I pressed my nose up against the window. The glass was cold but not unbearable. It was snowing outside. Hard. I couldn’t even see the fence, let alone the surrounding mountains.
I heard mom call me to help set the table for Christmas dinner. As I turned towards the kitchen I sighed contentedly. Everything was perfect. The fire place was alive with a soft orange flame. The tree sparkled merrily. The small red globes nestled into the green pine, and the lights flickered as if they were alive. I could just hear the wind outside and the smell of coffee and fresh rolls danced across the room to beckon me.
3-year-old Ellie was laughing happily as Stephen scooped her up and tossed her into the air on his way toward the kitchen. I followed and passed him, as he set Ellie down. Her socks made little padding sounds on the hardwood floor as she returned to her marbles in the living room. Stephen tugged on my braid, and I spun around to ‘spike’ the front of his hair. It was blonde and curly.
“I’ll be too tall for that soon!” He threatened.
“Then I have all the more excuse for doing it.” I replied with a grin.
The kitchen was warm. Almost as warm as the living room. The smell of baked apples sent us both scurrying to the counter to lift the cloth that was covering a fresh apple pie, as delicious looking as it smelled.
Mom bustled in and we straightened up. She had seen us eying the desert and she smiled. Stephen laid a white tablecloth on the round wood table and I reached up into a cabinet for the china plates. I counted in my head as I ran my thumb down the stack. ’Papa, Mom, Dick, Stephen, me, and Ellie.’ Before long the table was set beautifully. The candles standing quietly, ready to be lit. I smiled and gave Stephen a high five just as Papa walked in. His blue eyes twinkled and I could tell he was smiling even through his beard. I hated beards on everyone except Papa. His was just the way a beard should be. Soft and neat.
“Come here Liz.” He said, giving me a hug.
I smiled as he tried to ruffle my hair the way he’d done the boys when they were my size.
Mom wiped her hands on her apron as she peeked into the oven.
“The potatoes are nearly done,” she said, nodding satisfactorily at the table.
We heard a little shriek from the other room followed by laughter. Dick had caught Ellie peeking into the presents and had surprised her by scooping her up from behind. He appeared in the doorway with the little girl in his arms. We all knew what had happened by the look on her face.
“Wait till after dinner, Little One.” said Papa, his eyes twinkling again. “Okay Daddy,” she said, twisting a button on Dick’s shirt around and around till I was sure it would pop off.
“It’s snowing harder outside.” Dick announced, spinning Ellie’s blonde curls around two of his strong fingers. “What was it with the boys messing with our hair?” I wondered, wishing mine was as pretty as my little sister’s. Papa turned to the window above the sink.
“It’ll only get worse as the day progresses, I recon.” He said. “Why don’t you children do the chores real quick, before dinner.” Dick nodded and set Ellie down.
“One thing though,” Papa continued, “I’m almost sure you’ll have time, but if it gets to be a real storm before you’re done, be careful, even if that means staying in the barn for a few minutes till it calms back down.”
Dick nodded again. His brown hair thick and straight. Just like mine.
“It won’t,” I whispered almost threateningly to myself as I tugged my boots on. “Nothing will spoil our Christmas.”
Stephen made a face as he helped me into my coat. Fourteen year old girls know how to do such things by themselves, but my brothers never seemed to realize that. Dick was tying Ellie’s boots. “That’s more understandable.” I gave Stephen a crooked smile.
Soon the four of us were bundled up and hurrying outside. Ellie was on Stephen’s back. She didn’t have chores yet but always begged to go with us, so we brought her along out of habit.
It was a ways to the barn so we tried to run, but the wind pushed against us hard and bit into our clothes. “Why in the world would someone build a barn so far away from the house?” It made me all the more determined to get the chores done and get back to the warm kitchen.
