The Writer's Corner
Chapter 8 - The Necessary Christmas
Written by Michelle Palmer
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
“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
“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 him.”
The door opened again. Emily and Tiffany walked inside.
“Margaret!” Emily greeted her. “Shopping for the surprise party,
I take it?”
“Surprise?” Margaret giggled. “Abraham is very aware he’s having
a party tonight, and you know it!”
“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 is…”
“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 wrong?”
“Oh…nothing. I’m…fine now. There for a minute I thought…”
Tiffany shook her head. “I’m okay now.”
“Are you sure?” Margaret asked as she reached out for Tiffany’s
arm. “We could take you to see the doctor.”
Tiffany nodded. “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 her conclusion.
“Uh…Margaret?” Margaret 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
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 Peters!”
“You kids?” Margaret grinned as she raised her eyebrows at
Scott. She shook her head. “You were only two years older than
“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 trouble together!”
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 now.”
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 barn!”
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.
Abraham laughed 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.”
“Happy birthday, 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 sorry.”
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!”
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!” Abraham declared!
“And he won’t be 27 until 5:05 tonight!” Ruth informed her
“Read the letter!” Laura exclaimed. “Read it!”
As the family gathered around, Abraham cleared his throat and
It is 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.
Andy died 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
Anyways, 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.
I best 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
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
“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
“It’s the dollar Luke gave me?” Laura asked. “Honest? It’s
“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
“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 letter.
My Precious, sweet girl,
Oh, I 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.
I’m sure 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…
Oh 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
After he 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.”
We leave 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!
I best 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.
Oh, I 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 spent
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 soon”
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 room.
“…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
“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 about Luke?”
“No.” Margaret turned around and gave Abraham a weak smile.
“Actually I was thinking about Pa. I had hoped he’d come.”
“He…wasn’t invited.” 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!” Margaret cried.
“Maybe he’ll be better by Christmas.”
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
Peter’s head shot around. He stared at his sister. “Another?
What are you talking about?”
“Peter…it’s nothing…just 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 asked worriedly.
“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 this way.”
“Her condition…” Peter mumbled. He was clueless as to what Ruth
was talking about. “What condition?”
“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. “She’s pregnant!”
“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 suddenly.
“Peter!” Tiffany’s eyes grew wide.
“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 know!”
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
“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 laughed.
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.
I just 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.
Andy is 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
I don’t 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 reach her.
I don’t 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
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
“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,
“I’m sorry, sis…”
Margaret turned to her mother. “Ma?”
Jennifer lowered her head. “I don’t much feel like celebrating
this year, Margaret. Let’s just…skip Christmas.”
“Skip…” Margaret 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 just…”
“Margaret…” Margaret’s eyes filled up with tears when she saw
the stern expression on her brother’s face.
She slowly stood up, trying to keep her emotions under control.
“We celebrated Abraham’s birthday.”
“It’s not the same and you know it,” Scott said quietly…too
“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…”
“That’s enough, Margaret!” Scott allowed his coffee cup to hit
the table harder than he meant.
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.”
“Again?” Margaret sighed. “Johnny…with Andy and Pa gone Scott’s
having to do some work that’s really hard for him. I wish you
“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,
Christmas 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.
There’s 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
Mother 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
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
I need 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 such
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 told her.
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 again.
“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 suddenly…”
“They can’t skip Christmas…” Julie mumbled. “Abe…”
“No!” Abraham held up his hand as he walked towards her.
“What?” Julie asked as she lifted her hands to her shoulders and
“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
“Uncle Sam…” Julie shook her head. “Abe, I never would have
“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
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
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
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
“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
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
Abraham walked up to the cell and put his hands on the bars. “I
can’t do that, Sam. You’re needed at home.”
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
“No! I ain’t…” Samuel started.
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 break horses?”
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 risks!”
“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.”
Samuel’s expression 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 just…can’t!”
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.
“Margaret.” Margaret turned to see Abraham dismounting his
“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
“I know…” Margaret sighed as she sat down on the rock and pulled
her coat a bit tighter around her.
Abraham sat down right beside her. “You shouldn’t be out in the
“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 school, Abe.”
“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
“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
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 worse.”
“I know.” Margaret nodded. “In my heart…I know.” She smiled as
she watched Abraham slowly ride away.
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
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 him change?”
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
“Margaret…” Scott heaved a long, sad sigh. “Let’s not go through
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
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, Papa.”
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
“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.
“Yes, Papa…You CAN! You CAN!” Margaret declared. “We all want
“I can’t! I can’t!” Samuel stood up.
“Pa, we’re having Christmas Eve tomorrow night at six o’clock.
Samuel turned from her and hurried away. Margaret threw a hand
to her mouth as her eyes filled with tears. “God, help him. Help
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 my decision.
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.
Margaret started 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.”
“YES!” Margaret 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
“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 work!”
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
“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 Christmas.”
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 to say:
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.
Margaret, 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.
In fact, 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.
I know 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!
Well, 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
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
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
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
Margaret lifted her head and looked over at Abraham and Julie
who were working on putting chairs around the table. “I don’t
Julie smiled as she walked over to the girls. “It’s a Christmas
miracle. Maybe it holds the key, Margaret.”
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
“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!”
“Margaret!” Margaret 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
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.”
“Andy’s…” Samuel’s 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 come.
“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
“No!” Laura pointed. “They’re crying!”
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
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
“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
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.
“I…can’t!” Samuel 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
“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
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.
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 and feeling.
Julie sat on the hearth beside her husband. Baby Sammy was
sitting on her lap. She smiled as she stared into her husband’s
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
“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 Christmas.
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
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 be.
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!”
The Years Before — The Search
This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch