The first of Twenty-four Christmas themed Short stories. I started with a Nugget Nate and there will be two more of those before Christmas as well as several other Holiday tales. I hope you enjoy each one of them please feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think of each. From the McVey family to your family :
Young Nugget Nate Ryder was helping his mother load the supplies she had bought from the Mercantile into their wagon. His baby sister Aggie, who at four years old was for once standing still staring at something in the store window. Old man Rogers always put one of the newest items in the window display to try and entice the ladies to come in and spend more money. As Nate headed back in to grab another sack of staples Mama had ordered, he heard Aggie talking to herself. “She’s the most beautiful dolly I ever done seen.”
Nate stopped and walked over beside his sister to see a new wooden doll all decked out in a calico dress. Unlike the rag dolls that Mama made for Aggie to play with, this one had a perfectly carved face and it looked like her legs and arms had little joints so they moved like a real person’s would. Nate could see how Aggie would think the doll a beauty. Even though he didn’t play with dolls, the construction of the wooden doll interested him. “Aggie, you stay right there and don’t wander off. Mama is gonna want to head home as soon as we get the wagon loaded.”
“’Kay, Nate, look at her though, ain’t she the most beautiful thing ya ever seen?”
“She is a pretty doll but you know Da and Mama don’t have any money for fancy store bought dolls.”
“I know’s, but it ain’t costin’ nuffen fer me to look at ‘er, is it?”
“No, don’t reckon it is; jest don’t go gettin’ no ideas about askin’ fer one.”
“Well maybe I’ll ask Santy Clause. I’s been a real good girl this year, Nate. Maybe he will done bring me one.”
“You ain’t been that good! Iffen I were Santa Clause I’d bring you some coal and switches after what you done did to me with that skunk.”
“I didn’t do nothing! It were all yer fault, yer the Yankee that done scared the purty creature.” Aggie stomped her foot, “I has too been a good girl. You jest wait! You’ll see, Santy will to bring me a dolly like that, only mine will have brown hairs like me! You wait and see, you ole Stinky Ryder!”
Nate shook his head and went in before Mama came out to see what was taking so long.
“Nate, what did you say to get your sister all riled up?”
“Nothing, Mama.” Nate saw the look his mother gave him. “I swear, I jest told her not to be getting her hopes up on getting no store bought dolly.”
Mama sighed and pointed to the twenty-five pound bag of sugar. “Put that in the wagon and then come back for the two boxes and I’ll settle up with Mr. Rogers.”
Nate heard his mother ask Mr. Rodgers how much those wooden dolls where as he headed out of the store.
“They’re a dollar, Mrs. Ryder. I know that’s expensive but they came right out of the Sears catalog. That’s the price they expect me to sell them for.”
“Well, they are sure pretty. But I can’t afford a whole dollar for a toy. Reckon I won’t get off the mountain ‘til spring so you and Mrs. Rodgers have a Merry Christmas.”
“You, too, Mrs. Ryder, and tell Liam and the young’uns we said so, too.”
Nate threw the bag in the back and then went and got the two boxes. As he put them in the wagon he saw Aggie pointing to the doll and talking to Mama. “Do you see her, Mama, she’s so purty. I’ma gonna ask Santy Clause to bring me one fer Christmas. Do you think he will iffen I ask?”
“I don’t know, Aggie, Santa might think you have enough dolls, what with your rag dolls and corncob dolls. Maybe you should just ask him for some new dolly clothes.”
“But Mama, I been extra good this year.”
Mama hugged the little girl. “Oh, Aggie baby, I know you have.”
“Well then, I’m gonna ask him. Can I write him when I get home?”
“Why don’t we wait, Aggie. He won’t get it ‘til he comes down the chimney Christmas eve anyway.”
“‘Kay Mama. I ken wait.”
Nate climbed up beside Mama and took the reins. She’d finally started letting him drive the wagon all the way home now that he was fourteen. Soon he’d be a full-grown man and moving out of the homestead to build his own place and start looking for a wife to help him tame his own mountain plot. All the way home Aggie kept yammering about that dolly and how Santa was sure to bring her one. With every word he could feel his mom growing more and more depressed at the fact that Aggie was going to be disappointed Christmas morning. He wanted to tell Aggie to shut up and turned to do just that when Mama stopped him. She leaned in and whispered to him. “Let her dream Nate. Every girl should be free to dream. Reality will tear her dreams to shreds soon enough.”
Nate thought about that all the way home. He hated that Da and Mama worked so hard and still couldn’t give him or Aggie everything they wanted to. Yes, a dollar was a lot but it wasn’t fair that the two hardest working people he knew couldn’t spare one to make their little girl happy. When I grow up I’m gonna find a way to have lots of money. My wife and children will have everything their heart desires, or my name ain’t Nugget Nate.
All night Nate tossed and turned thinking of the look on his Mama’s face at not being able to swing buying Aggie that store bought doll. Somewhere in the wee hours of the morning he’d gotten an idea. People said he was the best wood carver in Harlan. He won the whittling contest every year at the county fair and everyone said his animals were so life-like that if they’d been painted you’d have never known they were wood. Why couldn’t he make Aggie one of them dolls?
Once the idea was in his head, he slipped off to sleep quickly. Da was shaking him and telling him it was time to get up and get to work. Da had a shift in the mine today and needed Nathan to see to making sure the field was plowed under so that it would be good and fertile next spring for planting. Nate and Liam sat at the table while Mama fixed up a mess of eggs and bacon. She sat a pot of coffee in the center of the table and both Nate and Liam filled a cup. Finally Nate was awake enough to mention the doll to his parents. “Da, Aggie saw this doll yesterday in Rodgers Mercantile. It was a wooden doll with arms and legs that moved like a person. She couldn’t stop talkin’ about it.”
“I heard. Yer Ma told me about it last night. It jest cost too much, Nate.”
“Ya, I figured that. But I was a thinkin’ on it last night. I think if I could get a good look at it I could make one fer her. All I’d need is to buy a small bit of paint to color it. And if Mama didn’t mind she could sew a dress fer it.”
Da looked at Mama and then at Nate and reached over and tussled his sandy hair. “You do, do ya?”
“Yes, sir. Iffen it’s all right with y’all, after I get the field turned under I’d like to take Ole Smoke and ride into Harlan and see iffen Mr. Rodgers would let me have a good look at one of them dolls.”
Da looked at Mama who gave a little nod. “I don’t see where that would hurt nothing. But iffen yer gonna play Santa fer yer sister you’ll have to work on it where she can’t see it. So keep it out in the barn till yer done.”
“Yes, sir, I can do that.”
“Good, now no slackin’. I want that field plowed under right. Iffen it ain’t I’m gonna know the reason why when I get back here, understand?”
“Yes, sir, I’ll do ya proud, Da, on the field and on the doll.”
“You jest do yer best, Nate, and I’ll always be proud of ya.”
With that Da stood and grabbed his long rifle, powder horn and carbide lamp. Then he kissed Mama and told her he’d be back tomorrow night after his shift was done. Nate finished soppin’ up the egg yolk and bacon grease with his biscuit and placed his plate and cup in the wash bucket and headed out to the barn to hitch Ole Smoke to the plow and get to work.
Nate and Ole Smoke worked ‘til well past noon. But the whole field had been plowed under. Nate unhooked the plow but left it in the field; tomorrow he’d plow it again but in a different direction to make sure all the decaying plants got turned under and allowed the dirt to soak up the nutrients and make the soil richer. Now they just needed a good snow pack to soak the ground and provide a bit of insulation. But that was for another day. Today he was done and with plenty of time to ride down to Harlan and take a look at that doll.
Nate poured a couple of buckets of water into the horse trough for Ole Smoke and gave him two scoops of oats, too. Then he poured a couple of buckets into the wash pan Mama left out by the well for him and Da to wash up in before coming in. He went inside to see that Mama had made him a plate of beans and corn bread for dinner. He knew she only cooked dinner for him and Aggie; she and Da only ate two meals a day. When he asked her about it she had replied, “You two are still growin’. Da and I are done growing up. Now iffen we eat three times a day we’d start growing out.” She held her hand out in front of her like a big belly.
