Here is a Christmas short story I wrote. I hope you will enjoy it, and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!
by Kelly F. Barr
It was 1858 when Thomas and Catherin O’Connell and their four children made the long, challenging journey from Kentucky to Missouri. They had arrived in the United States from Ireland just seven years before. Thomas hoped to get some good land in Missouri to start a farm.
As soon as they arrived in Missouri, he followed the other men to the land office and stood in line waiting and silently praying that he would get some good land. When he finally stood in front of the land officer, he said, “Could I please purchase a few acres near the river?”
“That land costs $2.50 per acre. How many acres would you like?”
Thomas lowered his head and swallowed hard. “What do you have that’s cheaper?”
The land officer folded his arms across his chest. “We have land on the interior of the Ozarks for 12 1/2 cents an acre. That’s the cheapest you’ll get.”
“I’ll take four acres of land on the interior, please.” He paid for the land and received a deed with a map of where to find his land. He left the land office, shoulders drooping.
“How did you do, Thomas?”
“Oh, Catherin, darlin’, we got four acres, but I heard some of the men talking as I was coming out of the office, and it’s going to be very hard work. The good land was more than we could afford. The land we got is on the interior of the Ozarks and is rough land.”
“Well, we’ve never had anything easy and we’re used to hard work. At least Henry, Charles, and Frank are big and strong enough to be of help.”
He kissed Catherin on the cheek. “You’re always the encourager. Let’s go see our land.”
By the time they arrived at their land, little Rose was asleep in the wagon. Thomas and the three boys built a makeshift lean-to and a fire. While Catherin set to preparing their supper over the fire, Thomas carried Rose and laid her in the lean-to where Catherin could be nearby. Then he and the boys marked off where they would begin to build the house.
By the time they had finished supper, it was dark and they all bedded down for the night.
Thomas was up with the sun and he roused the boys. They began to build the house while Catherin prepared breakfast. Two year old Rose helped Catherine with simple things throughout the days while Thomas and the boys worked on the house, but mostly, she played in the sunshine and watched the squirrels and birds.
After two weeks the little house was finally finished, and Catherin was happy to live in a permanent structure. She even enjoyed unpacking her dishes and pots and pans to set up her kitchen, and Rose had fun trying to sweep the floor.
Catherin’s eyes filled with tears as she watched Thomas and the boys, so physically tired from spending two weeks building the house, tread out to begin cultivating the field. She thanked the Lord that they would be sleeping in real beds tonight. She hoped they would feel much more rested tomorrow morning.
The soil was very gritty and it required arduous work to get crops to grow. As they farmed the land over the next three years, they found that Indian corn and wheat seemed to grow best in the difficult soil. At the end of the third year, the farm finally started showing a small profit.
* * * * *
Last year Catherin gave birth to another little girl. Little Margaret had just turned a year old last week. Rose, at the age of five, helped Catherin with the housework and caring for little Margaret.
Today, Frank, the youngest of the boys at ten years of age, was as excited as Rose. The family headed into the woods to choose a pine tree to bring home to decorate for Christmas, which was just a week away. The chores were all finished and they had to find a tree quickly because it would be getting dark in about an hour.
As the family walked through the woods inspecting every pine tree they saw, Rose found a pine tree she really liked. She wandered nearer to get a closer look. It was tall and slender. She watched a couple of little birds flitting around the top of the tree. When the little birds flew away, she turned around to look for her family, but they weren’t there. She ran back to where she had last been with them, but they had moved on.
“Da, Mam!” Rose called for her parents.
“Henry, Charles!” She tried calling for her older brothers.
No one called back. She stood still listening.
“Da, Mam, where are you?”
She knew not to wander because her family might come back to look for her when they realized she was missing, but the sun had already started sinking in the sky and it was getting dark in the woods. She tried not to be scared, but she couldn’t help it. She sat down at the base of an oak tree and cried.
The darkness grew and it began to get cold. She pulled her ragged little coat tighter around her and put the collar up around her neck.
“Please, God, help my family find me soon.”
As the hours passed, she began to hear the scary night sounds of the woods: the hoot of an owl, the distant howl of a wolf.
“Please, God, don’t let a hungry wolf or bear come this way tonight.”
She fought to keep her eyes open, but sleep soon overtook her.
While she slept, a large animal came and lay down beside her, lending its body warmth to keep her warm. She snuggled closer to the animal and slept on.
When she awoke, it was still really dark all around her. She realized there was an animal lying against her. She reached out and touched it with her hand. It rubbed its head against her.
“Where did you come from, Kitty?”
The animal stood up, and Rose got up and grabbed a handful of the animal’s thick fur. “Please don’t leave me, Kitty. I don’t like being alone in these dark woods.”
The animal rubbed against her and began to walk. She clung to its thick fur and walked with it. “Can you lead me home?”
The animal walked slowly enough for Rose to keep up.
After a while, Rose said, “I’m getting tired, Kitty. Can we rest soon?”
The animal continued to walk.
After a few more minutes, Rose saw a cabin with a light in the window. It wasn’t her house. The animal nudged her toward the cabin.
“You want me to go to the cabin door and knock?”
The animal nudged her with its nose.
Rose said, “Wait here for me, okay?”
She hesitantly walked up onto the little porch and gently knocked on the door. After a few minutes, she knocked a little harder and the door opened. A plump, white haired woman looked down at her.
“My goodness, child, where did you come from?”
“I got lost from my family in the woods last night when we were looking for a Christmas tree.”
