Tuesday, July 17, 2012
The Christmas Baskets
The Christmas Baskets
It was a cold day in December just two weeks before Christmas. All the people of Camden Corners opened their front doors to find beautiful wreaths made of holly leaves and pine branches and decorated with pine cones and holly berries.
Thinking their neighbors must have left them by the door, they visited each other but the neighbor also had a wreath mysteriously appear on their own porches.
The next day, baskets were left by the doors with jars of various berry jams and jellies decorated with pretty ribbons.
Every day of the week a new gift basket would appear. One day it was candy, another day little cakes and cookies. Toys the following day. The baskets were left sometime during the night. No one ever saw who was leaving the baskets which made them think something magical was happening in the village of Camden Corners.
The children were excited, it was the last week of school before the Christmas holiday. Miss Kate and the other teachers were just as excited as the children were and the mysterious Christmas baskets added to the excitement.
The children thought it must be Santa's elves delivering the treats. They imagined they were tiny enough to slip in and out of town without being seen. Some of the adults began to believe the children might be right.
Jed Finnegan had been sitting by his fire the day of the blizzard. He rarely had company and that was just fine with him. If you didn't bother anyone they wouldn't bother you either. He was deep in thought remembering his sweetheart, Clovis Moon. She was the prettiest girl on the mountain. He had been smitten with her for as long as he could remember. Jed was just a young man, barely 18 when he and Clovis were married. Jed's paw had a fondness for moonshine. He'd go off for days into the woods and come home when he ran out of his corn whiskey. It never occurred to Jed that his paw's behavior was anything but normal. Clovis had other ideas and when Jed ran off to imbibe in the spirits, she chased him down and occasionally bop him on the head with her frying pan.
Jed became a laughing stock after these attacks. One day he decided he'd had enough of Clovis and being the brunt of jokes. He traveled down the hill on his mule to live a life where nobody would laugh at him again.
Cody and the children interrupted his reverie. They came into the cabin and the children were frightened of him. By the time they left that day, the children all gave him a hug. He couldn't remember when he'd had such a nice day. He bundled himself up against the cold, packed a few dried fruits in his backpack, climbed on his old mule and started up the mountain to see what Clovis had been up to these last 40 years or so.
It took Jed 3 days to make it to the top of the mountain. Clovis opened the door to the old shack they lived in together so many years ago.
“Jed, you've come home.” was all Clovis said.
“Hello Clovis. I've come to take you to my home down the mountain.”
Without batting an eye, Clovis packed her few belongings, closed the door of the shack, climbed on her own mule and rode down the mountain with Jed.
Jed told her about the children. Clovis always dreamed of having children of her own but after Jed left, she knew that dream would never come true.
“Why don't we do something for the children? With all of these beautiful greens you have around the cabin, we could make wreaths. I never had much to do with your being away all those years, I learned to make things with my hands.”
She showed him how to shape a wreath and tie it with twine. She found some ribbon and made a bow for the top of it. The two of them had such fun making the wreath they continued on until they had so many they knew they would have too many for just a few houses.
“Let's just start delivering them and continue until we run out,” said Jed.
They piled the wreaths on their mules and headed to town. It was after 2:00 in the morning. They left the wreaths at the front door of each and every house.
“Clovis, I don't think anyone saw us. Won't they be surprised when they wake up in the morning and find the wreath at their doors. I wish I could see their faces.”
“Jed, are you aware of all the reed and canes you have piled in your shed out back? I don't know what you were planning to use it for but it would make fine baskets. We could fill them with some of those jams and jellies you have in your cellar.”
“I like that idea, Clovis. Last summer was a good year for berries and I must admit I was a little carried away with the preserves. Let's get started on that right after breakfast.”
The two of them worked all day weaving baskets and filling them with jars of jams and jellies. That night they delivered those to the houses in town.
Jed, being alone for so many years whittled games of dominoes and checkers. He'd painted them and put them away on a shelf. Clovis discovered those and they placed those on the doorsteps the following night.
Jed remembered the children telling about the Christmas pageant at the church on Christmas Eve. Clovis thought that would be a fine way to celebrate Christmas. She and Jed visited the general store where Clovis purchased materials and thread. She made Jed a shirt and tie and fashioned a suit from pictures she saw in the Sears and Roebuck catalog.
While Clovis was busy working on their clothes, Jed got out his extra sharp knife and cut off his whiskers. He'd picked up a razor blade at the store without Clovis seeing. With the exception of a few nicks, he was clean shaven for the the first time since he first notice peach fuzz on his chin.