Nate polished of the beans and cornbread and then kissed his Mama. “I’m gonna go take care of that thing we talked about.”
Aggie perked up at Nate saying he was going somewhere. “What thing, Nate? Can I come wicha?”
Nate shook his head. “Not this time, Aggie baby. It’s men’s work, not baby work.”
Aggie stomped her foot and put her hands on her hips. “I ain’t no baby. I ken do men’s work. Tell him, Mama! Tell him I can go and help him.”
“Not this time, Aggie. I need yer help here. Thanksgiving is coming up this week and we got to start making pies. I need you here to tell me iffen the apples are ripe enough.”
“Oh, okay Mama. I’m better at that than ole Stinky Ryder is anyway.”
“Stop calling me that, Aggie. It was yer fault I was stinky to begin with.”
“Now both you stop it. Nate, go on and take care of what you need to do. Aggie and I have things to do as well and you are holding us up.”
“Yeah, Nate, yer holding me and Mama from our important work.”
Nate sniffed and grabbed his powder horn and Kentucky rifle and headed out to saddle up Ole smoke and head down to Harlan.
Nate’s ride went smoothly as Ole Smoke had made the trip many a times. Nate loved the ride down the mountain but hated riding through Harlan itself. Between the mine where Da and most of the other men worked and it’s whistle and bells to signify the different breaks and shifts, there seemed to be constant noise. Add to that the bustle of the town and all the people in it and Nate would have just as well avoided the place all together. However, he was here for Aggie, and Mama in a way, too. If he could make one of them store bought dolls then both the women in his life would be happy come Christmas morning. So he endured the noise and discomfort of the town for the second time in two days. He rode up to Rodgers Mercantile and tied Ole Smoke up at the hitching post.
Mr. Rodgers was behind the counter. “Well, Nugget Nate twice in one week! Did y’all forget something yesterday?
Nate shook his head, “No, sir, Mr. Rodgers. I was wondering iffen you’d let me take a good long look at one of them new-fangled wooden dolls.”
“Sure, can I ask why?”
“I thought I might see iffen I could make one like them fer Aggie.”
“Well, I’d like to sell those dolls but I ain’t likely to sell very many of them at a dollar a piece. Do you think you could make one as good as this one?” Mr. Rodgers handed the doll to Nate.
Nate took the dress off of the doll and spent some time examining it, especially how the joints were attached to the body and each other. He noticed that the body was made out of two pieces glued together. He figured he could do the same thing with a few small plugs. That was how the elbow and knee joints were put together. It looked like the hip and shoulder joints were made of balls that were slightly bigger than the hole it came through. “I think I can do a purty good copy of this. I’ll use some fur for the hair and when I’m ready to paint it I’ll come down and get a bit of pink and red, and blue fer the eyes.”
Rodgers had been watching Nate as he examined the doll. “Tell ya what, Nate, you bring it down here with ya when you need the paint. If it looks as good as this one I might have a proposition fer ya.” I ain’t gonna sell very many fer a dollar but if we can agree on a smaller price I might be able to sell some of yers for less.”
Nate thought about that and how a little bit of pocket money would help him get ready for getting his own land and becoming a man. He handed the doll back to Mr. Rodgers. “I can’t make them doll clothes but Mama said she’d sew a couple fer Aggie’s doll iffen I could make it. Reckon you could sell them without clothes and let the girls and their Mamas make em.”
“Or I could sell them a doll dress, too, and make a bit more money.”
“You could, I reckon.”
“Well, you come and show me what you got when yer ready to paint it and we’ll talk about price then.”
