Sunday, December 2, 2012

Comfort and Joy ~ A Prairie Story

The bitter cold of winter hangs in the air as the icicles dangle from the evergreens that grow on the sides of the road. Snow laden hills roll in crescendos of triumph while the sunbeams reflect high into the morning air. The sleigh glides across the prairie while the jingle of bells shatters the brittle breath of winter. It is visiting day in the small village nestled in the valley at the edge of the river.

Marny has a new baby, born in the depths of the night two week ago. I am excited to cuddle the little bundle. It is a boy, a strong baby boy that will grow into a man someday, a man just like father. Father has grown old in his bones. That is what he says when he sits down at the supper table long after Lily and I have been sent off to bed in the room behind the hearth. He is a tall man with eyes that twinkle in the firelight and hands rough as raw wood from the yoke and the plow.
There hasn’t been a baby in the family since Lily was born, almost eight whole years ago. You wouldn’t know it by her carefully chosen words, but Mother is delighted at the idea of a new baby in the family. She has spent months knitting blankets from the softest yarns sold at the general store. Whenever Marny and her husband, John, would come to the soddy, Mother has been sure to give strict instructions on the care of infants. It isn’t that Mother doesn’t think Marny will be a good mother, it’s the idea this is Mother’s first grandchild. She is delighted.
Lily and I snuggle close in the bottom of the sleigh as Father drives atop the snow drifts. Lily clutches her dolly that is swaddled tightly in a blanket by Mother. My sister isn’t as happy about the new baby as the rest of us. She worries Mother will love the baby more than her, but Mother assures her that she will always be the baby of Mother’s life. That’s what she said to me when Lily was born. She loves us both the same. I’m sure of it.
The steeple of the church comes into view as it always does when we mount the rise just above the village. On Sunday mornings the bell can be heard as far away as the soddy. I can hardly wait another week when the bell will ring and we all stand together to sing Christmas hymns, accompanied by the new organ that comes all the way from Minneapolis. My favorite is God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.
Marny was a teacher in the school house at the edge of town, until she and John got married. Marny is a full grown woman now and a wife. There is no time for teaching among her many obligations, especially now that there is a baby in the house. Mother says that babies take a lot of time and special care. The slightest draft can cause them to take with the croup. Mother says that winter babies are the most difficult, because of the cold. If babies are so much work, I don’t think that I want one. I don’t think that I want to be married either. Father says I will change my mind when I get a few years older. I don’t think so.
Smoke curls from the chimney of Marny and John’s white wood frame house. John has built Marny a picket fence and dug a garden for her in the backyard. In the summer there will be rose and lilac bushes. While she waited for the baby to arrive, Marny made the yellow curtains that hang in the windows. She says that yellow makes the room sunny and warm. I hope so. Despite the piles of blankets, I am cold from the long sleigh ride.
Father tethers the horses to the hitching post outside the house, and helps Mother from the sleigh. Lily and I scramble from the blankets and stand next to Mother. Lily slips one hand into Mother’s while she holds dolly tight to her chest with the other. John opens the door and shakes Father’s hand as they exchange hearty hellos. Father likes John and thinks he is a good man for Marny. He hasn’t always thought that, but he says no man will be truly good enough for his daughters. I don’t think I will love any man. I have my, Da.
The smell of brewed coffee wafts out into the brisk air, mingled with the heavenly scent of fresh baked apple pie. Marny makes the most delicious pies. Her house always smells of vanilla, sugar, and cinnamon when we come to visit. John steps aside while he takes Mother’s muff and wrap. Father hangs his hat on the rack beside the door as mother helps Lily with the buttons of her coat. I am ten years old, I don’t need help anymore. Mother says I am getting to be such a big girl and good helper too.
Marny sits in the wooden rocker next to the hearth. The cradle John has made sways back and forth as she gently nudges the rounded bottom with her foot. Mother stoops to hug Marny while Father and John sit at the table to talk about current events over pie and coffee. Lily and I creep towards the cradle for our first look at the baby. Marny pulls back the soft blue blanket to reveal the chubby round face of her son, and cautions we can look, but we mustn’t touch. I want to touch. Mother says it’s always best to let sleeping babes lie, and gently pulls my hand away.
He squirms in the tightly bound swaddles of blankets and opens his eyes. He makes a murmuring sound like Lily when she wakes in the morning. His little bow lips part into a soft yawn. Mother reaches into the cradle and takes the babe in her arms. Her eyes glisten as drops of moisture slip down Mother’s cheeks. I have never seen Mother cry. I worry she has become sad. Mother says it is because she is so happy. A lump builds in my throat. I am happy too.
I sit on the floor by the warmth of the fire in the hearth. I cross my legs as I sit straight and tall while Marny places the baby in my lap. He is warm and soft. I am afraid. He wiggles in the knit blanket and I hold him close. He smells of fresh linen and soap. His tiny fingers wrap around my thumb and I giggle. I look into his little face as he smiles up at me. He lets out a small cooing noise. I think I like babies. I might want one when I am older.
The afternoon passes with warmth and laughter by the hearth. I sit in the corner of the small kitchen and I think to myself, these are the glad tidings of comfort and joy.
(c) All rights reserved. Donna R. Wood