Clovis looked up from her sewing machine and almost sewed her sleeves together.
“Jed, is that you? What happened to your whiskers? You look like the boy I loved many years ago.”
“I hope you still love me Clovis because I never stopped loving you.”
“Of course I do Jed. Why else would I have waited for you all these years. I knew you would come back for me because I knew you loved me too.”
Jed knew he couldn't expect a lady to travel down a bumpy old road in her pretty new Christmas outfit. He purchased a carriage the morning of the pageant.
Jed and Clovis proudly rode into town and directly to St. Peter's Church.
“Mr. Finnegan's here,” shouted Timmy “And he doesn't have his whiskers.”
“How did you know it was me, Timmy?”
“I could tell by your eyes. You have very happy eyes, Mr. Finnegan.”
“I'd like you to meet my wife, Mrs. Finnegan.”
Everyone came up to the couple to welcome them to Camden Corners and wish them a Merry Christmas.
Cody wondered if all of the Christmas baskets that appeared might be the work of Mr. & Mrs. Finnegan. He recognized the jelly jars from one of his visits to the old gentleman's cabin. He wasn't going to breathe a word. He was happy to see Clovis again. She looked like a much younger woman than he remembered. He'd never seen Jed look so snappy as he did in his new suit.
The pageant went off without a hitch. Baby Jesus behaved himself and didn't cry. Cassandra was very proud of her little brother.
After the service, the parishioners gathered in the basement of the church to sing Christmas carols and enjoy all the treats provided by the ladies auxiliary. Oscar read the poem A Visit From St. Nicholas. It was the first time Clovis had ever heard it. She could read a little but not having any books or written words in the mountains, it wasn't easy for her. Nettie told her she would help her with her reading for which Clovis was very grateful.
That night after the town was asleep, someone placed a plate of breakfast cakes by everyone's front door with a note saying Merry Christmas.
Clovis opened the door to the cabin and was surprised to see a plate of cakes right there on the porch. “Jed, how in the world did you bake these cakes without my knowing? They are beautifully decorated. I just can't help myself, I must take a bite.”
Clovis bit into the cake.
“Jed, how did you make these cakes so light and fluffy? They are as soft as an angel's wings. I must know your secret.”
“I have no secret dear. I didn't make the cakes.” Jed looked at her and looked around the area. He couldn't see a soul and didn't find any footprints in the fresh snow that had fallen overnight.
Clovis was surprised when her new friends told her a few days later that plates of the most heavenly cakes had been left at their doorsteps to be enjoyed on Christmas morning. She wondered who could possibly left them there. She thought about it for a few minutes and then decided maybe she would simply believe angels had been responsible.
The Christmas season had come and gone. The children were back in school. It was quiet in the little cabin in the forest. Clovis and Jed were practicing their reading. Helene Merryweather had supplied them with enough library books to keep them busy for a while.
There was a knock on the door. “Cody, come in my boy.”
“Jed, we don't want to disturb you. I was giving the children another ride on the sleigh and they so wanted to stop here and say hello to you and Miss Clovis.”
“You aren't disturbing us in the least. Please, welcome all of you. We are so happy you came to visit us.”
“Mr. Finnegan, we were hoping you would tell us more stories of the bears and mountain lions.”
Clovis laughed, “What bears and mountain lions, Jed?”
“Mr. Finnegan fought off bears and mountain lions when he was just a boy no bigger than a tadpole. That's what he told us,” said Butch.
“I'd love to hear those stories too, Jed. Let me fix some hot chocolate for our guests and you can begin your tales.”
They all sat around the fire while Jed told his stories. The younger children listened intently and imagined themselves on the mountain top where Jed and Clovis grew up. The older children knew Jed was telling tall tales but they enjoyed them just the same.
The years went by. Jed and Clovis never moved out of the little cabin in the forest. Children still came knocking on their door waiting to hear Jed's latest tale. They continued the tradition of delivering Christmas baskets to all the homes in Camden Corners until they were too old to make the trek down the snow packed dirt road to the town. Their baskets didn't appear anymore but a plate of angel soft breakfast cakes was always left at each door on Christmas Eve.
Some folks thought it was the work of Diana Taylor, the owner of the bakery. Others suspected it was Alma Tanner who was known for her baked goods. Still others suspected heavenly angels were creating the treats. Diana and Alma both denied it was them. They admitted, try as they might, they could never find the recipe to make breakfast cakes taste so light. They agreed that the cakes must have come from above. Even if that seemed impossible, Christmas Eve was the time for miracles and the townsfolk liked to think their miracle was delivered right to their front door.