
in her hand and hurried from the store.
Emily started to hurry
after her, but Tiffany grabbed her arm. “Let her go. I think she needs to
do this alone.”
Margaret walked up the
steps to the church and tried the door. She felt a bit joyful when the door
opened. Though the reverend usually kept the doors unlocked during the
days, the marshal sometimes forgot to unlock them in the morning. Margaret
stepped inside. The closing door echoed through the quiet church. Slowly,
Margaret walked up to the front. She stared at the altar silently, praying
for God to give her strength to read the words. She lowered herself onto
pew on the second row. She wiped the tears from her eyes and slowly opened
the envelope. Then she read the last letter Andy ever wrote.
Tears fell from her eyes
as she stared at the words. The date was November 19. They had celebrated
Thanksgiving on November 20 that year, and it was figured that he had died
in battle the day before. So his last thought had been of her and the rest
of the family. Margaret stared at the altar and remembered the speeches
that had been made at his memorial service. The words now echoed in her
mind as she tried to wrap sense around this latest letter.
The door in the back
opened, but Margaret was too wrapped up in her memories of Andy to even hear
it. Scott sat down beside her. “I thought I’d find you here.” Margaret
turned and allowed her tearful eyes to gaze into his. Scott gently took the
letter she was holding in her hand. “When I returned…Emily and Tiffany told
me what happened.”
A silence settled
between them as Scott silently read Andy’s last words to his family.
Margaret wiped another tear from her cheek as she stared toward the alter
and remembered back to a happier time. The silence was broken only by the
rustling of paper. Finally, Margaret found her voice and quietly spoke.
“Scott…do you remember
when I was seven years old? You were nine or ten at the time. Andy, Luke,
and I had gone out to play while our folks did their chores here in town.
It was a Saturday and the church was supposed to have been locked up
tight.” Margaret pressed her lips together and tried to force a smile to
her face, but she never quite succeeded. “Um…Luke found a window cracked
and managed to lift it up. Then we climbed in here. Oh, do you remember
that old preacher…Reverend Pepper?”
Scott chuckled as he put
an arm around his sister and pulled her against him. “No, my dear sister.
You kids called him Reverend Pepper! His name was actually Reverend
“You kids?” Margaret
grinned as she raised her eyebrows at Scott. She shook her head. “You were
only two years older than we were!”
“Yes…but I was so much
more mature at the age of 9 and ½!”
“As I recall,” Margaret
lifted her head up and smiled into her brothers eyes. “You “mature kids”
had another name for him…but it’s a name that can’t be uttered…especially in
church…” Margaret sighed and laid her head on his shoulder. “Andy and Luke
took turns pretending to be Reverend Peters. They would wave their arms
around and thump their fists on the pulpit. Then Luke started yelling
really loud in that booming voice like the reverend used. Andy and I sat
together laughing so hard we thought we were going to split open and then…”
Scott laughed. “Ah
yes…And then the great Reverend Peters himself walked in. I was just coming
from the harness shop if I remember right. I saw the reverend dragging the
three of you across the street. I remember Pa and Uncle Marcus getting an
earful about how rude children should be disciplined.”
Margaret chuckled. “I
sure was scared! Pa took me and Andy by the arm and led us behind the
store. He told us both to get up against the wall, then he took off his
belt and whipped us hard! I think he was more upset over the fact that
Reverend Peters yelled at him in front of the town then what we had actually
done.” Margaret suddenly grew quiet. “We sure did get into a lot of
Scott kissed the top of
his sister’s head. “And now he’s in Heaven looking down on us. I believe
that with all my heart.”
“If only…if only I could
know…for sure…I mean, this letter…”
“You received a letter
from Luke.” Scott pointed to the other envelope in her lap. “Perhaps the
answer’s in there.” He stood up. “I’ll wait outside if you want to read it
Margaret stared at the
letter in her hand. She did so want to rip it open and read it at that very
moment, but she wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to stop crying once she read
his words. “No. I’ll read it tonight.”
Laura walked from to the
barn, carefully carrying the bucket of oats as Abraham walked beside her.
She had asked if she could help with the chores, and because her mood had
been so low for the past two weeks, Abraham agreed hoping to cheer her up.
“Do you know what today is?” Abraham asked as they dumped the oats into the
horses’ feeding trough.”
“Yes. It’s December 5,”
Laura answered with a nod of her head.
“Mm hm…” Abraham
smiled. “And do you know what that means?”
“Christmas is in twenty
days!” Laura declared with a smile. Her smile was so cute after having been
missing for so long that Abraham couldn’t even retort to her obvious
teasing. “And there may be something else special about this day…” Laura
put a finger to her chin as she pretended to think.
“Well, we ARE in the
barn!” Abraham gave her a mock warning. “And we know what happens in the
Laura put a hand on her
hip and stuck out her chin. “Abraham McCain, you can’t spank me just cause
I’m keeping your surprise birthday party a secret! I…” Laura suddenly
slapped a hand over her mouth. Her eyes grew wide.
heartedly as he picked her up and hugged her. “You didn’t tell me anything
I didn’t already know!”
Laura kissed his bearded
cheek. “Happy birthday, Abe.”
Rosebud.” Abraham closed his eyes just after the word escaped his lips. He
saw the change in Laura’s demeanor and instantly regretted saying the pet
name out loud. He pressed his forehead against her and sighed. “I’m
They heard the wagon
pulling up outside. “That must be Peter and the girls,” Abraham said as he
turned and walked out of the barn. The girls climbed down from the wagon
and took their packages to start inside. Abraham started to lower Laura
back to the ground but Laura moaned and wrapped her arms tighter around his
neck. “Alright. You can help me unhitch the team.”
“Can that wait?” Emily
asked as she walked up to the two. She held up the letter. “Luke sent us a
letter, Laura Rose.”
Laura slightly lifted
her head from Abraham’s chest and looked at the letter. “Are you sure?”
“Well…there’s only one
way to find out.” Emily motioned for them to come inside. Laura slid from
Abraham’s arms and climbed up onto her mother’s lap. “Emily said we got a
letter from Luke!” Laura declared.
Abraham chuckled as he
opened the envelope. “Oh, the old man forgot his spectacles,” Emily
teased. “I don’t know how he’ll read it now!”
“I’m only 27, not 72!”
“And he won’t be 27
until 5:05 tonight!” Ruth informed her daughter.
“Read the letter!” Laura
exclaimed. “Read it!”
As the family gathered
around, Abraham cleared his throat and read:
with a heavy heart and tears that I write this painful letter to you
tonight. Today I buried a friend, and I feel as if I buried a part of
myself with him. Mother, you’ve taught me so many things in life. But one
thing I’ve never had to learn is how to make my heart go on when all I want
to do is lay down and die. I’m sure you know by now that Andy died, and it
pained me so much…I didn’t even feel like a man through the experience. I
felt so very weak.
in my arms. He was shot during a battle we joined this morning. I was able
to say goodbye, and Andy was so brave in the end. I heard his last
request. I didn’t even ask the Captain for permission when I chose a spot
to bury him and dug the grave. Johnny had to bury him because my heart just
couldn’t bare it. Oh Mother, how do I tell my heart to keep on beating?
When can I stop having to remind myself to breathe? When does it get
I just wanted to let you know, my family, that I’m okay physically. And I
suppose that in a few days I’ll be okay on the inside too, but I will never
understand why good people like Andy have to die. We’re breaking camp and
moving out. I love you all so very, very much. Tell Laura I love her and
to kiss it quick. I kiss her dollar every night before I go to sleep. I
know that as long as I have that dollar, I can endure the hell of this Civil
War for a little longer.
close for now. I need to write to Margaret before I turn in and I wanted to
get the emotional stuff off my chest so that maybe I won’t cry so much when
I write her letter. Please, please pray for me. I feel so discouraged and
so lost right now.
