Two Lambs of Christmas
I remember waking every Christmas Eve morning, by the banging of pots and pans, and those delightful aromas coming from Mama’s kitchen.
Apple pies baking, along with mince meat, lemon meringue, chocolate pudding, banana pudding, not to mention the candies and cakes. If I sit back in my chair now, I can, I swear I can smell them right now- Yes, yes I can.
Which reminds me of a story, when I was about ten. It goes something like this:
I must have been the last one left in bed that Christmas Eve morning, for my eyes had only been opened for moments and I’d already heard my older sister’s name and my brother’s name called several times. I didn’t have to look to know that Dad, had not only left for work, but I was guessing he left even earlier than usual, to make sure he didn’t get caught up in the line of Mama’s ‘extra’ orders for Christmas dinner preparations.
When I finally managed to talk myself into getting out of that warm bed, I grabbed my old thick terry-cloth robe from the back of my desk chair, wrapped it around me at least twice, if not three, and headed straight for the kitchen.
Still rubbing my eyes, Mama looked up, smiled and with her usual holiday cheer, greeted me with, “Mornin’ glory.” If she hadn’t of had goo all over her hands and flour all down her front, I’m sure I’d of given her a big hug, but one didn’t have to be grown to know that, now just wasn’t the time. “Mornin’ Mom.” I was the youngest, and according to my older siblings, I was also our parent’s pet. My brother immediately turned and stuck his tongue out at me, and my sister was standing behind Mama, twisting her face all around acting as though she was making strange sounds to go with it. I guess Mama only had to see the look on my face to know that something was going on behind her, for she never missed a mixing beat in that bowl when she told them to straighten up. I giggled and they just said, “Yes Ma’am.” No one in their right mind messed with Mama, in her kitchen, she was armed with wooden spoons and she knew how to use them, and all that knew her, knew that she would.
I grabbed one of Mama’s homemade fresh hot biscuits and a piece of sausage, poured myself a glass of fresh ice-cold milk, and found the living room floor in front of the gas space heater, and Tom and Jerry cartoons. I’m sure they were in living color, but not on our old black and white Phillips/Magnavox. It didn’t matter anyway, for as soon as breakfast was over, it was then time for chores. There were plenty of them to go around, and to keep everyone busy. No matter if it was Christmas Eve.
I heard Mama’s voice cut through and above the clanging pans, but this time it was my name she was calling. “Lisa, you make sure when you feed those piglets, that you give them an extra helping of corn, today and tomorrow as well. You hear?” “ Yes Ma’am.”
She didn’t say so, but I took to the idea that she thought I’d spent plenty long enough lounging around in my pj’s and it was time to get up and get busy. So I did.
After throwing my napkin in the waste basket and happily adding my glass to the sink of dishes my grumbling sister was washing, I was off to dress myself properly for the tasks at hand. One wore at the least two layers of clothing and rubber boots to keep the feet dry. After only a few short minutes, I had undressed and dressed again, and was headed through the house, toward the back door. On my way by sister, I just couldn’t resist reaching out and pinching her backside, just for payback. She yelped loud enough for the neighbors to hear, which meant Mama jumped and I got swatted. I was still giggling as the cold wet December air hit me in the face.
The piglets knew it was feeding time. I could already hear them squealing and grunting before I ever made it around the side of the house. Maybe it was them sister woke with her squeal, instead of the neighbors.
I went straight to the feed shed to fill the buckets, and to get the bottle for the youngest two lambs. I had found their Mother just a few days after they were born. Them lying as close to her as they could get. It was a truly sad sight to see. I took them into the house while Brother buried the carcass. Mom or Dad either one was home at the time, but we kids knew what to do. I set up the play pen, which we had just for times like this, while I prepared the bottles of powdered milk, the pen kept them out of things and safe. By the time they were done eating, Dave had spread fresh hay and turned on the heat lamp inside the shed so they would be able to stay warm and dry, without Mom. They cried for several days, and it would break anyone’s heart within range, but after that they quieted down. I called them my babies. One knew not to get too attached to the farms animals, for they were either for selling or they were for food. Either way, they weren’t staying. Becoming attached was harder in the long run.
