‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
These words, from the well-worn Yuletide ballad, swirled through Leroy’s head, as he weathered the rough ride back to his beloved grandmother, Mary. He’d learned the words of the rhyme while visiting with the little White boys and girls up at old Marse Hatfield’s house; his brothers, sisters and cousins, he’d been told. He’d sat, attentively, at the feet of Marse’s wife, along with the rest of the children as she’d served up the sonnet with almost as much spirit and spice as the ceramic cup of egg nog that had sat warmly in the palms of his hands.
Now, however, he could only remember the first stanza and so recited it to himself, in a vain effort to take his mind off of the fact that he was now riding roughly, albeit speedily, back to the location of his injured grandma. He held on for dear life, in the back of the buckboard of the kindly couple who’d seen fit to stop; and who had, after listening to his plight, offered their able assistance.
He guided them directly back to where his grandmother and Bernard were waiting. The lady gathered her long skirt and leaped from the wagon. As she rushed over and kneeled down to tend to Mary, she directed the man to “take them boys and bring back help. Bring Doc McCoo!” And with those words, the man hustled Leroy and Bernard into the wagon, then barked a hoarse “YA!” to his mule, and away they went; dashing down the dirt road; churning up a whirlwind of dust as they did so.
The lady who had stayed with Mary, laid her hands upon the injured leg; an action which Mary later related, “eased the pain mightily”. She’d stated, in a later recounting of the events, that the lady was “a gifted woman, a healer”. After what seemed, to Mary, like an eternity, she felt, more than heard, the rumble of wagons coming down the road, “Thank ya Lawd”, she whispered silently, and faded into a state of, not unwelcome, unconsciousness.
When Mary awakened, she found herself in a strange home, staring at blurred human forms milling about. Doc McCoo’s yellow, be-spectacled face slowly came into focus. “Mary”, he said, in his slow, deep, mellow voice, “you’ve taken a bad spill; broken your femu… uh, uh, your thigh bone. You’re going to have to stay here at the home of these kind people for a few weeks. You can’t be moved. We had a time setting your thigh bone. The muscles in your leg had contracted, like a cramp.” Mary listened intently.
“I had to call for the bonesetter from town to assist me. He had to close up his blacksmithy shop to come help us, and still it took the help of Mr. Babe and your neighbors here, to help me straighten that leg out. You have some strong muscles lady!” Doc McCoo made this last statement while shaking his head, in awe of Mary’s strength.
“I thought I would have to use ether or laudanum on you, so you wouldn’t remember the pain, but Ma Hallie here” he said while gesturing towards the lady who’d sat with Mary until help had come, then continued, “must have had some kind of a soothing effect on you, because you didn’t whimper or moan, neither on the wagon ride up here nor whilst we were setting that leg bone”.
Somewhere, in the back of her mind, Mary could hear Doc McCoo, giving further instructions for her continued care, to the owners of the home; the home that would be her “hospital room” for the next two weeks. She heard him say something about “laudanum” and “splints”, but her main thoughts were on the fact that Christmas was a week away. “What am I gonna do ‘bout them children?” she asked herself, “They gone be ‘spectin sumthin in they stockings on Christmas Day”.
The purpose for Mary’s trip into town had been to try to pick up extra “wash work” from some of the White ladies there, so she’d have enough money to put something other than pecans and hickory nuts, in her children’s and grandchildren’s Christmas stockings. Now her plans were derailed. “Jim can’t do no wash, that’s ‘woman’s work’, she thought. “Besides, he got his hands full, looking after the children and working the farm and such”.
Lula had moved away with a man named Edwards, after Bernard had been born. Mary had been the only hope of a “merry” Christmas for her children and grandchildren. “Lawd, please let ‘Sandy Claus’ be real this Christmas”, she prayed silently; hopelessly.
“‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; the stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.” Leroy recited the only words that he could remember from the poem, while standing before the fireplace; staring at the empty stockings hanging there; holding little Bernard’s hand. “Tomorrow”, he thought to himself, “tomorrow”, then trudged off to bed, “in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there”.
The next day, Christmas day, looked promising and bright! The orange glow of the morning sun was just starting to fill the sky. Leroy jumped up and awakened Bernard. They dashed to the fireplace, where the stockings hung limply! Slowly, expectantly, nervously, Leroy reached out to feel for the contents of the stockings, but felt nothing. The stockings, which had been hung by the chimney with such care, were empty.
Down the road, a mile or two…Mary wept.
To be continued…