As Abraham read the
letter to his family, not a dry eye could be found. They ached over the
pain and agony they could feel in the words. The letter had been opened
with tear-stained pages. Lucas cried out to his family, sharing with them
his deep hurt in a way he couldn’t tell Margaret. After Abraham had folded
the letter back up, there had been an eerie silence in the room. Abraham
looked toward his sister Laura but couldn’t read the expression on her
face. She had then stood up and walked out the door.
Worried that she was
about to fall into an even deeper depression, Abraham followed her out the
door. She walked around to the side of the house and stared at the place
she and Lucas had said goodbye. From behind her, Abraham softly called.
“Laura?” At the mere sound of his concerned voice, Laura ran to the log
they had sat on together and got on her knees. She put her hands in her
arms and began sobbing as she laid against the log. Abraham bent down
behind her and allowed her to cry. Then he softly laid a hand on her little
shoulder. “Laura…” His voice held much emotion.
“I don’t deserve his
love! I don’t!” Laura choked on her tears. “I’ve been bad!”
Abraham picked the
little girl up and forced her into his embrace. She struggled for just a
moment then suddenly fell against him and cried even harder. When she was
spent, she laid in his arms quietly. Abraham waited until he could trust
his voice. “You have not been bad, Laura. You do deserve his love.
Death…is hard for adults to understand, even more so for a seven year old
little girl. He doesn’t blame you – he would never blame you.”
“I…I thought he was
dead! I thought…” Laura spoke softly, still lying against her brother. “I
gave up on him.”
“Hey now…” Abraham
reached down and took her face in his hands. He pulled her away. “You were
confused. We all needed to hear from Luke to know he was okay. You were
just being a normal little girl. That’s all.” Abraham’s voice was soft as
he spoke. His eyes were moist as he searched his sister’s face for
Laura lowered her eyes.
“He said he kissed my dollar every night. I…” Laura closed her eyes and
sniffed. “I don’t even have his anymore. I threw it away.”
“And I picked it up.”
Abraham dug in his pocket and lifted the dollar out. “I put it in my pocket
later that day and it stays there every single day. I’ve been waiting for
you to ask for it back.”
“It’s the dollar Luke
gave me?” Laura asked. “Honest? It’s Luke’s dollar?”
“Yep. It’s the very
same one. I know because there…” Abraham pointed to a nick. “There is the
nick that was in it.”
Laura gasped. She did
remember it had a nick. She stared at the dollar then lifted her face to
Abe’s. “You…you really think Luke forgives me?” Abraham nodded. Laura
lifted the dollar to her lips and kissed it. Then she stuffed it into her
pocket. “Now, let’s go wash your face, Laura!”
Laura smiled as she
touched his bearded cheeks with her hands. “Rosebud to you, Abe!”
Abraham smiled and
nodded his head. “Alright…Rosebud.”
Jennifer looked over at
her daughter and watched her chew on her lip. She noticed Margaret again
put her hand to the pocket of her dress and touch the letter. “Margaret….”
Margaret looked up with a start. Jenny smiled weakly. Pain could still be
seen in her face. Jennifer wasn’t only grieving for the death of her son,
but also for the sudden loss of her husband who had allowed a darkness to
enter his life. She shook her head gently. “Why don’t you go on into your
room and read the letter?”
“Well, I…” Margaret
studied the plate she had been drying. “I guess I’m afraid of what it’s
going to say?”
“What are you afraid of
it saying, darling?” Jenny asked as she turned to face her daughter. “That
Andy really is gone? You already know that.”
“No. I…” Margaret
swallowed as she sat down the dishtowel. “I guess I’m afraid of how it
happened…of hearing that Andy just laid out on the battlefield and…”
“The telegram said he
had a Christian burial, Margaret.” Jennifer tried to smile again, but
didn’t quite make it. “I don’t think that happens too often during war, so
that leads me to believe Luke was there.”
“Mama?” Margaret lifted
her head. “Do you miss Pa?”
Any trace of a smile
that remained in Jennifer’s eyes died. “Very, very much.”
“Are you angry with him
for going away?” Jennifer didn’t answer, but merely nodded her head.
“Suppose he was to come back home? Would you…” Margaret swallowed a lump in
her throat. “Would you allow him back in?”
“Of course. He’s my
husband but…” Jennifer looked toward the back door. “Your brother is the
man of the house right now, and he told your father the conditions of his
returning home. Your father isn’t interested.”
“Oh Mama…” Margaret
lowered her head. “I saw him in town today. He looked so terrible! He
doesn’t look like my father at all…I started talking to him and Scott
ordered me away from him…I don’t understand.”
“Your brother was
protecting you, honey. He may be a bit over-protective but…” Jennifer laid
a hand on her daughter’s cheek. “It’s only because he loves you.” She took
Margaret’s hands in hers. “Now…go read your letter.”
“Yes, Mama.” Margaret
slowly made her way into the living room. Beth was quietly sewing. Her
brothers were out doing the chores before they left for the party, so the
house was very quiet. Margaret slipped into the bedroom she shared with
Beth. Then she sat down in the cushioned chair near the window and slowly
opened the letter. She saw that some of the words were smeared on the page
as if Lucas had been crying while he wrote the letter. Margaret slowly drew
her legs up under her and lay back on the cushioned chair to read his
My Precious, sweet
love you so very, very much; but it’s with a very heavy heart that I write
you tonight. This day has probably been one of the hardest days of my whole
entire life. I cannot even describe to you how I feel tonight, but I can
tell you that my heart is very, very heavy with emotion.
that by the time you receive this letter you will be in the midst of your
grief for Andy. Margaret, I saw him fighting. He was as brave a soldier as
I ever saw. I ran to him when he went down and held his head in my lap as
he lay dying. He was able to give me his last words and I wept as he took
his last breath. I thought of you, honey. I thought of the pain you would
feel. I thought of how…how…I had let you down…
Margaret, I know you asked me to take care of Andy, and I know I’ve failed
you. I’m so very, very sorry. Oh, here I go again…I thought my eyes were
empty, yet here I go crying again. I’ll understand if you never forgive
me. Oh, I wish I could take this day back! I’d die a thousand deaths to
give Andy back to you.
died, I dug his gave myself. I buried him under a big oak tree not far from
where he took his last breath. Johnny and I said the Lord’s Prayer over
him. The Captain allowed some of the other men to stand over his grave as
we said our last words. But…I couldn’t bury him, Margaret. My heart was so
heavy and I was so grieved that I couldn’t bear to do the task. Johnny took
care of it. The bugler played “Amazing Grace.”
tomorrow to go further down south. Tomorrow I have to leave Andy behind.
Oh, how do I do that? My feet will be heavy and my heart will be heavy but
we’ve a job to do. I wish this war would end so I can come home to you, my
sweet. I wish I could have been the one to tell you Andy had died. I wish
I could have held you while you cried. I hated the fact that a cold
telegram had to come to you and your family. How are you all coping? I
hope you can forgive me!
close for now. I think of your beautiful face as I fall asleep tonight.
I’ll remember your gentle, sweet smile and the feel of your lips as you
kissed me. Perhaps those thought sill bring me peace. But I know that when
I dream, your brother will be right there.
just remembered Margaret. This morning, just before we went into battle
Andy was thinking about Thanksgiving and how much he wanted to be there with
you. His last thoughts were of you. In fact, your name, was mentioned in
his dying words. He asked me to marry you.