When Dad named animals he named them appropriately. We had a hog named Porkchop, and a calf named T-Bone. It didn’t take much imagination to know where they were headed. It was just a way of life, and the only one in the family that ever questioned it was Cheryl. Of course it wasn’t long after that incident that she no longer helped take care of the animals. Most of her chores were inside the house.
Somebody that Dad knew gave him a runt piglet that he was sure wasn’t going to make it and he had brought it home, and Cheryl being the soft hearted one of the bunch, grabbed the ‘baby’ from Dad’s hands the second she saw it, and began rocking it back and forth like a real baby. Well as time went on, it was obvious that Baby was going to survive, and past time for her to find her way to the pen, where the rest of the hogs were. Well, Cheryl cried and cried, because Daddy told her Baby had to be penned, because the neighbors were tired of shooing her from their flower beds and gardens. Which most people except Cheryl would understand? She even acted like it was an insult when one would refer to Baby as a pig or hog.
Well to make a long story short, Cheryl came home from school one afternoon, and Baby was gone, and a few short days later Dad was restocking the freezer. I’m not sure how long it was before Cheryl ate another bite of pork, but I know it was several freezer fills later. After that incident, if Dad thought one of us was even remotely getting attached he readily reminded us with a scolding voice that it wasn’t a good idea.
I heard somebody calling my name, as I walked up the trail to the back of the house, and it was a kid. Not one that I could name right off, but when I rounded the back of the house, I saw my cousins standing at the corner. I smiled and waved and they waved back. I sat down on the back steps to shed my boots and outer layer of clothing so that I could drop them in the washer on the way by. The boots I’d just leave and clean up later for the evening feedings.
Terry began asking questions like he always did, about what kinds of animals we had and if any of Dad’s hound dogs were mean so he would know to stay away from them. He had gotten bit once when he was much younger and I guess he had not forgot what it was like to spend Christmas day in bed with your leg on a pillow while everyone else played with their new toys. Not eager to have a repeat I guess.
By the time I’d answered his questions, I heard the front door slamming shut which meant everyone had made their way inside. I walked through the living room and around the group of standing adults, headed toward the shower. By now the feel of hot water was sounding better and better. Almost as good as the smells I enjoyed on my way by the kitchen.
When everyone knew I was clean they all insisted that I give them hugs and kisses. My Aunt was the first, in her usual grinding and irritating voice. “Come here child, and give your Auntie a hug.” Talking to me like I was two, instead of ten. I remember thinking to myself, it was a good thing she was married to my favorite Uncle, which made it easier to put up with her. Otherwise I’m not so sure I wouldn’t have taken the chance of getting my backside warmed up, because I was rude to her.
I knew that Mama had seemed a bit more into the Christmas spirit this year, and now I knew and understood why. It was because she knew that her Brother and family were going to join us. You see, he was in the army, and there were very few Christmas’s that he spent in the states. Most of them, Mama spent in front of the television praying she might see him on the evening news with Walter Cronkite reporting from the field in Vietnam. Later on through the years, after the Vietnam (conflict) War, if he couldn’t get home he would try and call. It might be 3 in the morning, but he would call. It didn’t seem to matter as long as she could hear his voice and know he was okay. Mama had a lot of premature gray hair, and she named them all after Ben.
This would turn out to be the Christmas I will forever remember. One that I will not only tell but will tell with glee to my children and grandchildren and their children alike. The day managed to carry on like most any other when guests were about, up until oh, about 3:00 that afternoon. It was just about time that I was heading back out to do my evening feedings, when Dave, informed me that he would take care of my chores for me.
Now, I must admit that was not only strange but left me with a weird feeling. He had never offered to do my part of the chores, and surely not just out of the kindness of his heart before.
So I sat back and rejoined the card game Terry and I were playing, and listening to all the Adults tell stories of their own. Some I understood, some I didn’t and probably wasn’t meant to. Either way I was enjoying my day off. Every now and then you could hear a parent yelling from the other room, for us to stay out from beneath the Christmas tree. I’m not sure how they knew, but they did. I guess just like Mama knew Cheryl and Dave were doing something behind her back that morning. They just knew. And somehow they were always right.
