Author’s Note: This piece has been edited and now appears in “Angel Songs, 20 Christmas Short Stories and Poems, plus Recipes” by Dona Watson. Click here for more info.
I’ve often wondered what went through the thoughts of those old men of the West who lived alone in the mountains in the late 1800s. After all, they all had childhoods, and probably many of them fond memories too. Surely they weren’t all crusty old men.
Growing up in the West with part of my lineage harking back to cowboys and horse traders, I suppose that in a lot of ways, old Jedediah has always been in the back of my mind. Here’s just a snippet of the old guy himself. Maybe someday I’ll have to write more stories about him.
by D.L. Watson
Jedediah wiggled his toes and the biggest one poked through the hole in the end of his stocking. He sighed with a frown. When the snow had thawed a bit and he went to town, he’d have to look for a new pair.
Some of the gold miners didn’t care about their socks. But Jedediah did. He might not live in the city any more, but that didn’t mean he had to live like a rat in a dark hole. No, even though he lived alone, he’d built a snug little cabin, kept it tidy and his clothes in as good shape as he could.
He peeled off the dirty socks and put on his other pair, then shoved his feet into bear fur slippers. At the little table in the corner, he poured a cupful of water into a pan and dunked his socks, lathered them up with lye soap, then rinsed and squeezed them out.
When he’d built his granite fireplace, he’d included a bench-like ledge in front of the fire pit, a nice place to sit when it was cold — or a nice place to dry wet laundry in the winter. He laid the socks out on the warm stone and lowered his aching old bones into the oak rocker, pulling a tanned bearskin blanket tight around his shoulders. He rocked slowly, his mind traveling back to when he was a boy.
Christmas Eves had not been spent alone then. It’d been just his mother and father and himself, but they were a happy family. Mother always baked a ham and there were presents and stockings — without holes — that magically appeared full of wonderful treasures on Christmas morning. He chuckled. Father had always denied filling them but now that Jedediah was older, he knew better. But still, he was grateful that his parents had kept the magic alive all those years.
The old miner rocked long into the night, his mind filled with so many wonderful Christmases past. Alone as he was, the fond memories were comforting. Not that he was sad, mind you. After his parents died, he’d come out West to seek his fortune and in a way he had found it. He wasn’t rich, but life here in the beautiful mountains, lived on his own terms was enough for him. He knew a lot of people had far less and he was grateful for what he had.
Much later, Jedediah opened his eyes to find Christmas morning sunshine peeking through the glass window. Hadn’t meant to sleep in the chair all night. He stretched and yawned, a deep breath filling his lungs with the scent of pine from the branches he’d carefully arranged on the table.
But when he stood, his eyes caught on the old stockings on the mantle. Except they weren’t old anymore. The holes were gone, the yarn soft and new. They even looked a bit stretchy. He reached forward to gently pick one up, but then almost dropped it in surprise. It wasn’t empty.
He sat down and dumped the contents into his lap. Peppermint sticks and pecans — his favorites. His eyes welled up with unshed tears and he shook his head, looking toward the window. Maybe his father really hadn’t filled those stockings every year.
One thing was for certain, though. Jedediah would be washing his socks and placing them on the mantle next Christmas Eve too.
This story is part of a Writing Challenge I have undertaken to write something every day in the month of December on a pre-selected list of topics. Photographer Jacqueline Ashford is keeping pace with me on the same list of topics, her with a camera and me with a keyboard. You can see Jacqueline’s gorgeous photos here. We’re having way too much fun with this mutual challenge. (You can see the list of topics here.)
Tomorrow’s Topic: Candy Cane