Margaret read the letter
through three times as tears fell from her eyes and onto the letter. She
finally folded the letter and leaned her head back against the chair and
closed her eyes as she remembered all the times she, Lucas, and Andy had
A hand gently touched
her. Margaret jumped as she opened her eyes and lifted her head. “You
should get ready for Abe’s party,” Jennifer whispered. “We have to leave
She must have fallen
asleep. The room was darker. Margaret noticed Beth already dressed.
Margaret took the letter from her chest and handed it to her mother.
“Here. I think this will bring you some comfort.”
Jennifer stared at the
letter, and then sat it down. “I’ll read it later.” She quickly left the
“…Happy birthday to
you!” Everyone clapped as Julie sat the chocolate cake down in front of her
husband. “I’m sorry I couldn’t put 27 candles on it, but I was afraid of
causing a fire,” Julie teased.
Abraham shook his head
at Julie as Charlie sat on his lap. “Okay, son, you’re gonna have to help
me. Remember how I showed you earlier?”
“Now!” Julie rolled her
eyes. “You’ve been practicing! That’s not fair!” Abraham chuckled. Then
he and Charlie both blew at the same time. There were ten candles and he
was only able to blow out six of them. “Only four years of bad luck!” Julie
Abraham gave her a weak
smile. “As if we haven’t already had enough of that!” The room grew
quiet. Julie cut the cake and served a small piece to everyone.
As they sat eating,
Laura walked up to him. “Abe…I’m sorry I didn’t get ya anything.”
“Oh…” Abraham sat
Charlie on the floor and sat Laura on his lap. “But you did, Rosebud. You
gave me back your beautiful smile.” He hugged her to him. “That’s what I
needed the most of all!”
Margaret slowly stood up
and walked to the window. In time, Abraham walked up behind her. “Thinking
“No.” Margaret turned
around and gave Abraham a weak smile. “Actually I was thinking about Pa. I
had hoped he’d come.”
Abraham lifted his eyebrows when he got the annoyed look from Margaret.
“Look…Uncle Sam is part of this family, but he’s going through some things
right now, and they are things I don’t feel comfortable having around my
family. Margaret, when Uncle Sam ain’t drunk, he’s bitter…very bitter.”
“He’s my father, Abe!”
“Maybe he’ll be better
Tiffany stood to help
clear the table just then. But she fell to her knees on the floor. A plate
shattered. Margaret and Abraham suddenly ran over to her. “Tiffany!” Peter
grabbed her arm and helped her to her feet. “What’s wrong?”
“She’s having another
spell,” Emily declared as she looked at Margaret.
Peter’s head shot
around. He stared at his sister. “Another? What are you talking about?”
a…” Peter shook his head.
Ruth stepped forward.
“Tiffany dear, are you light headed? Feel like you could faint?” Tiffany
nodded. “Nauseous? Deep inside?” Tiffany nodded again.
“For how long?” Peter
“Just since yesterday.
I’ve been feeling really tired for a week but…” she stopped when Peter
rushed to get his hat and coat. “Where are you going?”
“I’m taking you to the
doctor!” Peter declared. “You should have told me before!”
“Peter!” Ruth hurried
forward and put a restraining hand on her arm. “I don’t think you need to
rush out and get a doctor. A woman in her condition is expected to feel
“Her condition…” Peter
mumbled. He was clueless as to what Ruth was talking about. “What
“She’s in the family
way,” Ruth declared with a chuckle.
Tiffany stared at Ruth.
“The fam…” Peter narrowed his eyes at his mother. “I still don’t…”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake!”
Emily declared as she unfolded her arms and stepped toward her brother.
“Preg…” Peter’s face
suddenly turned red as a deep blush covered his face. “No…she…she can’t
be!” Peter declared.
“What?” Abraham asked
“Peter!” Tiffany’s eyes
“But…we’ve only been
married six weeks!” Peter declared. “I mean…” Peter’s blush deepened.
Jeremiah and Abraham both cracked up laughing at his response.
“Boys…” Ruth shook her
head as she put an arm around Tiffany. “Now, six weeks is long enough to
experience the symptoms my dear. And I’ve given birth to eight babies, so I
Peter’s face had turned
from red to white. “Uh…I think Peter better sit down!” Abraham declared as
Scott shoved a chair under him and they lowered Peter into the chair. “If I
didn’t know better, I’d say Peter was pregnant.”
“How…” Peter swallowed.
“How did this happen?”
Abraham bent low and
whispered something in his brother’s ear. Peter’s face once again blushed
as his brother’s cackled over his response.
“You know, brother, I
asked that question after the triplets were born and I didn’t like the
response I got, so you best just accept, it’s because you’re married,” Abe
Margaret went to bed
when she got home from the party, but she didn’t sleep. Lucas’s words
echoed in her mind. She could feel his grief and sadness as he wrote that
letter. She could only imagine how hard it was for Lucas to hold her
brother while he died, then to bury him. Oh, if only she could have been
there to help Lucas afterwards. If only he hadn’t had to grieve alone!
Margaret finally got out
of bed and put on her robe. She took out her stationary, pen, and ink well
and slowly made her way into the parlor. It was a room that was barely
used, but today she would use it. Margaret lit the lantern, then sat down
at the small desk and began writing to Lucas.
received you letter. My heart aches for the grief you had to go through. I
hope you were able to somehow put the grief behind you and move on as I have
done. Lucas, Andy’s death was not your fault. I had no right to ask you to
take care of Andy. At the moment, I guess I suspected what the outcome
would be and just clung to anything I had. You were there. Please don’t
blame yourself. I loved my brother and am still grieving, but we will move
on as thousands of other families are doing.
in heaven with the Father. There is a verse in the Bible that says
something like ‘Come ye who are burdened and heavy-laden and I will give you
rest.” Have you gone to him, Luke? I will pray that God will speak to you,
and that he will help you have peace over this tragic event. Oh, I pray for
you and…Well, I was about to say Andy…I pray for you every morning when I
wake up and every night before I go to sleep. Often, I say a prayer for you
throughout the day when I feel burdened about you. My prayers will have to
carry you through until you get home.
want to burden you with the effects Andy’s death has had on our family,
but…I ask you to please write to Laura. This has affected her in ways that
I can’t explain. She loves you, and when you left, you left with Andy and
Johnny. She just cannot picture in her mind that you can come back because
she thinks you all have to come back – or none…So, please write her a
letter. Give her some sort of assurance. You may be the only one who can
know where you are at or even if you can tell me right now. I do hope you
can have some sort of happiness this Christmas. I tell you what, at 8:00
AM, I will be reading the Christmas story to my family just like Pa used to
read it every year. You read your Christmas story from the Bible we sent
you in the last care package. Read it from the heart and remember that it’s
my gift to you. I will be sending you another package very soon, my sweet,
and it will have something special in there for you. I DO hope you like it.
I love you, Luke.
Margaret read through
the letter and perfected the sentences. Then she slowly folded the letter
and put it in the envelope. She kissed it then smiled. “I’m going to marry
you. I am…just as soon as I can get you to ask me proper!”
The families continued
to heal throughout December. Margaret returned to her daily visits with
Abraham and Julie to assist with taking care of the children. The winter
was so cold that Peter would often hitch up the team and drive Laura into
school. Neither Ruth nor Emily wanted Laura to walk in the bitter cold, and
the sky often looked like a storm was forming. There were many false alarms
but no snow.