Nate shook the man’s hand and left thinking about getting the log that he’d need to start work. The idea of making the body in two pieces would be the easiest part to do. He’d carve it as one piece and drill the arm, leg and neck holes, then cut the body in half and hollow out the inside. The hardest part would be carving the face and getting them life-like. But everyone said his critters were life-like so maybe he’d be able to get them right. When he got home he went over to the wood pile and grabbed a couple of pieces that were the perfect size to make the body and the head from. He’d look in the kindling pile later to get the pieces for the arms and legs. He took them all up to the loft of the barn where he’d set up a bench to work from. He went into the house and found a piece of black coal from the edge of the fireplace. He took that back up to the block of wood he’d decided would be the body of the doll and traced out the shape he’d seen. Using Ole Davy’s hatchet he started trimming away everything that wasn’t the doll. Before he knew it, his Mama was calling him in for supper. He grabbed an empty grain sack and put the body in it. He’d come out and get it after Aggie went to bed and work on it some before he turned in. He was confident that he could make one that was even better than that store bought doll. His would have fur for hair instead of yarn. Wouldn’t Aggie be thrilled to wake up Christmas to see her dolly sitting under the Christmas tree? He couldn’t stop smiling at that though, all the way to the table.
Nate got up on his own the next morning. He had gotten the rough shape of the body carved out and would switch to his knife to begin smoothing out the body. Then he’d drill the five holes he needed for head, arms, and legs. But for now he needed to concentrate on finishing turning under the field before his Da got home. He would talk with Da about the proposal Mr. Rodgers had made him. While the money would be a great way to start saving for his own farm, he didn’t want to be so busy making dolls that he couldn’t help out here at the farm or spend time in the woods with Davey or just hunting on his own.
He sat at the table and ate the eggs, bacon, and taters that his mom set in front of him. He decided if he had the time this afternoon he’d go see about getting a few squirrels. Some squirrel and redeye gravy over Mama’s biscuits would make a great breakfast and be a welcome change of pace. With his Da still not home Mama sat down with him at breakfast. “Looked like you were making a good start on your project last night, Nate. When you get the legs on or nearly on I’ll need to come out and measure it for the dress.”
“I reckon that will be sometime next week iffen I can keep workin’ on it every evening, Mama.”
“Nate, I am so proud of you. Using yer talent to make something for yer sister just to make her happy.”
“I jest didn’t want her to be disappointed on Christmas mornin’, Mama. She done got her heart set on Santa bringing her that there doll.”
“I know, and a dollar was just too much fer us to pay for a toy.”
“Speakin’ of that, Mr. Rodgers said he’d like to see the one I make. He says if it’s good that maybe he could buy some offen me and sell them cheaper than a dollar.”
“What do you think about his idea, Nate?”
“Well, I thought I might could do it iffen he didn’t want too many at once. I wouldn’t want it interfering with my work here or keep me from learning more from Davey when he comes by again. I thought I’d mention it to Da after Aggie goes to bed tonight and see what he thinks.”
“I think you’ve given this a lot of thought already. You could probably do more than just what Mr. Rodgers could sell. You could take one to some of the other towns and show their store owners what you can do. You might be able to make some good money offen them dolls.”
Nate thought about that and about how the dolls moved. “I might be able to make some animals like that, too, Mama. I think a horse or a dear could be made the same way. So that you could make them move their heads and legs. ”
“I think you might be right, Nate. Maybe after you make Aggie’s doll you should try one of them. If they work like you think, you could show them to the shopkeepers, too.”
Nate nodded as he sopped up the last of his breakfast on a biscuit. He stuffed it in his mouth and took his cup and plate to the washtub like normal. He kissed his Mama on the forehead. “Well, nuff dreamin’ about the future. Got to get that field finished ‘fore Da gits here or he’ll tan my hide.”
His Mama smiled. Both of them knew that he was too big to whoop anymore but his Da would make his displeasure known and that would hurt worse than any whoopin’ his Da could give him. He went and got Ole Smoke and then started workin’ on finishing turning under the field. He was just washin’ up fer dinner when his Da came riding into the homestead. He was covered in coal dust and looked about as worn out as last year’s moccasins. Nate knew he would need to get enough water to fill the bathing tub. Mama wouldn’t let Da get in the bed covered in coal dust. She probably wouldn’t even let him in the house. While Da was unsaddling Misty, Nat started hauling water to the barn where the tub was. If it was later they would have had to heat the water and tote the tub into the house but being November it was cool but not freezing yet. So Da nodded as Nate started filling the tub. “That should be enough,” he said after about half the tub was full. “Go tell yer Mama to bring me a towel and some clean buckskins. I don’t have another shift this week.”
