| This Way to Christmas|
|by Ruth Sawyer|
|Stranded in upstate New York with just seven days to go until Christmas, a lonesome boy comes up with an ingenious way to bring Christmas to the equally lonesome inhabitants of his small mountain community, all of whom were spending the winter far from home. Visiting each in turn, David befriends his neighbors and delights in hearing the Christmas stories they share with him, stories they heard in their homelands long ago. A final celebration brings all the neighbors of different nationalities together, forging relationships that will outlast the holiday season and sending a message of hope to a war-torn world. Ages 9-12 |
THE PATHWAY TO UNCLE JOAB AND A NEW SANTA CLAUS
O fresh snow fell through the night, and
when David slipped his feet into the skee
straps at the lodge door next morning he was
rejoiced to find that the snow had packed and
crusted a little since the day before, which
meant better going. Again he made for the
crest of the hill beyond the first clump of
evergreens and again he stood at the pinnacle
of the ways and wondered which he would take.
"I might count," he laughed aloud—"I might
count them out." And with that he fell into
the school-boy doggerel, nearly as old as boyhood
Catch—a nigger—by the—"
He came to a sudden stop. In the direction
of the lumber-camp, where the evergreens
marked the beginning of the road, he had
caught a glimpse of a gray squirrel. Was it a
 real squirrel this time, or was it the locked-out
fairy again? There was not a minute to be lost.
He must find out.
Over the unbroken snow he slid, balancing
himself carefully when he came to the
hummocks made by the wind or fallen trees, his eyes
coming back constantly to the little gray figure
before him. It was sitting erect now, under a
green bough, apparently busy investigating the
contents of a pine cone. But just as David had
made up his mind that this time it was a real
squirrel, up went the furry paw to an ear in
unmistakable salute, just as the locked-out
fairy had done when he hopped from the
window-ledge of the lodge. Then, with ears set
back and tail out straight behind, the squirrel
flew down the hill. Away went David after
him, the tassel of his toboggan-cap out as
straight as the squirrel's tail.
Never was there such a race. They dodged
trees and fallen branches; they leaped drifts;
they spun like tops around the curves.
Sometimes David was so close upon the fairy's heels
that he could almost have touched him with the
end of his steering-cane, but the next moment
he generally lost his balance and slipped a skee,
and head over heels he would go in the crusty
 snow. When he righted himself the fairy was
always yards ahead, sitting with his shoulders
all hunched up as if he were laughing silently
at David's tumble. So exciting was the whole
race that David entirely forgot his destination
until he suddenly found himself almost
bumping a corner of one of the lumber cabins, and the
fairy nowhere in sight.
He stopped a minute for breath and to wonder
what he would do, when he heard the soft,
silvery notes of a violin. The music was
coming from inside that very cabin, and a voice
was humming softly as well. David moved round
to one of the windows, hoping he might be tall
enough to look in, but the snow had drifted
away from that side and he missed the ledge
by several inches. It occurred to him, however,
that if the snow had drifted from this end it had
probably drifted toward the other. He would
try it, at any rate. Round the cabin he went,
and, sure enough, there the snow had piled up
half-way to the window and David found he
could look in comfortably.
There was a great fire blazing inside, and by
it sat an old negro with the whitest hair and
beard David had ever seen. A fiddle was
tucked under his chin and slowly and lovingly
 he was bowing the melody from it, while one
foot patted the time on the floor and a plaintive,
mellow voice put words to the music. David
listened for the words and caught them:
"Yeah come-a-No-ah—a-stumblin' tru de dark,
Wif hammah an' wif nails-to-a-build hisself an ark.
An'-a-yeah come de an'mals-two-a-by two,
De Yippo-ma-pot'mus—an' de kick-kangaroo."
The bowing suddenly stopped and David was
conscious of a pair of very white eyeballs
looking at him through the glass. For the space of a
breath or more David was not at all sure that he
wanted to get any nearer that strange, bent old
figure. He was almost sure that he did not
want to go inside. Not that he was afraid.
Oh no, indeed! He was not in the least bit
afraid; there was nothing to be afraid of.
Even Johanna had not said anything harmful
about the old cook at the lumber-camp. Nevertheless,
there was something mysterious,
something not altogether inviting about that inky-black
face with the white hair and rolling
David was speedily withdrawing himself,
having decided that there was great virtue in
distance, when he heard the creak of the cabin
 door. In a trice the old negro, fiddle in hand,
appeared around the corner.