Peter was slowly
adjusting to the announcement that he would be a father. He told Abraham he
didn’t feel ready to be a father, but Abraham merely told him that was a
responsibility he took on when he invited a woman into his bed. The doctor
did confirm the pregnancy, and they tried to find joy in the news. The
truth was neither Tiffany nor Peter were quite ready for the responsibility
this news would entail, but Peter understood that was one of the
consequences of the choice they had made on mischief night.
Samuel Gibbs wasn’t
adjusting to Andy’s death. If anything, he was falling further into
darkness. He was falling so deeply that there was little hope anyone could
ever help him. He blamed himself for Andy’s death. Nobody understood how a
man as strong as Samuel could suddenly fall so deep. Margaret would see her
father every now and then as she went into town for supplies. She tried
talking to him, but he would turn away.
She had to watch her
mother sink deeper into her own despair. The death of Andy had hit her
hard, but Samuel’s actions were worse than Andy’s death. Jennifer started
feeling more and more rejected and lonely, and though she carried on the day
to day functions, Margaret sensed the hurt and despair in her mother.
The month of December
slowly passed. There was no word from Lucas, but that was to be expected in
winter. The East, where the men were fighting, was having a terrible
winter; and the family suspected there wasn’t much of a chance for fighting
during such wintery conditions so they relaxed a bit.
Margaret waited for
Christmas with anticipation. As she helped Julie, they discussed Christmas
plans. But she worried that no one in her household had even bothered to
bring the coming Holiday up. Finally at supper one night, Margaret brought
the subject up. “When are we getting the Christmas tree?”
Scott sucked in his
breath, but didn’t say a word as he stared down at the food on his plate.
He slowly took a bite of food before lifting his head to look at her. “We
won’t have one this year, sis.” The tone of voice he used made Margaret
believe his announcement was final.
“Why not?” Margaret
suddenly asked. Christmas was her favorite time of year. She couldn’t bear
the thought of not celebrating it.
“Margaret, Pa and Andy
always got the tree. I don’t think…”
“Andy would want us to
have a tree this year as well!” Margaret suddenly declared with a lift of
her chin. Scott shook his head. “It’s Christmas! I always went with Pa
and Andy to get the tree, remember?”
“I’m sorry, sis…”
Margaret turned to her
Jennifer lowered her
head. “I don’t much feel like celebrating this year, Margaret. Let’s
paused. She sat down her fork and sat back in her chair as she closed her
eyes to gain strength. “Mother, this is Jesus’ birthday! This is the day
we celebrate the precious gift God gave us so long ago…His son who would
make the ultimate sacrifice for us – to die in our place…” There was a
bitter silence around the table now. Margaret felt her heart skip a beat as
she looked from Scott to her mother. “Andy did that in a way, you know. He
died for us so we could live in the United States of America. You can’t
eyes filled up with tears when she saw the stern expression on her brother’s
She slowly stood up,
trying to keep her emotions under control. “We celebrated Abraham’s
“It’s not the same and
you know it,” Scott said quietly…too quietly.
“No. It’s not the
same. The birth of Christ was very important. At Christmas we remember
it. Not celebrating it is…” Margaret stood up. “I can’t believe…”
Margaret!” Scott allowed his coffee cup to hit the table harder than he
Margaret turned and
looked at her mother. Jennifer turned her head and put her hand to her
mouth. Margaret stared at her mother, realizing for the first time just how
old her mother looked. So many burdens were on her shoulders. Not only was
she still trying to come to terms with the fact that Andy was gone, but she
was trying to desperately wrap her finger around the fact that her husband
had simply walked out.
“Oh…I’m sorry, Mother!”
Margaret ran to her. “I just want us to be happy. I want…”
Jennifer stood up. “I’m
tired. I must lay down.” Margaret lowered her head as her eyes filled with
tears. Jennifer kissed her cheek. “Could you clean up for me?” Margaret
nodded silently and watched her mother disappear into the bedroom.
She turned and began
clearing the dishes. Scott turned and without saying a word walked out the
door to work on chores. Johnny stood and started to walk outside. “I’m
headed to Charlie’s house. I’m gonna watch him break more horses.”
sighed. “Johnny…with Andy and Pa gone Scott’s having to do some work that’s
really hard for him. I wish you would…”
“Look, sis…I didn’t ask
Pa to leave!” Johnny shouted as he hurried out the door.
Margaret turned around
and looked at her sister. Beth stood up and quickly went to her room. The
door closed firmly behind her. Margaret lowered her head and looked down at
the dirty dishes in her hands. Then she slowly sat them down, sat down in a
chair, and sobbed.
is Friday, but I feel it’s going to just quietly slip by this year. I
thought things were getting better; but suddenly I’m watching things slowly
come apart. I wanted to have a Christmas tree and mentioned it at the table
tonight, but mother and Andy both said no. I watched our family unravel
into isolation after that.
something I should have told you. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want
to worry you but…Father is gone. He left on Thanksgiving Day shortly after
receiving the telegram. He’s been in town drinking a lot and…Well…it’s
tearing my mother apart. I want so badly to keep my family together but I
don’t know how to. Oh Luke…what do I do? How do I convince everyone that
we MUST go on as a family?
I want to
go cut down the tree myself. I want to bring Christmas back to the Gibbs
family. How do I do it? Oh, I know by the time you get this letter it’ll
be too late but…I had to tell someone my frustrations.
stays in her room most of the time. Scott is trying to do work that is hard
for him in his condition; Johnny…he thinks of little more than
horse-breaking and tricks these days. And Beth…Well, she’s always been
reserved, but she’s so much worse now.
How do I
get through to them, Lucas? How did a whole family seem to suddenly tear
apart in one afternoon? At the table, we were laughing and joking like
always; then the next thing I knew…we were no longer talking to each other…I
know it’s more Pa’s leaving then Andy’s death. We can get over a death…try
to make some sense over it. But how do you deal with a loss of a person
that’s neither dead nor alive? How do we wrap our senses around this?
Christmas, Luke. Oh, I need it so bad. What do I do?
Julie shook her head
Tuesday morning when Charlie again begged to go out to the barn with Pa.
Julie grabbed the cloth and again ran it under his nose. “Not when you have
the sniffles. It’s too cold outside. I’m sorry.”
Charlie, at the age of
18 months was just learning to talk and how to throw fits. He was also
quickly learning that when his father was around, he didn’t do such a
thing. But his father wasn’t there so he proceeded to sit down on the floor
and cry as hard as he could. “Go with Pa!”
Baby Samuel heard the
commotion from the cradle and woke up screaming. Julie sat the oatmeal on
the table then ran to the cradle and picked him up. Abraham walked in.
“Hey, look who I…” He stopped when he saw the commotion in his house. “What
now?” he asked Julie.
“I told him he couldn’t
go outside with you because he had the sniffles.” Julie bounced Baby Samuel
on her one hip while she put Baby David on the other.
Margaret walked inside
them. “I’m…sorry I’m so early. I just needed…” Suddenly, Margaret burst
into tears. Julie gave Abraham the two boys that were in her arms and
hurried over to Margaret. She took Margaret in her arms and let her cry.
Then she slowly led her to the bedroom and closed the door. “What is it?
Are you worried about Luke?”