Nate went in the house and hung his cap on the hook by the door. “Da’s out in the tub he said he could use a towel and clean buckskins.”
“Thank you, Nate. You sit and eat before Aggie gets into it all.”
Aggie piped up, “Yeah, Nate, iffen yer ain’t hungry I’s will eat yers.”
“Don’t you touch my dinner, ya baby. I need the energy to do my chores.”
“Don’t cha be callin’ me a baby or I’ll start callin’ ya a Stinky Ryder again.”
Nate slid into his chair and held up his hands. “You win, Aggie Ryder, but I still don’t want y’all eatin’ my dinner.”
Aggie smiled a smile showing her missing front tooth. “I’s were full anyway.”
She got up and skipped out of the house. Probably going to pester Da and Mama.
Before too long Da came in carrying Aggie on his shoulder.
“More, Da, ride me more.”
He sat Aggie on the ground. “Not right now, Aggie, you go help yer Mama with the washing. I need to speak to yer brother for a minute.”
“‘Kay, Da.” And right back out she went.
Da sat at the table. “Y’all did right good on the field, Nate. Don’t reckon I couldda done any better myself.”
“Yer Mama said y’all had an interesting conversation with Tobias Rodgers yesterday?”
“Yes, sir, he let me look that doll over real good. Then when I told him I thought I could make one he asked to see it when I’m ready to paint it. Said iffen it were as good as the Sears catalog one that maybe he’d buy em offen me instead of ordering them.”
“What are ya thinkin’ ’bout that?”
“I tole Mama I think I could do it and she said maybe show some of the other town’s shopkeepers a finished one and I might could sell some to them, too. But I don’t want to not have time to do my chores here or go hunting or adventuring with Davey, either.”
Da reached over and pasted him on the shoulder. “Y’all been giving this some thought, ain’t ya?”
“I have, Da. I think I could use the same hinges to make critters that could move too.”
I reckon if anyone could, it would be y’all, Nate. What would ya do with the money?”
“I’m a thinkin’ I start puttin’ it up ‘til I got enough to get my own land, Da.”
“That is a right smart idea, Nate. As long as it don’t interfere with what I need from ya I don’t see any reason why y’all shouldn’t give ‘er a try.”
“Thanks, Da. I think I want ta give it a try anyway.”
“Well then, in that case I’m gonna give y’all yer Christmas present early. Now I is gonna want it back on Christmas eve and you need to keep it up in y’alls work area. We don’t want Aggie gettin’ a looksee and thinkin’ Santa ain’t real.”
Liam got up from the Table and went into his and Mama’s room. He came back with a burlap sack. He reached into the sack and pulled out a well-worn wooden box and handed it to Nate. Nate lifted the lid and saw a well-used but very sharp set of chisels and carving tools. His eyes grew wide as he pulled several of them from their slots and reverently put them back. “Da, with these I can make my carvin’s almost lifelike. Thank y’all so much.”
“Don’t make such a fuss over ’em, Nate. I got them from that fella who is always givin’ ya a run fer yer money at the whittlin’ contests. He said his eyes are too bad to see to do fine work anymore but he knew y’all’d appreciate and love ’em like he had. Almost wouldn’t let me pay him fer ’em. I reckon with those you should be able to make Aggie the best dolly in the world.”
Nate closed the lid and put them back in the gunny sack. He wanted to race right out and try them but he didn’t want to disrespect his Da. Liam let Nate squirm just a little bit before he stretched. “I tell ya what, Nate, I’m beat. Think I’m gonna go take a rest fer a spell. You go on and take them tools up to yer workbench. I’ll come out before supper and take a look at whacha are doin’ then.”