"Wha you goin', honey?" There was
unmistakable regret over David's retreating figure.
"Why—why, I'm just going back where I came from."
"Wha you come from?"
David pointed upward and the old darky
" 'Pears to me dat am a long way fer a li'l'
boy to come an' den turn 'bout an' go right
home. Come in, honey, an' Uncle Joab 'll play
you somethin' lively on de ole fiddle."
David hesitated, but only for an instant.
There was something too lonely and appealing
about the man to be denied. David was still not
at all sure that he wanted to go, even while he
was following the lumber cook round to the door.
It was surprisingly cozy and cheerful inside,
perhaps because of the open fire, the strips of
pine cones, husked corn, and bunches of colored
berries that decorated the walls and rafters.
Uncle Joab caught David's wondering, curious
gaze, and he chuckled.
"Yas, dat's pop-corn, honey. An' I reckon
Uncle Joab 'll have some a-poppin' for you over
dese yeah coals in a jiffy.
 He mounted stiffly the hewn, polished stump
that did service for a stool and pulled down two
of the ears. From the corner of the fireplace he
brought a corn-popper and, sitting down, he
commenced to shell the corn by rubbing the
ears together. David drew up a chair near by
and watched him with growing interest. When
the corn was shelled Uncle Joab raked away the
unburned wood from the fire, leaving a bed of
the red coals. Over this he held the corn,
shaking the popper gently from side to side.
In less time than it takes for the telling sounded
the snap-snap-snap of the bursting kernels, and
in a moment more Uncle Joab had turned the
snowy contents into an earthen bowl and laid
it on David's knee with a small dish of salt and
the invitation to "Go ahead." Then he took up
his fiddle again and played the promised music.
It was a jig, such a rollicking, care-free jig
that before it was finished David found himself
wondering how in the world he ever hesitated
about coming in. Why, here was nothing but
another boy like himself, a boy grown old before
he had grown up.
"Like dat corn, honey? Wall, you come
along yeah 'round Chris'mus an' Uncle Joab 'll
make you some m'lasses balls."
 A sigh escaped with the promise.
"Lordy—Chris'mus—yeah! Doan't seem
like I done hab any Chris'mus sence I left ole
Virginy. Seems like it done froze stiff 'fo' ever
it got to dese yeah parts."
David laughed at the old man's humor. It
had seemed just that way to him a few days ago.
"Couldn't we thaw it out?" he asked.
" 'Twould take a monstrous lot o' warm
feelin's, honey, an' kind folks, I reckon. An'
you'd not find 'em a-hangin' 'round loose yeah
in de wintah. Why, dere's no more 'n a han'ful
of us, all measured an' mixted; an' as fur as I
know dere's not one a-speakin' to another."
David shook his head solemnly.
"That's not much like Christmas, is it,
Uncle Joab? Not much 'good-will' when you
don't know your neighbors."
The old darky grunted, then he chuckled.
" 'Pears to me it's de critters dat get on yeah
more folksy den de real folks—an' dat put me
in mind of a story my mammy used to tell me
when I was your size."
"Will you tell it, Uncle Joab?"
"Co'se I'll tell it, honey." And putting the
fiddle down beside his chair he began:
 "I reckon you think dat de jolly ole saint wif
de red nose an' de dimple somewhas 'twixt his
mouf an' his ears only 'members de chillun at
Chris'mus. An' dat's not de trouf. Dere was
one Chris'mus long time ago, after Pharoe's
daughter found Moses in de bull-grass an' 'fo'
Christoper Columbus went a-sailin' 'round to
find dis yeah country, dat ole man Santy gib a
Chris'mus to de critters. An' dis was de way
"In dose days dere warn't de chilluns dere is
now. Dey wasn't so plentiful an' dey wasn't
so perticular; an' each one wasn't lookin' fer a
whole shed full o' toys jest fer hisself. No, sir,
honey! He was bustin' wif tickle if he got one
gif' an' some barley sugar. An' what's more,
dey wasn't so pernicity 'bout what dey got.
De dolls didn't have to walk an' talk an' act
like real folks an' de trains didn't have to go
by demselves. An' everything bein' so comf'able
an' easy, ole Santy could tote de pack o'
toys 'round hisself on his back an' be home a
good two hour 'fo' daylight, wif nothin' to
do de rest o' de day but set 'round an' think.