“No…” Margaret took the
handkerchief handed to her and wiped her nose. “It’s my family. Oh
Julie…Ma is falling into a depression that I can’t seem to shake. Last
night I merely mentioned a Christmas tree and she went to bed. She won’t
get up this morning! She was crying as she clung to Pa’s pillow and begged
me to go away. Scott…he’s working so hard. His back and leg are hurting
him so bad he could hardly stand this morning, but he said he had a whole
other day of branding and he couldn’t rest. Having to put all his weight on
his good leg has just about done him in and he’s killing himself! And
Beth…she won’t talk to anybody! Johnny is being so defiant. He refuses to
do much work on the ranch – just wants to practice his roping cattle and
Margaret finally took
gasps of breath to calm herself down. Julie listened quietly. “I think my
husband needs to know how bad things are. We have to do something to pull
your family out of this despair.” Julie called for Abraham. Abraham came
into the room. He announced he had managed to calm down the babies for the
time being and had Charlie attempting to feed himself at the table. “Abe,
we have a problem. She proceeded to tell Abraham everything Margaret had
Abraham folded his arms
and began pacing the floor. “Well...I had no idea things were so bad.”
“They weren’t…at least I
didn’t notice until…” Margaret lowered her head as tears filled her eyes
“Until what?” Abraham
asked as he bent down in front of her.
“I asked when we were
going to get the tree for Christmas. Scott told me that…that…we weren’t
going to celebrate Christmas this year.” Julie gasped and put an arm around
Margaret’s shoulders. They heard a crash in the other room. Margaret wiped
her eyes and stood. “I’ll go check.”
After the bedroom door
closed, Julie stood up and folded her arms. She slowly walked over to the
window and stared outside. “Oh Abe…when did it all get so…bad? This
family’s so broken.”
“I know.” Abraham
heaved a big sigh. “I want to choke Uncle Sam for what he’s putting this
family through! How could a man who’s always been there for his family
“They can’t skip
Christmas…” Julie mumbled. “Abe…”
“No!” Abraham held up
his hand as he walked towards her. “Absolutely not!”
“What?” Julie asked as
she lifted her hands to her shoulders and shrugged innocently.
“I know how you think,
my sweet. You are NOT to interfere!”
“Abe, we can’t just
stand by and…” Julie shook her head. “They HAVE to have Christmas!”
“And we have to respect
Scott’s wishes!” Abraham declared. “With Samuel gone, Scott makes the
choices for his family.”
Julie folded her arms.
“Now Abe…suppose you made such a ridiculous demand like that in this house?
You think I…your submissive wife…would stand back and allow that to happen?”
Abraham scratched his
head and cringed. “No, my Darling. I cringe to think of the wrath I would
suffer, but…” Abraham laid his hands on her shoulders. “I’m going to talk
to the family. I’ll talk to Scott and see why he’s having to work so hard.
I’ll talk to Johnny…maybe a trip to the barn for HIM is in order…I’ll talk
to Uncle Sam too. Maybe a swift kick in the pants is in order.”
“Uncle Sam…” Julie shook
her head. “Abe, I never would have imagined…”
“I know.” Abraham
kissed her. “But let’s try to convince them they need Christmas…subtly.”
Abraham turned and
walked into the family room. He saw Margaret helping Charlie patiently eat
while she held two babies on her lap and proceeded to feed them a bit of
cereal. “How DOES she do that?” Abraham asked.
“Hm…” Julie smiled as
her husband put on his coat. “I don’t know, but she’ll make a wonderful
mother some day!”
“Yes she would.”
Abraham bent down and kissed Julie goodbye. “You know…I think she’d be a
perfect mother for twins…I picture her and Luke having a whole bundle of
children – and they are all as rotten as Luke!” He chuckled as he hurried
out the door.
Julie wasn’t one to go
against her husband. She was usually a pretty submissive wife, though at
times she would put down her foot and tell Abraham he was wrong. But she
was also a wise wife. She chose her battles carefully, and though this is a
battle she chose to fight, she felt the best strategy was to surprise attack
the enemy. And she must be sure exactly who her allies were. Right now,
she was pretty sure Abraham wasn’t one of them.
She picked up the Adam
from the last cradle and held him tight. “Margaret, we best get to work.
We’ve Christmas Eve to plan.”
Margaret smiled her
agreement. She had been thinking on that very thing.
Abraham slammed through
the doors of the saloon and looked around. “Abe…would you like an early
morning beer?” the bartender asked. “I’m not open yet but…”
“No.” Abraham looked
around. “I’m looking for Uncle Sam.”
“Oh.” The bartender
went back to lowering the chairs from the table.
Abraham saw the
hesitation on the bar tender’s face. “Alright. Where is he?”
“Oh.” He stood up
straight and turned to face Abraham. “Down the street.”
“At the hotel?”
“At the jail.”
“The jail?” Abraham’s
voice went up. “What’s he doing in jail?”
“He was drunk last
night, Abraham. He…crashed up this place pretty bad. We had to close early
and the Marshal threw him in jail to sober him. He should be sober by now.”
Abraham hurried over to
the jail. “Abe…” Marshal Williams nodded at him.
Abraham nodded as he
took his hat off, but didn’t stop as he walked toward the jail. The Marshal
unlocked the door and allowed him to walk inside. He found Samuel sitting
on the cot with his head in his hands. “He can leave as far as I’m
concerned. But if he ever does anything like this again…”
“Go away, Abe.”
Samuel’s voice sounded lost and so far away. “Go away.”
Abraham walked up to the
cell and put his hands on the bars. “I can’t do that, Sam. You’re needed
Abraham just stared at
the man in the cell. “I’ll see that Ike is paid for the damages.”
Abraham grabbed Samuel’s arm. “Let’s go.”
“No! I ain’t…” Samuel
But Abraham grabbed
Samuel by the shirt and lifted him off the cot. He slammed him hard against
the wall. “Now you listen to me, SAMUEL! As long as you are treating your
family this way, I will give YOU the orders! Do you know that your wife is
so distraught that she won’t even get out of bed? Do you know that Scott is
working himself to death on the ranch? Do you know that Johnny is defying
his whole family and spending all his time learning to do fancy tricks and
Samuel’s face slowly
relaxed. His frown deepened as he stared at Abraham. “I’m…sorry for what
my family’s going through. I’m sorry that I was the cause of it.” Samuel
shook his head as he lowered it. “But I can’t go back. I can’t.”
Abraham clinched his
lips together as he stared even harder at Samuel. “You’re right!” he
answered as he twisted Samuel’s shirt even tighter. “You’re right, you ARE
the cause of this because you walked out when things got rough!”
“I walked out because I
killed my boy!” Samuel’s voice roared.
“Oh, come on man!”
Abraham roared as he pushed harder against Samuel. “Andy’s death was NOT
your fault! Andy CHOSE to go to war! He CHOSE to fight. He knew the
“No.” Samuel shook his
head. “You’re wrong!”
“So you think staying
away from your family – shaming them like this while you spend their money
on booze and God knows what else is helping them?” Abraham shouted. “Your
daughter showed up at MY house this morning in tears because her family
doesn’t want to have Christmas. Her heart is broken.”
again softened. “I’m sorry about that. What do you want me to do?”
“Go home and TRY to put
your family back together.”
“No. I can’t. I
Abraham and Samuel just
stood face-to-face staring at each other. “What is wrong with you??? Is
your guilt so deep that it’s blinding you to the truth? Are you mourning so
deeply for the ONE who’s dead that you don’t care about the five living,
breathing around you that you are slowly killing????”
Samuel grabbed Abraham’s
hands and shoved them away. “Get out, Abe. Get out.”
Abraham didn’t say a
word but turned and walked out the door. He saw Johnny down the street.
Johnny was getting ready to go with some friends to learn some more cattle
tricks. Abraham clinched his lips together and hurried up to Johnny. “I
want you at home helping your brother at the ranch.”
Johnny turned and stared
at Abraham. “I don’t want to.”