Nate didn’t wait and headed out to the barn. These would speed the doll project and allow him to make the face so life like that Aggie would think Santa brought her the best dolly in the whole wide world. For the hair he was going to start collecting the hairs from Misty when he brushed her mane and tail. The doll’s hair would be the same color as Aggies that way, just like she wanted.
Christmas Eve finally rolled around. Catron’s Mountain was covered in a deep blanket of snow. As the sun set and the stars came out everything glistened like it was encrusted with diamonds. The trees were bowed under the weight of the snow and ice, making sounds on the mountain muted and dull. The Ryder family was all huddled around the fireplace getting ready to head to bed. Aggie was putting the final touches on her letter for Santa. She had drawn hearts and dollies all over it. She made sure that Da put it right beside the fireplace to make sure Santa saw it when he came down the chimney. Then Mama had her come sit in the rocking chair and wrapped them in one of the quilts she had made. Nate settled down on the edge of the hearth as Da pulled the Bible down from the mantel and turned to the story of Jesus Birth. He would read up ‘til the Angels appear to the shepherds tonight and finish it in the morning before they opened their presents. Aggie was asleep by the time Da was finished. He rose and placed the Bible back on the mantel, then picked up Aggie and carefully carried her up to the loft and placed her in her bed. Once he was back down, Nate headed out to the barn and grabbed the small doll cradle he’d made to go with her doll. He was proud of how it had turned out. After he’d glued the hair on the head and painted her face she was, in his opinion, even better than the one in the Sears catalog. Mr. Rodgers had thought so, too.
After dragging in the cradle which he put a tag on that said to Aggie from Nate, he handed the doll to his mother who, along with Da, were getting a good look at the finished project for the first time. “Nate, this is very good. I think it’s better than that one Aggie was looking at in the Mercantile window.”
Nate reached into the sack and handed his Da two horses he’d carved as well. One an exact copy of Ole Smoke and the other a miniature of Misty. He pulled two stands out that fit into a small hole in the horses’ bellies so that they could be posed either standing or running. They posed both under the tree and added tags that said they and the doll were from Santa. Nate handed his Da the carving tools. They stuck a tag on them from Santa, too, so that Aggie wouldn’t think Santa had forgotten Nate. Finally Nate sat two wrapped packages under the tree with Da and Mama on the tag. He’d carved his father a pipe with the king of the Mountain deer on each side. For Mama he’d done a scene of her favorite spot in the mountain with a waterfall and the forest parting for the brook that flowed from the run off. He then climbed up the ladder to the loft, climbed into his cot, and pulled the quilt up to his neck. He smiled thinking of how excited Aggie would be to get not just one gift from Santa, but three.
Nate awoke to Aggie standing his chest jumping up and down. “Getup, Nate, Getup, Nate, Getup, Nate.”
“Aggie, get off of me!”
Aggie sat down hard on his chest. “No, you get up, it’s Christmas and I wanna see if Santy brought my dolly!”
“I told y’all Santa only brings toys to good little girls and boys. You’n done got coal and sticks.”
“No, I’s didn’t. Mama said I was a good girl.” Aggie jumped off Nate and yanked his quilt off of the bed. “Get up. I’ma gonna go get Mama and Da up.”
Down the ladder she flew. Nate yelled down, “Agatha Ryder, don’t cha go near that tree till Mama and Da tell you it’s time!”
“I know dat, Stinky Ryder!”
Nate shook his head as he got up and quickly slipped into his buckskins. He came down stairs and went out to make sure that Ole Smoke and Misty had water and some feed. On the way in he grabbed an armload of fire wood, knowing that Mama would need plenty to stoke the stove as well as the fire. As he put his load down he heard Aggie harassing his parents to get up. He knew they would get up quickly and be in before no time. He went ahead and added a log to the fireplace and started a fire in the cook stove. That way it would be down to the coals Mama needed to fix breakfast on by the time they were done letting Aggie at the presents under the tree.
Finally Aggie came out of Mama and Da’s room dragging Da by the hand. Mama was right behind them, laughin’ the whole way. “Settle down, Aggie, those presents aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be there when you get there.”