"Wall, in dose days, honey, de folks doan't
pester de critters wif workin' dem all de time.
No, sir! Dey work dem when dey need dem,
 an' de balance o' de time de critters trope
'round free an' easy-like. Folks wasn't cotchin'
de cur'ous ones to put in de menageries an' de
circuses, nor de furry ones to trim up de ladies
wif. Times was pleasant an' comf'able fer
"Now it transmigrate one day when ole
Santy was a-settin' an' rumminatin' dat he
fotch up his thoughts on de critters, an' he says
to hisself, says he:
""Pears like dey has a right to Chris'mus
same as de folks. Dey minds dere bus'ness, an'
dey works an' dey plays de same, an' dey had
dere share in dat fust Chris'mus when de li'l'
Lordie was born—same as de folks. Didn't de
donkey carry Mary to Beflehem? Didn't de
mully-cow gib her manger for de l'il' Lordie to
sleep in? Didn't de cock crow de news to St.
Stephen? An' how do yer reckon de Wise Men
could ha' toted dere presents 'cross de sand if it
hadn't been fer dem cam'ls?'
"Yas, sir, honey! Ole Santy was right.
De critters had as much right to Chris'mus as
de folks, an' ole Santy poun' his knee an' swear
he gwine to gib dem one.
"So de ole saint he begun fer to study an'
to study what he gwine to do fer de critters.
 He can't come down dere chimbleys 'ca'se dey
'ain't got no houses; an' he can't fill dere
stockin's 'ca'se dey doan't wear none; an' he can't
fotch dem barley candy 'ca'se dey doan't eat it.
Wall, he set dere an' study twell his brain 'mos'
bustin' an' bime-by he fotch up wif an idea.
" 'I know what I'll do,' says ole Santy, says
he. 'Dem critters is sure to be like folks;
dere's certain to be a lot dat ain't satisfied wif
dere pussonalities. Now I'm gwine to trim up
a Chris'mus tree wif a lot o' odd tails, an' ears,
an' wings, an' legs, an' sech-like, an' any o' de
critters dat ain't satisfied can choose jes' what
dey want. Dat's what I'm gwine to do,' says
"Wall, thinkin' was doin'. An' by de time
Chris'mus come along dat ole saint had de mos'
cur'os, hetromologous collection o' an'mal parts
you ever done hear tell about. He sent word
by de birds all over de world fer de critters to
come to a Chris'mus celebration at de fust
fir-tree dis side o' de North Pole. Fo' dey git
dere ole Santy had it all trimmed up wif his
presents; an' when de critters trope up dey
sure was bustin' wif s'prize when dey see all de
tails an' wings an' legs hangin' dere.
"An' de an'mals! Bless your heart, honey,
 you never see such a camp-meetin'! Dere was
elephants an' tigers an' lions an' yippopot'musses
an' rabbits an' 'possums an' mouses—every
livin' kind. An' all de birds dat clip de
air an' all de fish dat swum de sea. Dey all
come lopin' up wif dere purtiest manners on;
an' dey scrape an' dey bow an' ax after ole
Missus Santy an' de chilluns. When dey'd
axed an' scraped all 'round, ole Santy says, says
"'Now any o' you-all critters dat want fer to
change yer pussonalities can jes' step right up
an' choose somethin' new,' says he.
"Everybody was mighty bashful at fust.
Dey all tried to hide behind dere neighbors an'
look like dey was puffectly satisfied wif dere
looks an' dere habits. But bime-by a squeaky
li'l' voice calls out:
" 'If you please, Ole Man Santy, I'd like a
pair o' dem li'l' brown wings, an' thank you
"Santy look down an' see it was one o' de
li'l' mouses speakin'; an' he reach up an' take
from de tree a cunnin' pair o' li'l' wings an'
fastened dem on tight. An' de next minute dat
sassy li'l' mouse went flippin' an' floppin' into
de air same as if he'd been born wif wings.
 An' ever since, honey, he an' his chilluns have
been flyin' 'stead o' creepin'."