Dinner was on the table, before any of us realized that Dave had not yet returned from the evening chores.
“Lisa,” Mama said. “Go outside the back door and yell for Dave, and tell him supper is ready.”
Without a word, I found my way to the porch, and done as I was told, but instead of the normal yell back, there was nothing but silence. Not a word, not a sound of any kind. So I grabbed my chore coat from the stack on the porch and went on out to see where he was and what or if there was anything wrong. It was just before dark, and there was a steady drizzle of ice pellets, which made the ground dangerous and slippery. The quiet was so quiet it was eerie. I had lived on a farm my entire life, and never had I heard it like this. There were always animal noises of some kind. Chickens cackling, roosters crowing, hogs grunting, sheep baaing, only not this time. Chills crept up my spine further and further with each step down the pathway I took. There was no sign of Dave that I could see. I began yelling out his name, louder and louder the closer I got to the feeding shed. Still there would be no response.
I had to walk right by the piglet and lamb pens, but as I got next to them, I noticed the lambs were in the pen with the piglets. I knew then something was terribly wrong. I paused to take a closer look. Every small animal in that coral was not only laying in the ice cold water, but they were all bundled together. I took the flash light from my pocket that Dad always insisted that I take with me, and shined it on the entire bunch. As I traced the group, from beneath the backside I could see what appeared to be a hand. Oh No! It was Dave! He must have slipped in the mud and ice and hit his head. I turned to run to get Mama, but I heard her voice from the back door, yelling my name.
“Hurry Mama!” I yelled. “Dave’s hurt!”
Within seconds Mama was at my side and climbing over the pen fence along with my Uncle. The animals scattered, and Ben being a rather healthy sized man, simply reached down and scooped Dave up in his arms like a baby, and carried him into the house. His face was covered in mud, and he was freezing cold. Once Mama wiped the mess from his face, one could see he was a light shade of blue. His lips, instead of the rosy pink, were very dark. He looked, well, he looked dead.
Mama ran a bathtub full of warm water. Not hot, but warm, and they put him in the tub, and began bathing him. Just about that time was when Dad got home from work. He pushed his way through to his side, and he too began talking to him in an almost angelic voice. I had never heard my Father’s voice so soft and gentle. After another five minutes which actually seemed a decade, Dave opened his eyes. His lips quivering and still dark, he asked what had happened. All we could tell him was how we found him face down in the mud, and unconscious.
Slowly Dave managed to warm up, with the help of several hot baths, and Mom’s hot tea, and my electric blanket. After dinner and all were in the den, enjoying more conversation and company, Mama missed Daddy from the room, and went to see where he was. She searched the house pretty quickly and out the door she went. After what had happened earlier she wasn’t taking any chances that it could happen again.
Dad was coming around the end of the house when she stepped outside. “I was just coming to get you,” he said. He took her by the hand and led her back to where Dave was laying face down.
“I got to thinking about how you said you found him, and I knew that if he had of been face down in that mud, he would either have drown, or he would have smothered.” He explained to her. “So I came out here to do some simple investigation.”
“And” Mama asked?
Daddy took the flashlight and showed her what he had found. It was sad but also a miracle as well. There in the mud right where Dave’s face had been was the mud covered body of one of the lambs. “Apparently,” Dad said. “That lamb buried itself beneath Dave’s’ head to hold his nose and mouth out of the mud, which means that lamb saved his life.”
Mama then spoke up and added that when we found him, all the other animals had placed their bodies on his to keep him warm. It was a true Christmas miracle. Dave had been saved by the lamb. The Lamb of God.
Mom’s dinner was as perfect as it always was, and my Uncle stayed to visit long enough for all the kids to begin bickering back and forth, like kids do.
As for the left alone lamb in the shed, well, we kept her. She never seen the auction block or the butcher’s block either, and there will never be another Christmas Eve that I don’t revisit that past miracle.
© Lisa Hilbers