Nate couldn’t help but tease her a bit more. “I don’t know why yer in such a hurry to get a bunch of coal and kindling anyway, Aggie Baby.”
“Mama, tell Nate I was good. I know I got something besides coal. Iffen anyone got coal here it was that Stinky Ryder!”
Mama stifled a laugh and said. “I reckon you both were ’bout as good as y’all could be. Now sit down and I’ll start passin’ out the presents.
First off Mama handed Da a present wrapped in brown paper and twine. “This is from all of us to you, Liam. Nate contributed the fur and I stitched them and Aggie helped wrap them.”
Da opened the package and pulled out a pair of rabbit mittens. “These are great. They’ll help keep my hands warm to and from the mine this winter.
Da pulled a package out from behind his back and handed it to Mama. Aggie was ‘bout to burst waiting for Santa’s presents to be handed out. Ma looked at Da and the package that was obviously wrapped by the shopkeeper. “What did you do, Liam?”
Don’t worry none, Kate ma dear, Mr. Winston over at the mine was admiring my beaver skin boots. I happened to trap a couple beavers a few days earlier so I sold him the hides and told him who to take them to ta get the boots cobbled. I used that to get ya a little something.
Kate opened the package to find a store bought dress with a pretty blue wild flower pattern all over it. “Oh, Liam, it’s beautiful. But you shouldn’t; you could have bought four times as much cloth and I could have made both me and Aggie a dress as well as shirts for you and Nate.”
Da shook his head. “No, Kate, not this time. I wanted to get you a store bought dress. I see the way you look at the city women on Sundays with their store bought dresses. Now ya have one that will put ’em all to shame. Besides, it’s Christmas and I wanted ta git y’all something special.”
Next Nate pulled out the doll crib he’d made for Aggie. “Here Aggie, I thought iffen Santa got ya a new doll you might want a bed for it and your other dolls.”
Aggie thanked Nate but was fit to burst waiting on the gift from Santa that she just knew was under the tree.
Nate gave his Mama a fur muff he’d tanned and sewed himself. It was fox, from two red foxes he’d trapped earlier that year. Da got a new fur hat that matched the mitten’s he’d already been given. Then Aggie stopped fidgetin’ and said, “Mama, will you give Nate the gift I made for him?”
Are you sure, Aggie? I was about to start handing out the Santa gifts. “I’s sure. I want him to see what I got him.”
Mama handed him a badly wrapped package and whispered. “Don’t get mad; she worked really hard on it.”
Nate’s forehead wrinkled wondering why his mom thought he’d get mad. Then he tore lose the end of the package and pulled out a new hat. He was shocked at what he saw. There looking at him wasn’t the coon that he normally wore, instead there in black and white sat a pole-cat. “Aggie, where in the world did ya get this skin?”
Aggie was laughing so hard she couldn’t answer so Mama did. “She asked your friend Davey Crockett if he could get her a pole cat skin that didn’t smell. I don’t know how he did it but he showed up a month ago with it. Then she asked me to help her make a cap for you.”
Nate looked at it and knew if he wore it he’d have to endure the Stinky Ryder jokes. He wanted to be mad and not wear the stupid thing but he knew iffen he didn’t Aggies feelin’s would be hurt and even though she wanted to laugh at him he knew deep down she wanted him to remember their day together. So he bit his tongue and stuck the ridiculous thing on his head. He’d wear it ‘til the thing fell apart and in later years that pole-cat skin cap would be one of his favorite memories.
Then the time he’d been waiting for. Mama said, “Well, all I see left are gifts with Santa’s name on them. Who should I start with, Nate or Aggie?”
“Me, start with me, Mama. I cain’t stand it, hurry up and give me my dolly.” Aggie was bouncing up and down.
Mama looked over at Nate in his new hat and winked at him. “Okay, Aggie. This package has your name on it from Santa, why don’t you open that one first.”
Aggie took the package and ripped the paper off of it to reveal the model of Misty. “It’s a horse. Why would Santa give me a horse toy? It looks just like Misty. I already got the real Misty. Where’s my dolly?”