"Did he turn into a bat, Uncle Joab?" David
"Sure. What else you 'spec' he could turn
into? Wall, de nex' to walk up was Bre'r
Rabbit. He had a lot to say 'bout his ears
bein' so short he couldn't hear 'nough, an' his
tail bein' so long he couldn't fetch up on it
com'fably in de brier patch. He'd be powerful
pleased if Santy 'd gib him bigger ears an' take
away his tail. Dis made de ole saint chuckle;
an' he fetch down de biggest pair he can find
an' put dem on, an' den he twist off de rabbit's
long, bushy tail. When de other critters see
what transmigrate dey like to bu'st dere sides
wif laughin'; an' dis scare Bre'r Rabbit so dat
he lay back his ears so he can't hear so well,
an' he lope off to hide his confusi'n in de brier
patch. An' dere you'll find him hidin' to dis
yeah day, honey."
"And were there any more who weren't satisfied?"
"Didn't I tell you de critters were like folks?
Bre'r Rabbit hadn't more 'n cleared de Chris'mus tree when de squirrel sings out:
 " 'If you please, Mr. Santy, I'd like Brudder
Rabbit's tail. I'd like Brudder Rabbit's tail.'
" ' 'Twon't fit you,' says de beaver. 'It's
three sizes too big.'
" 'No, it ain't! No, it ain't! No, it ain't!'
An' de squirrel carry on so scan'lously dat ole
Santy 'bliged to gib him de tail to keep him
quiet. But, bless your heart, honey, you know
as well as I do dat dat tail am no fit for dat
"By dis time de critters was nigh over dere
bashfulness, an' dey was clamorin' for what dey
wanted. De leopard say his coat too yaller,
an' he'd like some nice, stylish black spots to
tone it down. Den de zebra say stripes was
more stylish dis year den spots, an' he'd 'low
he'd like stripes. De elephant say his feet too
big to pick up things handy, an' he'd like
somethin' extra to pick up things wif.
"Dis set de rest o' de critters to 'sputin' whar
de elephant have room on his pussonality fer
anythin' extra; an' while dey 'sputin' ole Santy
sit still an' study. Bime-by he says, says he:
" 'De only spare room am on de end o' your
nose. If you want to have it dere, say so!'
"De elephant he say so. So Santy take one
o' dese yeah suckers, left over from a
debil-  fish, an' he stick it squar' in de middle o' de
elephant's nose. He stick it so hard, an' he
stick it so fast, dat it hasn't come loose dese
thousand o' years.
"Wall, dat certainly was a busy Chris'mus
fer de ole saint. He was fixin' tails an' legs an'
ears an' wings 'most all day. De beaver he
gets de sulks 'ca'se de squirrel's got Bre'r Rabbit's
tail an' he want it. De rest o' de critters
try to coax him to take somethin' else, but
'pears like he crazy fer somethin' behind. He
took to moanin' an' wailin' 'ca'se he can't get
what he wants twell bime-by he nat'rally gets
ole Santy plumb wore out.
" 'Look yeah,' says ole Santy, says he. 'You's
so sot on havin' somethin' behind, 'pears like I'd
hab to gib you somethin' diff'rent an' distinguishin'.'
An' wif dat de ole saint claps on him
one o' dem flappers dat he'd made fer de li'l'
seals to walk on. An' it's been hangin' to de
back o' de beaver ever since.
"At las' all de critters were satisfied 'ceptin'
de dog an' de horse an' de reindeer.
" 'What you want?' says ole Santy to de
" 'I want faithfulness,' says de dog; an' Santy
gib it to him.
 "'What you want?' he says to de horse.
" 'I want wisdom,' says de horse; an' Santy
whisper it into his ear.
" 'Now what you want?' he says last of all to
" 'I want to be your servant an' lib always wif
you,' says de reindeer. An' from dat minute
to dis de reindeer an' his chilluns have been
totin' fer ole Santy.
"An' you listen yeah, honey. If you borrow
Bre'r Rabbit's ears to hear wif dis Chris'mus
p'raps you'll cotch de tromp o' de reindeer's
hoofs an' de jingle o' his bells as he totes ole
Santy through de night."
David laughed happily.
"That's a bully story, Uncle Joab, just a bully
The old man chuckled appreciatively.
"Mebbe it's good enough to fotch a li'l' boy
back some other day to see dis ole nigger."
Johanna and Barney had to hear the story
over twice before David went to bed that night.
They seemed to like it as much as David had
"It must get pretty lonesome for the poor
man, stormy days and long winter nights with
 no company but that old fiddle," mused Johanna
"Faith, I wouldn't be minding a bit o' that
same company, myself, some night," laughed
Barney. "'Tis a sorry time since I've heard
any good fiddling."
But David did not say anything. He was
looking deep into the fire and thinking very
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