Abraham grabbed his arm
so hard that Johnny flinched. “I wasn’t asking. That was an order!” he
declared as he roughly led Johnny to his horse. “Now…I’m on my way to your
house. When I get there, you BETTER be doing EXACTLY what Scott tells you
to. If you don’t, I will tan your hide!”
Johnny didn’t say
another word, but simply mounted his horse and rode off towards home.
Margaret stopped and
watched the two foxes scurry and play at the edge of the woods. They looked
so peaceful – not a care in the world. She had had a good cry with Julie
and felt a bit more relieved now, but she wasn’t as free as those foxes
were. She walked closer and laughed as one toppled on top of the other.
They fell backwards and slid across the icy pond, trying to find their way
back to the firm ground.
turned to see Abraham dismounting his horse. “Hi.”
“I’m just on my way
home.” She paused as they watched the two. “I was thinking about Andy. We
used to play like that when we were little. I remember…”
“Margaret…it’s best not
to dwell on that. We can’t undo what’s done.”
“I know…” Margaret
sighed as she sat down on the rock and pulled her coat a bit tighter around
Abraham sat down right
beside her. “You shouldn’t be out in the cold.”
“Which tree would make a
good Christmas tree?” Margaret asked as she looked around the woods at the
tall trees. She pointed to a tall one. “I think I like that one.”
“I just came from your
place.” Abraham sighed. “I don’t know how much good I’ve done. Your
mother just sat at the table and stared into her coffee cup the whole time I
talked to her. Scott has the weight of the world on his shoulders.
I’ve…convinced him to slow down a bit. Johnny will be doing his chores. I
made sure Scott gave him plenty to keep him busy. I also gave those two
ranch hands a firm lecture. I’ll keep a close eye on them.”
“I want Johnny to finish
“I know.” Abraham
nodded. “We’ll discuss that when school picks back up in January.” Abraham
sighed. “I’m afraid you won’t need a Christmas tree this year.”
“Oh, but you’re wrong,
Abe! This year, we NEED a Christmas tree! It’s as important as having
water on a hot day. There’s no other way.”
“Margaret, you can’t…”
Margaret suddenly stood
up. She straightened herself out to as tall as she could get and lifted her
head. “I CAN…and I WILL!” Abraham lifted an eyebrow and looked up at her.
“…even if I have to chop the tree down myself!”
Abraham slowly put his
hands on his hips. “You know…I think you’re stubborn and determined enough
to try it!” he declared with a nod of his head. Margaret just stared at
him. “Scott and your mother are in charge of your household now, and
they’ve made the decision,” Abraham pointed out. “Their decision was pretty
Margaret folded her arm
and nodded. “And you’re going to discuss with me about how wives…or in my
case sisters, should be submissive to their husbands…brothers.” Abraham
didn’t say anything. “I agree with that verse, but I don’t believe we
should allow submission to blind us to the truth. You and I both know that
not celebrating Christmas isn’t the answer.” Margaret hurried toward
Abraham. “Oh Abe, we need this Christmas! It’s necessary! I’ve been
thinking on it and talking to Julie about it. I…” She stopped when she saw
Abraham’s eyes narrow. “What would you think if Julie just stood by and
allowed you to ‘make’ your family skip Christmas?’”
He rubbed a hand to the
back of his neck. “Well…I don’t think this is a good idea, but…okay.”
Abraham turned to mount his horse. “When do you want it cut and delivered?”
“Thursday evening will
be perfect!” Margaret smiled as Abraham picked up the reins to his horse.
“Oh, and Julie will fill you in on the details!”
“Yes.” Abraham nodded.
“I’m sure she will.” Abraham raised his eyebrows at her again. “I
certainly hope you know what you are doing. I hate to see things get
“I know.” Margaret
nodded. “In my heart…I know.” She smiled as she watched Abraham slowly
The next morning,
Margaret asked Scott to ride her into town. Scott agreed, but before he
left he told Johnny to go check on the cattle out on the range. Johnny
grumbled a bit, but remembered the hard lecture he had received from Abraham
when Abraham had arrived at the ranch the day before. Abraham had performed
his “brotherly” lecture in the barn and threatened that the next time he’d
be using more than words to get his point across.
Margaret was quiet on
their way into town. She was thinking about all she had to do to get ready
for Christmas Eve celebration they would have, followed by the celebration
on Christmas morning. Scott cleared his throat to break the silence.
“Honey, I’m sorry about Christmas.”
“We need it, Scott. We
need it more than ever this year.”
Scott didn’t speak. He
just stared at the road in front of them. “Things seemed to change so
fast. I don’t quite understand…”
“Why’s Pa doing this?”
Margaret suddenly asked. “He’s always been so loving and strong. What made
Scott sighed. “I’m not
quite sure. Losing a son is devastating. I mean, Pa watched him grow from
a baby into a man. He had so many hopes for Andy. Of the three of us boys,
Andy was the one Pa thought would take over the ranch some day. Andy always
had an understanding for what was needed on the ranch, and he had the
passion for it. And Pa feels guilty for sending Andy off to war.” Scott
heard Margaret sigh beside him. “Guilt can be a terrible thing, honey. It
can tear a man apart.”
“Then you see why we
need Christmas! We must find some sense of…”
“Margaret…” Scott heaved
a long, sad sigh. “Let’s not go through it again.”
Margaret stayed quiet
for the remainder of the trip. She didn’t say another word about Christmas,
but she prayed that what she had to do would give her family the necessary
Christmas they needed.
That morning, Margaret
purchased several items she would need in the store. She waited in
anticipation for Thursday morning to come. She had made arrangements for
her mother and Beth to go visit the McCain farm. They would stay through
the afternoon, and Peter would ride them home that evening. When they
arrived, everything would be ready.
As Margaret was walking
out the door, she saw Samuel sitting in a chair outside the hotel. Margaret
slowly made her way across the street and sat down beside him. “Hello,
Samuel slowly turned his
head. His eyes frowned as he looked at his daughter. “Oh Margaret…” For a
minute, it looked like he was going to cry. His eyes grew very moist as he
laid a hand on his daughter’s cheek. “Margaret…”
Margaret could smell the
liquor on his breath. His skin reeked of the stuff. “Papa…oh Papa…”
Margaret grabbed his hand. “What’s happened to you, Papa? Mama misses you
so much. We all miss you…”
“I miss…” Samuel stopped
speaking. He couldn’t go on.
“Come home.” Margaret’s
voice pleaded. She just stared at him, waiting for his answer.
Samuel’s eyes grew wide
as he saw the tears in his daughter’s eyes. He clinched his lips together
then lowered his head. “I…can’t.”
“Yes, Papa…You CAN! You
CAN!” Margaret declared. “We all want you there!”
“I can’t! I can’t!”
Samuel stood up.
“Pa, we’re having
Christmas Eve tomorrow night at six o’clock. Please…come.”
Samuel turned from her
and hurried away. Margaret threw a hand to her mouth as her eyes filled
with tears. “God, help him. Help my Papa!”
That evening, Margaret
opened her journal.
I’ve made a decision
that goes against my family’s wishes earlier this week. But today my family
is suffering so deeply. They need a bandage for their wounds, and I believe
with all my heart I have just the cure. I’ve prayed and asked God to give
me strength and wisdom, and I know He will because I feel so at peace with
The past years, I’ve
worked alongside Ma to get our Christmas ready, and it’s always been such a
festival. We decorate the whole house, have a big tree with presents under
it, and have a big meal. Christmas eve, the entire McCain family joins us;
then on Christmas day it’s just us.