Da looked at Aggie with a disappointed look. “Agatha Ryder! Are you ungrateful for the gift that Santa gave you? Perhaps Santa should come and take back your gifts and give them to some other little girl who would be happy to get them.”
Aggie stopped, “No, Da, it’s just not what I asked fer. I only asked fer one thing. I’s jest expected he’d give me that dolly I wanted.”
Mama shook her head. “Aggie, Santa has a lot of little girls that ask for dollies. Maybe he didn’t leave you one because you already have several dollies and some other little girl didn’t have one.”
Aggie thought about that for a minute and settled down. “That would be terrible fer Santa to give me another dolly when some other little girl didn’t have any. I wouldn’t like that. Yer right, it is a neat horse toy. I ain’t never seen one that moves.”
Mama looked at Da who nodded as they realized they’d taken care of Aggie’s ungrateful attitude. “Well, look here, Aggie, here is a package from Santa for Nate. What do you think he got yer brother?”
“Maybe Nate got the coal and kindling.”
Nate unwrapped the package to revel the box of carving tools.
Aggie came over and looked at the box. “It’s a box. Is there anything in it?”
Nate opened it to show her the tools. “What are those?”
Nate pulled one out. “They’re tools for helping with whittlin’, Aggie.”
“Oh, well you’s purty good already, Nate. Maybe with them tools you will be really good.”
“I just might, Aggie.”
Aggies face lit up with a wondrous thought. “Nate, do you think them there tools are what Santa used to make my horse?”
“I don’t know, Aggie. I reckon iffen it weren’t these it was some like these.”
Ma said “Aggie, there’s two more packages here with yer name on them.”
“Two more? I ain’t never gotten that many presents before. Who are they from?”
“The tag says Santa.”
“Wow, I must really been a good girl ta git three presents from Santa, huh?”
“Maybe he knew how special you are, my little mountain princess.” Da said as he tussled her hair.
Mama handed one of the packages to Aggie. She opened the package and pulled out the horse that looked just like Ole Smoke. “Lookee here. Santa gave me another horse, this one looks like Ole Smoke. How do you think Santa knew what Ole Smoke and Misty look like?”
Nate thought quickly, “Well, Aggie, they say he knows when yer sleep and awake, right?”
“Well, if he can see that and iffen ya been bad or good I reckon he could see what our horses looked like.”
“That’s true, I never thought a that.”
“What do you think is in the last present he sent ya?”
Mama handed her the last package, Aggie started tearing at the paper and then before anyone else could see she started squealing and bouncing up and down. “He did it. He did it. He did it.”
Then she pulled out the dolly. “Look, he did bring me a dolly.”
She started looking it over. “It’s even better than the one in the winder. She’s perfect. Look, Mama, Da, she has real hair. Look at her dress, it’s jest like my Sunday dress.”
“Why so it does, Aggie. I guess Nate was right and he was watching’ ya.”
“I think yer right, Da. I guess I better try and be even better next year.”
Well if that’s all the presents, let’s let Mama get us some breakfast while we all go get dressed. Then we need to finish reading about Jesus’ birth because that is why Santa comes, isn’t it. To remind us how much God loved us to send us HIS son Jesus.”
The day went well and Nate asked Aggie if he could look at how her dolly and horses were made. “Maybe I can learn how to make them since Santa gave me some of his tools.”
“Okay, Nate, but don’t you break em.”
Later that day Nate brought in a block of wood and started tracing out the body of a doll. He wanted to make another one and take it to some of the towns surrounding Harlan. If he could get a few orders then maybe he would be able to actually make enough money to start working on getting his own land. But even if he never sold a single one, seeing the look on Aggie’s face and hearing her say it was better than the one from the Sears catalog had made his day.
Yes, it was a Merry Christmas for the Ryder family. One that Nate would cherish for years to come as the last one they spent together as a family. Things would change in the coming year and within three, Nugget Nate would be on the adventure that cost two of his best friends their lives at a little place called the Alamo.
But that day everything was perfect. As Nate turned in that night, deep in his heart he thought of the words that Santa was known to say: “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”