As we reached the barn, Stephen gave Ellie to me and I wrapped my arms around her as the he and Dick struggled to get the big old fashioned door to swing open. The wind was so strong! I could see the snow piling up all around us and I clenched my teeth together. Glancing over my shoulder, I was surprised to see that the house was completely hidden from view. Finally the boys got the door open a foot or two. Dick immediately wedged himself into the space and we quickly crawled between his legs, into the warm barn. Dick jumped to the side and the door slammed shut with a bang that shook the walls. It had felt like the door of the ark being closed, and we all knew it. Stephen proved that by saying slowly,
“But... Apple pie.”
We all stood to catch our breath and realized just how cold we were.
I felt a lump rise to my throat. The boys began doing jumping-jacks to warm up.
“Hey!” I said worriedly. “We’ll be out of here in just a second!”
Dick just looked down at me the way a big brother looks down at his sister. Loving but wise.
“Please! Can we just knock the chores out real quick?” I begged.
“Liz.” Stephen said, sighing as he rubbed Ellie’s hands to warm them.
His tone convinced me that we wouldn’t be getting out anytime soon. But I refused to accept it and looked back to Dick. He pulled back his coat sleeve to look at his watch, then at the high window, then at me.
I blinked hard. “I won’t let something as silly as a few flakes of snow ruin our Christmas.”
“I don’t see why we shouldn’t try.” he said, and I thought he was a hero.
We jumped to our jobs. I flew up to the loft and began forking hay down to the wheelbarrow as fast as possible. I didn’t take time to aim, so it made a mess on the floor below.
Despite the storm howling outside, I could hear the rapid, ‘Slosh, Ping! Slosh, Ping! Slosh, Ping!’ of the boys on each side of a cow, milking away. When I scrambled down the ladder they were on the second one.
They always offered to trade chores with me but I hated cows. I raked the scattered hay into a pile and scooped it up into the wheelbarrow. Picking up the handles I pushed it over to the troughs, hurriedly dividing it between the large animals. After repeating this once, I ran to give the chickens a scoop of chicken feed. I rushed back to the boys and stood panting, out of breath again. They finished quickly and Stephen took the milk bucket to set by the door.
I looked down at my boots. I didn’t need to ask. I could hear. The wind was screaming wildly outside. The big barn creaked and moaned as the storm took out it’s furry upon our valley. It would be foolish to try to get back to the house in this weather. Especially after what Papa had said. I actually stamped my foot against the floor. Ellie’s eyes were wide as she looked up at the ceiling. Stephen shoved his hands deep into his pockets.
Dick sat down on a hay bail. “We haven’t had snow like this in years.”
I turned and hurried back up to the loft. I wasn’t going to cry.
“Our Christmas really is ruined.” I thought heartbrokenly as I tried to keep the tears from sliding out with the back of my hand as I stumbled onto the hay.
“Really? Christmas of all days?” I laid down on my stomach on top of a big bail, and buried my face in the arms of my brown coat.
The storm went so well with my mood.
Before too long I heard someone climbing the latter. I knew it was Dick. It was just like him. I wiped my eyes but I knew he’d know I’d been crying.
When he reached me he didn’t ask if I was okay. He already knew. He just sat down, and started chewing a piece of straw.
Finally I spoke.
“What a horrible way to spend Christmas,” I said. My chin was resting on my arms making my jaw tight which made my voice sound younger.
He thought for a minute, then said,
“You know Liz. We don’t throw away a whole apple just cuz we’re gonna have to throw away the core.”
Now it was my turn to think. A little laugh reached us from the bottom floor of the barn, where Stephen was letting Ellie pet the horses.
“But Dick.” I said, still not wanting to let go of my disappointment. “I’ve been really looking forward to today. And we only get one Christmas a year!”
He smiled and said, “Then we should probably make the most of it, huh?”
I rolled my eyes.
“Tell me, what does the Bible says about this?” He asked curiously.
“I don’t know.” I said stubbornly.
“Then I’ll tell you.” He replied. “It says, ‘Rejoice in all things.’”
I cringed. “Why that verse!?” That was the very one I’d recently asked God to help me to do.
“Think how much we have to rejoice for.” He said “Our whole family is safe. We made it to the barn before the storm hit. Papa and Mama will be keeping super hot and we’ll enjoy it soon. We have each other, Liz. Isn’t that the most important thing?”
