By Robert W. Olmstead © 1983
Issue: December, 1983
(The following is a story of Christmas but in this story; Santa is portrayed in an original and unique way. It is a beautiful story taken from the book, THE FIRST CHRISTMAS EVER written by Robert W. Olmstead and published by Northwoods Press.)
She was happy. Her black eyes sparkled with the sheer joy of living. She was small and slender and always in motion. She was beautiful as only a five year old can be. She was perhaps a child of the gods.
Each year she danced and sang through the spring and summer. She raced the wind in fall, tumbling in happiness with the magnificent maple leaves. But when winter came, she wept. The wind was no longer her friend. It stung her and made her legs ache and her cheeks burn. She was forced to wait inside with uncertain hope and longing for the return of the warm breezes.
She had seen the winter come four times, though she did not remember very clearly the first ones. As her fifth spring melted the snows, the winter was soon forgotten as she raced about in the welcome sunshine.
At night she heard the spring frogs singing in the marsh. She went out and listened to them in the darkness. Her heart filled with joy as she shared their excitement. The goddess of spring filled her heart. Even in the darkness with the whisper wind warm against her face, she was aware that something special was happening as the earth melted and came back to life.
“With the morning light I shall go to the swamps and find the small singers and play with them,” she said.
The birds came with the dawn and sang outside her window. She forgot the small swamp singers and watched the birds as they hopped and flitted about, singing. How she wished she could catch one and hold it and love it and share its flight and its song.
Later, when the sun was climbing the sky, she scared a doe and two fawns. They bounded off, but not far. She tried to catch them, calling softly. But they would not stop, they just ran off again.
She could not catch them, but it did not matter. In running from her, they were playing with her. She could no more catch the deer than the breeze, and she knew it, and they knew it. It was a game filled with excitement and sensations of springtime.
She stopped to rest on the hillside and picked a spring flower, then another, and another. Many different kinds grew about her and she picked them, crumbling the stems in tight little fists, loving and smelling them until they were wilted and dead and crushed. But she never saw them as wilted and crushed. She only saw their beauty. She smelled their sweetness long after it was gone. Her memory smelled it, just as it saw the beauty of the flowers instead of the crushed remains she held.
As the goddess of spring retreated into the high and white mountains in the sky, the goddess of summer began to turn everything green.
The air became deliciously hot and lazy. The afternoon invited her to lie in the sun and play with an ant or a woolly worm. She loafed in the warm and lazy summer, content and happy.
Baby birds came to the nest she had watched the birds make. Once she climbed into the lilac bush to see the new babies while the parent birds scolded from nearby. She laughed at the ugly little birds, almost all mouth, and bald all over. But they grew and changed. They did not stay ugly. After a short time they flew away. She had watched them carefully as they grew up and now they were gone. Or, at least she could not get close to them anymore.
But there were other things to do. She would race barefoot in the dust, making little clouds where her flying feet hit. Or she would play in the warm afternoon puddles that the night left. Sometimes she would splash in the brook and try to catch water spiders and the zipping black water bugs. The water always felt cool, even if the rocks did hurt her feet a little. Sometimes she would slip and fall headlong into a little pool. When she did, she would just lie still, enjoying the cold water. Then she would splash about, like a duck or trout. Maybe she would try to jump like the frogs she could never catch. She would flop in the shallow water looking awkward and out of place to anyone who could have seen her. But she was not awkward or out of place. She was free and happy with summer.
All too soon the evenings began to be chilly and there was a secret hush in the night. She began to remember and she did not like what she remembered. Winter was going to come again and chase her inside with his cold breath. She sighed and played harder, knowing summer could not last much longer.
One morning, colder than most, she heard noises in the sky. The geese were going south. She remembered too well and wanted to cry. She knew that very soon the grass and the green leaves would be gone. The summer sun would be hidden from her. Even as she watched the geese fly out of sight, she saw a yellow leaf fall.
Even with the signs of fall all around her, her spirit would not let her be sad very long. Now she raced the dancing falling leaves. She could not play in the brook anymore, but she bathed herself in the brisk and fresh October wind. She tingled at the feel of October rain, cold and driving, but exciting too.
She watched more geese fly overhead and ran after them for a short way, wishing she could catch one and ride it, or better yet, fly like one. But she was earthbound and only her spirit could go with them. She did not know where they went, but thought that they flew away from the cold winds. She would like to do that. For now the leaves were brown and very still on the ground. They crackled as she walked on them, making the only sound, as the birds were suddenly gone. Blue skies became gray and rain and wind grew too cold for play. She watched in sadness as the rain became snow and began to pile up on the ground.
It was over. Some of the spark went out of her eyes. Her step was no longer light and her laughter was gone. The old man who was winter had come. She could only wait. She waited with the impatience of youth, when time moves almost not at all. She waited and she wondered. Would the spring and the birds come back? Or would it be forever cold?
The god of winter saw her and was moved by her sadness. He seemed mean and cruel with his icy eyebrows furrowed over his cold blue eyes. His face was almost as white as snow and his beard was whiter than the newest snow. She thought that he was mean and wanted to freeze and kill everything.
He was not mean. He even felt sorry for her and wanted to make her feel better. He thought for a time and decided that she was really sad because he had driven off her friends and robbed her of her playthings.
“Well,” he said aloud, “I’ll just have to give her some playthings to replace the ones I sent away. Enough to last until my time is done. Then she can play again in the summer sun.”
The old man planned his visit carefully, he put on his best red suit, shiny black boots, his red stocking cap. He caught eight deer and taught them to fly. He cut an evergreen tree. ‘This will be my promise to her that the green of summer will return,” he said to himself. He then caused a sack of wonderful playthings to be made, enough to keep her happy for about 100 days. He had geese deliver oranges from the south. He made the red and gray squirrels bring him a few of the nuts they had stored for winter. (He knew that they always store more than they would need.)
He loaded these and other things into his sack, put his sack in his best red sleigh, hitched up the eight deer and took off from his high north mountain home.
He arrived at the house late at night while everyone was asleep. He couldn’t get in to deliver his gifts, for the door was locked. He climbed to the roof in his sleigh and peered down the chimney. There was only a small fire, for it was late. He slid down the chimney with his pack on his back. From inside, he opened the front door and brought in the tree. He put it in the corner and colored it with all kinds of glittering beautiful things. Underneath he put a special snow that would not melt. Then he put his gifts around the tree. He finished in a minute and then went quietly out the door.
As he left he talked to her in a dream. “I am old. I may seem cruel, but really I am not. I am sorry for you to lose your friends and playthings. With these you can enjoy yourself for the rest of my 100 days. It is not a long time. Spring will soon return. Until she does I hope these will entertain you.”
“I know that they are not as good as spring and summer, but they will make the days go faster while I make the land take its rest. I have to freeze it, or it just wont rest at all, and the land needs sleep just like you do. I also promise that every winter I will bring gifts to replace those I take away. After this, I will not bring them just to you, but to all children. I do not wish to be mean. I hope you will try to understand and accept my gifts.”
“Now you must tell this to all you meet, so that next year people will know that I am coming. That way they can have cookies and milk for me, for I do get hungry. Oh yes, I like honey very much too.”
She awoke with a start. She raced into the living room and found it as in the dream. Her shining black eyes danced like the flickering fire in the fireplace.
For those Mountain Laurel readers wishing to order this beautifully illustrated book, before December 15, 1983 a special price of $2.00 off the original $9.95 cover price is available. Send only $7.95 plus $1.25 postage and handling to Northwoods Press, PO Box 123-A, South Thomaston, Maine 04858. Nine hard covered collectors’ copies are still available for $50.00 each.