“You mean to tell me, you’ve been out in the woods on this cold night wearing that threadbare coat? Well, you just come right in here and warm yourself by the fire. I’ll have breakfast on the table in just a few minutes, and Shane will be in from the barn soon.” She ushered Rose to a chair by the fire as she talked. Then, as she moved toward the kitchen, the back door opened and in came the biggest man Rose had ever seen.
“Shane, we’ve got ourselves a guest for breakfast. She’s sittin’ by the fire.”
Rose’s eyes grew wide and she shrank back into the chair as Shane approached.
“Aw, now there’s nothin’ to be afraid of. I may be big, but I wouldn’t hurt you, child. What’s your name?”
“Lands sake, you the little ‘un belongs to Thomas O’Connell lives just outside the woods on the interior of these Ozarks?”
Rose nodded her head.
Shane reached over and gently patted her hand. “Don’t you worry none. I’ll get you home after breakfast. How did you find our place?”
“The big kitty brought me here.”
“Big kitty? What big kitty?”
“I don’t know, but it kept me warm last night and brought me here this morning.”
Shane rubbed his chin and walked over to his wife in the kitchen.
He spoke quietly and Rose strained to hear what he said.
“Nora, did she tell you a big kitty brought her here?”
“No, dear, but I didn’t ask how she got here. I do know that she’s been out in the woods alone all night. Seems she wandered away from her family when they were looking for a Christmas tree.”
“Well, do you think she’s right in the head?”
“Course she is. She’s just a young’un with a vivid imagination who just came through what was probably the scariest night of her life.”
Nora put the food on the table, walked over and led Rose to the table for breakfast.
Rose didn’t know what she had said wrong, but she could tell that talking about the big kitty bothered the man, Shane, so she didn’t mention it again.
After breakfast, Shane said, “Well, little Rose, I’ll go get the wagon ready and take you back home.”
Rose smiled at him.
After he had gone out the door, she asked Nora, “Will you come along to take me home too?”
Nora smiled at the pretty little girl with curly red hair and a sprinkling of freckles. “Course I will. It’s just a short ride.”
When Nora and Rose went out to get in the wagon, Rose looked around for the big kitty. She didn’t see him until the wagon began to move. Then she spotted it just behind the tree line. He was following the wagon.
When the wagon pulled up in front of her house, she saw the big kitty hide behind some bushes and brambles near the tree line on the edge of their property. She climbed down from the wagon and whispered, “Thank you, Kitty.”
Before Shane, Nora and Rose reached the front door, Rose’s Mam came running from the house.
“Oh, Rose. We were so worried. Where were you?”
“I’m sorry, Mam. I was watching some little birds at the top of the Christmas tree, and when I turned around, you and Da and Henry, Charles, Frank, and Margaret were gone.”
“Rose!” Da and the boys exclaimed when they saw her, and little Margaret toddled over to her.
“Shane, how did you find my daughter?” Thomas asked.
“She showed up at our cabin early this morning. She said a big kitty had kept her warm in the woods during the night and led her to our place in the morning.”
“A big kitty?”
“Aye, that’s what I thought too. We don’t have large wild cats around here, except for the rare mountain lion, but that cat would be a danger to such a young’un.”
“I’m sure she’s mistaken. Probably imagined it because of being scared in the woods alone at night.”
“That’s what my Nora said too.”
Thomas and Catherin invited Shane and Nora in for coffee, but they politely declined. So Thomas and Catherin thanked them for bringing Rose home safely, and Shane and Nora climbed back into their wagon.
* * * * *
The O’Connell family went inside and Thomas pulled Rose upon his lap.
“Now, my little Rose, won’t you tell me about this big kitty you said helped you?”
“Yes, Da. He was big and his head was really hairy. The rest of his body wasn’t so hairy. I couldn’t grab the hair anywhere on his body, except around his head. He kept me warm by lying against me as I slept. He was gentle and tall. I had to lift my arm to hold onto the hair around his head, and he led me to Mr. Shane and Nora’s house. Then he nudged me with his nose to show me that he wanted me to go to their door.”
“Now, Rose, you know the difference between the truth and a lie, right?”
“Oh, yes, Da, and I promise, I am telling the truth.”
Da set Rose down on the floor, scratched his head, shook it, and went out the back door. In just a moment he was back looking a bit dazed.
“Thomas, what is it now?” Catherine asked.
“I just saw it.”
“I saw that big kitty of little Rose’s. At least I saw its back end with its long sleek tail with the tuft of hair on the end as it walked deeper into the woods. But, we don’t have those kinds of cats around here.”
“What kind of cat was it, Thomas?”
“Oh, Thomas, you must be mistaken.”
“I know what I saw Catherin.”
“Well, come over to the fire and let’s place the crib on the mantle now that our little Rose is home again.”
Thomas took Catherin’s hand and they joined the children near the fire. Henry had the crib setting on the table waiting. Each of the children placed pieces of the crib on the mantle: the boys placed the shepherds and wise men, little Margaret placed the sheep and oxen, Mam and Da placed Mary and Joseph and then Mam handed the baby Jesus to Rose.
Rose held the figure gently in her hand and looked at the babe for a long time. Then she kissed him and said, “Thank you, Jesus.”
“What are you thanking the baby Jesus for?” Frank wanted to know.
“For bringing me home safely.”
“I thought you said it was a big kitty.”
“It was, but Jesus was inside the big kitty. That’s why the kitty didn’t hurt me.”
Catherin smiled, tears glistening in her eyes and began to sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”. The rest of the family joined her as Rose placed the baby Jesus in the crib upon the mantle.