After a few minutes of listening to the storm, I dried my eyes with my hand.
“You’re right.” I told him. He heard that a lot from me. “I really am sorry. I’m being pretty selfish.”
Dick smiled and stood up, He held out his hand. I knew I was forgiven. Slowly I stood up and took it, wondering if I’d ever be as wise as him.
As we came down the ladder (him helping me much more than necessary) Stephen smiled at us.
Stephen and Ellie had found the pile of extra horse blankets and were making a warm spot to sit between the wall and the big green tractor. I made sure my coat was buttoned up all the way and then sat down against the big back tire.
“Too bad we don’t keep hot chocolate in the barn.” Stephen said, crossing his legs. “Or apple pie.”
I couldn’t help but laugh, “You and your apple pie!”
Ellie climbed onto my lap as we settled down.
I leaned my head against the wheel and sighed. Then Dick’s rich voice begin my favorite Christmas song ever, ‘Oh Holy Night.’ I joined in on the chorus.
Time slipped by as we sang one song after another. Soon we’d sung every Christmas song we knew. The storm raged on. Ellie yawned. At Stephen’s suggestion we then did a very disjointed Christmas play. I was Mary and Stephen was Joseph while Dick narrated, and played as the angel. We all filled in for shepherds and wise men. Ellie pranced around claiming she was baby Jesus.
As ‘Joseph’ helped ‘Mary’ onto the ‘donkey’ (the tractor) He accidentally pulled my hair. Without thinking I automatically reached out and ‘spiked’ his. Ellie had been watching and cried out indigently, “Joseph’s not a dude!” We all laughed till our sides hurt and then laughed harder.
By the time the play was over it had been three hours since we first set out to do the chores.
Ellie fell asleep, so I covered her with a blanket.
Stephen leaned back with his hands behind his head. “Hey Liz! Remember that time I tried to get you taste a bug?”
I spun towards him in disbelief. “You what?”
Dick shook his head. “I was so upset.”
“I sure got you back though!” Dick announced.
“What?” Stephen returned. “A toad in my bed? That’s nothing.”
Dick raised his eyebrow. “Do you need me to get you back again?”
“Nah, It’s alright.” He said, pretending to be gracious.
My eyes widened as I stared at my big brothers. They both laughed.
From his position across from me, Dick tapped my boot with his.
“I remember the time you got too far from the bank while swimming and were yelling for help.”
“What Happened?” I asked
“Well...” But Stephen interrupted him, “Hey! Why this story?”
“I wanna hear it!” I pleaded.
Stephen leaned back and hung his head.
“Well,” Dick continued. “As you started to yell, Stephen jumped in after you. But by the time he reached you he was yelling too. The current was stronger than either of you had anticipated. And the big little boy he was had gotten into more than he could handle.”
By now Dick and I were laughing.
“So I jumped in and helped both of you to shore.”
“Wow!” I exclaimed. “I have the best brothers.”
Stephen didn’t hear me. He was racking his brain for a story where he was the hero.
I listened in wrapped wonder as story after story poured from my two friends and siblings.
Living in the city, getting lost in the woods, poor Stephen being spanked by a grumpy neighbor, and on and on.
Suddenly we all jumped, as there was a banging on the barn door. Then we heard Papa’s voice from outside.
“You guys alright?” I sprang to my feet and hurried to the door.
“I’m just shoveling you out,” he said.
I turned around. “Boys!” I exclaimed. “The storm is over!”
“With all the stories I didn’t even realize how much quieter it became.”
Before long we were rescued. Papa carried Ellie to the house as we re-folded the horse blankets.
We exited the barn, sinking deep into the new snow.
The moon peeked through the clouds making everything sparkle and shine as it reflected the soft light. I wanted to wrap the whole world in a giant hug.
I looked back at the barn to make sure the door was latched, when the thought hit me.
I gasped. The boys looked at me curiously through the darkness. Tears immediately filled my eyes. I reached out and grabbed one of each of their hands, and said,
“How honored I am to have spent a Christmas in a barn. Just like the original.”