It was the year 1968. That year was an exceptionally hard year in every way. Pop was laid off due to too much snow in the woods. He was a logger. Roads were impassable and snow lay thick in the mountains. We knew there would be no Christmas. Mom had told us there simply was no money. Times were tough. We didn’t have money even for our very basic needs.
That was the year the guy from the fire department brought my sick baby brother some medicine in his four wheel drive. That was the year the snow piled up relentlessly night and day. The wind blew it under the window sills. We slept each night downstairs by the fireplace trying to stay warm. The entire house was closed off by blankets in doorways and masking tape on all the windows. Rugs were shoved under loose fitting doors so not a breath of cold air could get in.
That was also the year that food was scarce for man and beast. Earlier in the fall, the cold and scarcity of food drove the bear into our orchard to eat any remaining plums and apples that we hadn’t canned or processed in some way. We trapped those bears, tanned their hides to use for rugs, and ate the meat to fill our bellies. Christmas dinner that year was going to be Bear Roast. There were nine of us kids, and food was scarce.
The fires were kept burning night and day. My baby brothers were set on the lids to the warming ovens above the kitchen stove and held there while they dangled there feet over the old Home Comfort. Its cheery warmth not only heated our kitchen, but it also kept their tiny toes warm.
That was also the winter that mom ran out of formula for the baby. Not knowing what to do, we prayed that God would send our baby formula. He was allergic to milk and too young to eat food. That day a man handed mom an envelope of gospel tracts. There hidden in the tracts was a five dollar bill. God had answered our prayers. The baby would now get his formula.
I had only one wish that Christmas. I had seen a beautiful doll bed in the department store window. I wanted it so badly, but I knew it was way too much to ask. I could dream though, and dream I did. Mom knew how badly I yearned for a doll bed, so one day shortly before Christmas she set about to make me that coveted gift. Taking two cardboard boxes she turned the one upside down and set the other on top. She fastened them to each other then lined them with fabric and made a little pleated skirt to cover the cardboard box underneath. She knew that on Christmas morning I would be the happiest child for miles around.
The air was filled with secrecy that Christmas, as we all tried to make each other gifts. Buttons were strung onto strings, small jars were filled with filberts to rattle at the babies, nuts piled high behind the stove in gunny sacks were cracked and sugared for treats. Once again Bear meat was on the dinner menu. But once again God had other plans.
The day before Christmas a big red truck lumbered down the lane to our house. It was the Fire Chief! Whatever was happening? Why had they come? They had chained up the vehicle to get up the snowy roads. Maybe they were bringing medicine. One year the fire department brought aspirin to all the babies on the mountain because families couldn’t get into town. But no! Wait! There were other men with him. We watched as the firemen jumped down and began unloading gifts from the truck. They piled them on to the front porch while we watched from the window. There were lots of boxes. The excitement was more than we could bear. Beautifully wrapped gifts with sparkly bows were lined up on the porch.
Mom opened the front door to ask what this was all about. A fireman filled her arms with a box overflowing with food. “Merry Christmas,” he called over his shoulder as he stomped back through the snow for more things. My sisters and I were squealing and excitedly running from window to window in the hopes of seeing better. The babies peeked out from behind mom’s skirt.
Finally the last box was unloaded and our porch was filled with food and gifts. Everything we needed for a complete Christmas dinner was brought by that fire department. Mom was crying as she thanked the men. At eight-years-old I didn’t see what there was to cry about. I mean one minute there was no Christmas, the next we all had gifts and a Christmas dinner! At the time I knew nothing of what lies in a mother’s heart when God so completely and wonderfully answers her prayers for Christmas for her babies.
But the firemen weren’t done. They had gone back to the truck, and now they were pulling out a huge box with a candy cane striped swing-set inside. Our joy was beyond imagination. We had spent many hours swinging in homemade swings in the apple trees, but we had never seen or dreamed of anything as lovely as this red and white swing set. Our little hearts could hold no more.
That year was the best Christmas we ever had. The turkey from the fire department filled the place with mouthwatering smells. Gifts were opened and nowhere was there greater joy than that which was found in the old farmhouse that day.
That night, as the snow continued to blow across the dark hills, nine children lay tucked in their beds on the dining room floor. The fire gave the room a soft glow. Over in the old green chair mama rocked the baby and fed him warm formula while Pop made his bedtime rounds, stoking the fire and checking windows and doors for any loose masking tape that would let the cold east wind inside.
That was the night that the firemen brought Christmas to little children on a cold mountain. That was the night a new doll, brought from the fire department, slept all snuggly warm in its cardboard box beside a little girl who had prayed for a Christmas.
That was the night the heavens bent low.
That was the night the angels sang.
I will forever be grateful to the men who sacrificed their time that cold Christmas Eve. I have never forgotten their labor of love and the joy they brought to our hearts. Thank you so much for bringing Christmas to our house that year. You will never know what that meant to all of us! May God bless you all!