Oh, I want this to be
so special. I want Pa to be here too. That would be a Christmas miracle
and I know it can happen. I know Pa is full of bitterness, and Ma is slowly
dying for what he’s done to her but…Oh, I just can’t help but think that
things can get better. Christmas is such a special time of year.
cleaning up the breakfast dishes that Thursday morning. “Johnny and I will
be out with the herd all day, Margaret. Don’t expect us back until
supper.” Margaret nodded as Scott walked out the door to take his mother
and sister to the McCain farm. Margaret picked up two dirty plates and
hurried over to the window. She watched the wagon disappear around the
corner and saw her brother heading out to the range. With a smile, Margaret
hurried to clean the dishes.
After the dishes were
done, she was rolling out some dough when she heard a knock at the door.
Peter stepped inside. “Abraham told me to deliver this tree.”
declared. She threw her hands to her mouth when Emily and Laura walked in.
“We’re all that can be spared today.”
Peter worked at setting
the tree up. Emily and Margaret both kept shaking their head at its
position, but it was finally in the perfect spot. “Abraham also told me not
to dawdle. We’ve work waiting at the farm.”
“Alright, but have
everyone here by six!” Margaret ordered.
“Right.” Peter shook
his head. “Margaret…I hope you’re doing the right thing.”
“I am.” Margaret
smiled. “I know I am.”
She watched Peter leave,
then turned around and clapped her hands. “Alright ladies, let’s get to
Margaret sat Laura at
the table and put her to work making decorations for the house and tree.
Emily and Margaret worked on baking and putting the candles on the tree,
which would be lit just before the family arrived. They hardly took time
out for lunch before they sat to work again. Margaret was growing nervous
as the afternoon progressed.
At three o’clock,
Abraham and Julie arrived with their children. Laura anxiously showed them
what she had been working on all day. Abraham smiled as he took an envelope
from his pocket and handed it to Margaret. “Merry Christmas, honey.”
Margaret stared at the envelope. It was from Lucas.
“Jeremiah’s on his way
over here and we’ll get the room set up. Why don’t you go read that. I
think you need it right now.”
“Well, I…” Margaret
looked around. She only had a couple hours to get everything ready.
“Go on, Margaret.”
Emily hugged her. “You need a good word from Lucas.”
“How do I know it’s
good?” Margaret asked.
Abraham smiled. “It’s
good. He told me in a separate letter it was good and to give it to you at
Margaret turned and
walked into the parlor. It wasn’t until she was sitting in the chair with
her feet under her that she opened the letter and read the words Lucas had
My Dearest Margaret,
Oh, how I
wish I could be there with you tonight as you celebrate Christmas Eve. It’s
always been a wonderful experience for me. It hurts me so much that Andy
won’t be there – and we’ll never be able to celebrate another Christmas
together, but I know he’s in Heaven watching down on us right now. He’ll be
there in your hearts and memories and you can dwell on the good times that
we all shared in the past.
I’ll be there as well. No matter what I’m doing on Christmas Eve, I’ll be
sitting right beside you holding your hand. I’ll be there giving your hand
a squeeze every once in a while. I’ll watch your smile on your rosy cheeks
as you enjoy your favorite time of year. Christmas Eve at the Gibbs has
always been great. For as long as I can remember you’ve always been right
in the middle of the work planning and decorating.
I’m thinking of when you were seven years old. You made so many homemade
decorations that your Ma said there wasn’t room for them all. I was there
helping Uncle Sam get things ready and saw your bottom lip start to quiver.
My brother Abe said we’d put the rest on our tree and you smiled. Oh, but
it only seems like yesterday, yet that was eleven years ago.
you will make this year as special as the rest. I can only imagine how hard
you’ll work on your house once you have one of your own. I’m sure Christmas
will be pouring out!
I’ll close for now. I just wanted to wish you a merry Christmas. I wish I
were there with you.
Margaret wiped her eyes
and slid the letter back into the envelope. She put the letter in her
pocket and hurried back into the kitchen where Julie and Em were putting
finishing touches on supper. She hurried in to study the tree and smiled.
“It’s beautiful!” she declared as she hugged Laura toward her. “It’s simply
Laura smiled, but her
smile started to die when she saw Margaret’s eyes suddenly grow wide and
fill with tears. Laura turned and studied the tree. “Did I do something
wrong?” she asked.
Margaret realized she
was crying again and wiped her eyes. “Oh no, Laura!” Margaret bent down
beside her. “The angel…I hadn’t seen it in years. Where did you find it?”
“It was sitting there…on
the hearth,” Laura pointed toward the fireplace.
Margaret gently touched
the angel hanging on the tree. Andy had made it for her a long time ago.
She was only six years old that year. She had felt a bit down so Andy chose
that as his special project to make in school. It had been made with such
love and care. “We lost it when I was eight. We looked for it everywhere
and could never find it.”
Laura wrinkled up her
nose in confusion. “Then where did it come from?”
Margaret lifted her head
and looked over at Abraham and Julie who were working on putting chairs
around the table. “I don’t know…”
Julie smiled as she
walked over to the girls. “It’s a Christmas miracle. Maybe it holds the
They heard a wagon pull
up outside. Julie went to look out the window. “It’s your mother and
sister.” Margaret stood up and wiped her eyes. Then she walked to stand
between the tables and folded her hands in front of her. The door opened.
When Jennifer saw the room, her smile died. She looked at the table with
some food already on it. Then she looked at the tree. She turned and
looked at the decorated table with the chairs. “I thought we decided not to
have Christmas this year,” Jennifer said in a reserved voice.
“No. You and Scott said
you didn’t want a Christmas. Beth, Johnny, and I never said a word.”
Jennifer frowned as she stared at the table. “Oh Mother…” Margaret hurried
up to her and grabbed her hands. “Mother…we have to start living again!”
turned to see Scott standing on the other side of the room. He and Johnny
must have come in the back. He slowly walked up to her. “I can’t believe
you defied me like this!”
Margaret said nothing,
but simply looked at her brother. Johnny’s eyes filled with tears as he
looked around at the festivities. “It’s like…” he swallowed hard as
emotions overcame him. “…like before…”
“How could you do this?”
Scott asked again. “How? I told you we were in no mood to celebrate! You
had NO right!”
Margaret sighed as she
walked over to the table and picked up the Bible. She looked down at it and
began reading the words. The room suddenly grew quiet as her tearful voice
grew stronger. The Christmas story had always been read by Samuel Gibbs,
but this year Margaret took pride to read the special words herself. When
she finished, the room was quiet.
Suddenly, Laura grabbed
Jennifer’s hand and led her to the tree. “Look! An angel!”
Jennifer fell to her
knees as she removed the ornament from the tree. She sat down and pressed
the angel to her chest. “It was years ago…” she said in a quiet voice.
“…One Christmas Andy came home from school with this angel. We hung it on
the tree for two Christmas’s, but them it disappeared. We looked everywhere
for it that third Christmas, but it just wasn’t….” She grew quiet as tears
fell down her cheeks. “Where did you find it?”
“Over there!” Laura
pointed toward the hearth. “It was sitting in the corner.” Laura hurried
over to pat the spot she found it.
“Mother!” Beth suddenly
threw a hand to her mouth. “Mother…” Her words died in her throat.
“That’s where Andy
always sat to hear the Christmas story,” Scott whispered as he hurried to
his mother and looked at the angel. “That is Andy’s Angel! Look, it even
has the paste smeared all over the wing. Remember how I riled him about…”
The door opened.
Everyone turned to stare at the intruder. A tall man stood in the doorway.
His face now had a beard and he looked old, but there was no mistaking who
it was. “Papa!” Margaret ran and threw her arms around him. He returned
her hug and kissed her cheek. “Oh Papa!”
“Look, Pa.” Beth took
the angel from Scott and walked over to Samuel. “Look at the angel Laura
found. It was sitting in Andy’s spot on the hearth.”
shaky hand reached out and touched the angel. His eyes suddenly filled with
tears. He hugged his daughters close to him as he allowed the tears to
“He’s here!” Margaret
whispered. “Andy’s here!”
The McCain’s stood back
and watched the family embrace. Laura sat down on the hearth and started
crying. Abraham saw her and slowly sat Charlie down. He walked over to the
hearth and sat down next to Laura. He gently put a hand under her chin and
lifted her face. “Why are you crying?”
“I did something bad! I
thought they’d like the angel!”
“Oh, they do, Laura!
They really like the angel!” Abraham declared.
“No!” Laura pointed.
Abraham picked Laura up
and sat her on his lap. He cuddled her close to him. “They are crying over
the Christmas miracle, honey. That angel was lost a long time ago and just
appeared. It’s a message to us that Andy will ALWAYS be with us…” Abraham
tapped Laura’s chest over her heart. “…in here. Andy lives in here.”
Abraham pressed his
sister against him as they studied the family. Samuel hugged his wife and
put his arms around his daughters. Johnny and Scott stood off a bit, still
unsure of what to think. But their eyes held a peace. Julie walked over to
sit down beside her husband. “You think things will be better now?”
“I don’t know, Abraham
answered. “But I think they needed this Christmas. I think Margaret was
right. It was necessary.”
Jennifer wiped her eyes
and turned. “Well…why don’t we all sit down at the table?”
When everyone was
seated, they realized two extra places had been set. Several pairs of eyes
stared at the empty places. Those are for Andy and Luke. Luke told me
earlier he’d be here in spirit thinking about us and Andy…well, I think we
know he’s here.” Margaret smiled as she looked at her family. “I’m so glad
you are all here!”
Abraham led the family
in prayer. As they sat eating Margaret’s pumpkin pie, Samuel softly spoke
to his sons. “I’m not back. I can’t live here…not now, but…I have my
responsibilities of helping out on the ranch and I will. If it’s alright
with you, I can stay in the bunk house with the hired hands. And I’ll put in
my fair share of the work.”
Scott grew quiet as he
nibbled on his dessert. He looked at Johnny, then Abraham who sat close by
listening. “Alright, Pa. But you must behave yourself. You can stay in
the bunk house as long as you don’t drink.”
Abraham could tell how
much his words cost him, but there was only so much Scott could do. He
needed his father’s help, but he had to protect his family as well. Hurt
came over Samuel’s face. Then he nodded in agreement. “Alright, son. I’ll
do my best.” Samuel stood up. “The meal was very good, daughter. I thank
you for inviting me.”
“You’re not leaving…”
Jennifer asked as she stood from the table.
Samuel was half-way
toward the door. He turned and looked at Jennifer. He pressed a hand to
her cheek. “I’m sorry I’ve hurt you. I’ll be staying in the bunk house. I
know I’m a disappointment to you, but I will…try…to put in my time on the
“Why won’t you come
home?” Jennifer asked.
answered. “The day…” Samuel swallowed as he shook his head. “Something
inside me died that day. It’s gone and I can’t find it. I don’t know
what…or why…but I can’t come home and pretend everything’s okay. But I will
be here. I will.”
They watched as Samuel
picked up his hat and slowly walked out. The room grew very quiet as
Jennifer slowly turned around. She smiled at her family. “Well…” She
walked up to Margaret. “I thank you for putting life back into our family.
I think all of you for being here.”
Margaret hugged her
mother. “Are we ready?”
“Well…We lost another
special person this year as well.” Margaret turned and looked at Abraham.
“We lost Uncle Marcus. She turned to smile at her mother. “You…do remember
what Uncle Marcus always did!”
“The Night Before
Christmas!” Johnny declared as he looked at Laura.
“Yes.” Margaret looked
toward Abraham and smiled. “And this year, Abraham has the honors.”
Abraham started to speak
but looked down as Laura sniffed. He clung to her and kissed her on top of
the head. “When Julie asked me to do this two days ago, I…wasn’t sure if I
could. But after witnessing this Christmas miracle, I’ll try to do it with
the same feeling and emotions Pa always did.”
“Oh Papa!” Laura sniffed
as she buried her face into Abraham’s chest.
Abraham lifted her head
and smiled into her eyes. “Twas…the night before Christmas when ALL through
the house…” He smiled as he looked up at those now gathered around him on
the floor. “Not a creature was stirring…not even…” His voice grew really
quiet. “…a mouse!”
Laura smiled as he
tickled her gently. She cozied up next to him as Charlie climbed up onto
Abraham’s other knee. Abraham recited the entire story with much emotion
Julie sat on the hearth
beside her husband. Baby Sammy was sitting on her lap. She smiled as she
stared into her husband’s face.
Emily sat on the floor
holding Adam who was making goo-goo noises and playing with her hand.
Jeremiah sat on the floor and Em sat in front of him as she leaned back
against him. Jeremiah drew his arms around her as Abraham spoke. Tiffany
sat down beside her husband on the floor. Peter took her hand in his and
squeezed it as they listened.
Margaret stared at
Abraham from her place on the floor. Last year, she and Luke had sat
together smiling as Marcus had spoken the words. Beth sat next to her.
Relief was in her eyes as she stared at Abraham. Ruth and Jennifer sat in
their chairs at the table. Baby David sat on Ruth’s lap playing with a
spoon as Abraham spoke. Ruth and Jennifer smiled at their family. They
watched the expressions on their children’s faces as Abraham spoke.
“Merry Christmas to
all…” Abraham suddenly boomed out. “…and to all…a good night.”
The room grew quiet as
Abraham finished up his story. He bent over and kissed his wife softly.
Then he looked down at his charges on his lap. Charlie suddenly started
clapping excitedly. “Again, Papa! Again!”
Everyone in the room
started laughing. Margaret wiped the tears from her face and cleared her
throat. In her beautiful voice, she began singing “Silent Night.” The
others joined in with her and soon the house was filled with melodies of
The family stayed and
sung way into the night. All five children were soon asleep. The adults
stood and gathered their things to leave. “Merry Christmas,” Margaret said
softly as Julie hugged her before leaving.
Abraham stood beside her
with Laura in his arms. The other children had been softly laid in the back
of the wagon. “Merry Christmas, Margaret.”
Margaret softly touched
the sleeping little girl’s cheek as her head rested on Abraham’s shoulder.
She watched the last of the McCain’s leave. “Merry Christmas!” she shouted
as she waved. Then she closed the door.
Jennifer walked up to
Margaret and put her hands on her shoulders. “Thank you for tonight,
Margaret. We all needed it.” Margaret smiled as she studied her mother’s
face. It looked more relaxed. Margaret knew things were going to still be
hard, but she also knew things would be better for her family. They could
now begin healing and adjusting to life as it was…not as they wanted it to
Margaret saw her mother
to bed, promising she would spend the next morning cleaning up the mess.
She slowly pulled out the letter Lucas had written and read the letter
again. Then she opened the front door and stepped out onto the porch. The
sky was clear that Christmas Eve night as she lifted her head up toward the
stars. She saw a star twinkle at her and she smiled as she shivered. “I’m
going to marry you some day, Luke!”
Far, far away in an army
camp, Luke sat outside his tent as he looked up at the stars. He took
another long puff from his cigar as a star twinkled at him. He thought of
Margaret and whispered, “I just may marry that woman some day!”