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Tintagel Christmas 2002

A Michigan Christmas

Mystical Outhouse - Alger County - AuTrain, MI

PC, GP collection

An excerpt from “ The Long Winter Ends” By Newton G. Thomas.

First published in 1941.

 

The tree at the church was not an evergreen. Evident enough it was that it had been chosen with a thought to the load it would bear. Its smaller twigs had been stripped off, and the remaining limbs wrapped in cotton. For con­venience rather than naturalness the limbs were entirely swathed in the artificial snow. Ropes of cranberries and popped corn sagged from tip to tip of the branches in pleas­ing arcs. Sparkling ornaments added to the show, and pack­ages chosen for the glare of their wrapping. Around the tree on the floor the large packages were heaped and baskets placed, filled with bulging paper sacks. All of this had been expressed directly from the polar warehouse to arrive before the Christmas saint could get there. But he would come. Assurances had been received and announced, even to the time of his arrival. When he came still more kindliness would pour from his pack.

In due time—when the songs had been sung and the pieces said—bells were heard at the door. Eager expectant eyes were turned to see him enter. Dressed in red trimmed with white, bearded, muffled, and snow-flecked, he came down the aisle. His pack swung awkwardly from side to side as he feigned the prance and vigor of youth. He went di­rectly to the platform and made a short speech, still holding his sack. A skeptic might have discerned a falsity, a strain in the voice, and a suspicious person might have wondered at the accent.

But Cornishmen are like the turf;

Cornishmen roam all the earth.

  The speech ended, Santa emptied his pack on the rostrum, waved his hand, said he had far to go, and was gone.

The superintendent of the Sunday school took charge again and began the distribution of the gifts. The children marched past to get the little paper sacks. Then came the major interest, the distribution of the boxed and bundled things. Most of these were gracious tokens of the season ex­tended within families and between relatives—classes to teachers and the school to the superintendent. Many mem­bers of the church accepted the church tree service in lieu of one at home. Some who were not members accepted the tree as a public institution. Young people showed the world their approval of one another by utilizing it similarly.

Some packages were marked, “To be opened at the tree.” The donors of the gifts in them omitted their names from such. A little vanity was apparent in the ruse when the gift was expensive and eye-filling. More often the gifts, marked so, added laughter to the occasion, sometimes derision. Humorous oddments were displayed, something to empha­size an eccentricity or to recall a laughable episode widely known. Taste in such matters frequently overreached itself, and no laugh came. Dislikes or known enmities, at times, prompted humiliating or frankly insulting tokens, and re­sentments flamed hotly after their exposure. The superin­tendent tried to suppress such vulgarities; but something was sure to elude him, and his surprise often communicated the character of what he refused to show. So St. Nicholas and St. Valentine met in church at the tree.

The minister came back for supper, but both Jim and J ake avoided him. At five o’clock the coach from Calumet came in, and the post office would be open for a half-hour. Jim was at the office door when the coach drove up.

Jim struggled to suppress the hope that might precede a too bitter disappointment if he gave it wing. He knew himself well enough to foretell the depth of gloom he would reach if he were too expectant of a letter that failed to come. The thump, thump, thump of the stamp came to his ears. He counted them, a thump to a letter; one of them was for him perhaps. By the counting he hoped to dull the edge of his eagerness; and for the same reason he watched the distribu­tion through the small glass squares of the boxes. He was not thinking of the business interests of the letters he counted, but regarded them all as messages of the reason from friend to friend. They might be all akin to the one he expected. He imagined them going to homes and boarding houses— letters from Finland, from Sweden, from Italy, from England, bringing their treasures of memory and affection on this Christmas Day. Different tongues of different lands, but their loves, their hopes, their anxieties the same. The wicket flew open.

Jim brought up the end of the line and mentioned his name, his heart beating in a tumult of expectation in spite of him, expectation and fear.

“Yes, Mr. Holman,” said the woman, and slid the letter toward him.

Jim secured his prize and hastened home. “‘Ow fitty,” he said, “for it t’ come t’day! Now, if ‘e awnly hold good news, ‘e will be Merry Christmas an’ no mistake.”

He went to his room, lighted a candle and broke the seal. The first words he made out clearly and with exultation. “Dear Jim!” He could hear her say it. And then, word by word he pored over each line, recognizing one and failing with another, but rejoicing that Pol was so close to him. It was like seeing one uncertainly in a dream, the face coming almost to view but receding again. He thought of photographs he had seen that were not clear. So the message eluded him. He tried it again and again but had to give it up. “I am well; I love you, Jim,” she said, and that made the rest easy to wait for. He raised his head, and Allen stood in the door.

“You didn’t see any of us when you came in,” he said. “I thought I’d give you time to see what you could do alone and then, if you needed help, lend a hand.”

“Hi couldn’t make un all out,” said Jim, and handed his friend the letter.

Allen read, transforming Pol’s phonetic Devonese into better English.

“Dear Jim:

“Your letter written by your friend came yesterday. I am glad you are well and making friends. Mr. Allen must be a good man. I hope to meet him some day. “And the money came, too. I shall be as careful as I can, and save some from each note you send.

“It must be bitter cold there with so much snow. I try to fancy how it looks, so deep and white everywhere. How do women walk in it?

“How do you live, so many in one house? What do they do on Sundays when all are at home? Does one woman cook for all of them?

“I know you miss Bill and Joe and Tom. I am glad Jake is with you. How far is Central from where you are? Give Jake my regards. When Grace hears from Tom she comes in.

“Do you think you would like to live in America for good? You did not say.

“Tell me about the work, Jim, if it is as hard there as it is here. I suppose mining is mining the world over.

“I am glad you are going to school. It must be hard after a day’s work, or to get out of bed to study; but it will be like talking together when you can write. The schoolmaster must be a good man too.

“I am well, Jim. Don’t worry about me, my son. My mother comes in every day. Your mother does almost every day.

“Jim, it is good of your friend to write for you and he makes an interesting letter, but I can’t wait till you write yourself.

“I was just thinking this might reach you Christmas. I hope it does.

“Here’s a whisper, my dear. We both send our love to you.

“I love you, Jim.

“Your wife,

“POL”

Allen handed the letter to Jim. Jim seemed far away to him, and the candle gave a blurry light.

“Now you read it, Jim,” he said, “and I will help you along.”

 

  Click on cover for details on how to get a copy of the book on the web.

 

For this and other books on Michigan click on the cover.

 

Happy Holidays - Dana's Lakeside Resort, Au Train, Michigan

A Michigan Postcard (GP collection). Just like the Cornish those darn Piskies get everywhere.