Authors: Bobby Hutchinson
Tags: #Sweet Historical Romance Novella
SNOW KISSED CHRISTMAS
Sweet Western Historical Romance
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Snow Kissed Christmas
Copyright © 2014 by Bobby Hutchinson
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SNOW KISSED CHRISTMAS
Christmas Eve, 1903
At the frosted kitchen window, Anna scratched a tiny hole and watched the snowflakes circling down. Her arms curled protectively around her belly, where the baby rolled and tumbled, getting a tiny foot stuck now and then in her ribs.
The doctor in Michel, the small British Columbia coal-mining village three miles away, had told Anna the baby would come early in March. Surely by then the coalmines would be working steady, and there’d be money to buy flannelette to make fresh diapers and gowns for the little one. So far Anna had only the worn garments left over from Sophie and Thomas’s babyhood, small stained shirts, threadbare diapers. The only new things were the white woolen sweater, booties and tiny cap her mother had knitted.
Anna’s heart clenched and tears came to her eyes when she thought of her mother. Maria Fenske had died of pneumonia, just over a month ago on November fifth, at three ten in the morning, in the tiny bedroom William had added on for her, just off the kitchen. Maria knew she was dying; she’d said goodbye to Sophie and Thomas the night before.
“Mormor’s going to heaven,” she’d told them in Swedish, in her usual forthright way.
Seven year old Sophie had started to cry. “But I don’t want you to go away,” she’d sobbed.
Thomas, at five, was more curious than upset. “Where is heaven, Mormor? Can we come?”
“Not now, someday. But you are to have my Bible, Thomas. And Sophie, you will have the blue shawl my own mother knitted. You will keep these things and think of your Mormor.”
Now there would be no more hats, gloves, socks from Maria’s clicking needles. The dear old woman had made a supply of knitted garments in the months before she died, socks and hats for the children, heavy mitts for William, the tiny items for the baby. Anna had hidden them away with the small horde of other Christmas gifts in the bottom of the trunk in the bedroom.
She wished there could be more gifts for Sophie and Thomas, but there was no money for anything but essentials. She’d made a doll for Sophie out of a wool sock, embroidered big blue eyes, a pert nose, red lips, added yellow yarn hair long enough to braid, made tiny clothes out of fabric scraps. William had carved and carefully painted a small black railroad engine and three boxcars for Thomas, who still believed in Santa Claus.
They’d all gone out together and cut a beautiful little pine tree, which now stood in a corner of the living room furthest from the heater. Anna had popped corn for Thomas and Sophie to string, and they’d hung pinecones and made paper garlands.
It was sad that Sophie didn’t any longer believe in Santa Claus. Some nasty girl at school had told her she was a baby, believing, and Sophie had cried in Anna’s arms. “But don’t tell Thomas, Mommy. He still needs to think there’s a real Santa.” Thomas had asked his sister to write a letter to Santa. “Tell him I’d really, really like some ski’s, sister,” Thomas had begged. It had broken Anna’s heart to have to tell her little boy that Santa had too many children on his list, and that ski’s were out of the question.
Her daughter’s concern for her brother had wound around Anna’s heart in a painful knot. Sophie hadn’t asked for anything for Christmas, and Anna knew it was because the little girl understood there was no money. But she was too young to lose her belief in magic. They were such good children, Anna and Thomas. Anna yearned to give them whatever their heart’s desired, but being poor meant growing up too fast and doing without.
It would be better if either she or William had relatives here, but he’d left an aunt and two uncles behind in Scotland when he came to Canada. His mother and father had died of the pox when William was just fifteen, so there were no grandparents anywhere for Sophie and Thomas now that Anna’s mother was gone. Her own father had climbed on a train when she was just a baby and never been seen again. Maria had worked as a cook in lumber camps and cleaned houses in Vancouver to support them. She’d made certain Anna went to school, and she’d taught her how to cook and sew. She’d tried with the knitting, but Anna hated knitting.
From now on, though, it would be up to Anna to try and make the warm garments her family needed in winter in this icy, snow filled valley. She sighed and glanced over at her sewing machine and the small stack of orders that must be ready for New Years, two dresses and a few aprons, not much because only the doctor’s wife and the wives of the mine bosses had money for new things. Still, even a few dollars helped.
In desperation, she’d started taking in sewing four months ago, when the mines went slack, and William only had work underground two or maybe three times a week. Each night they stood together, outside in the cold, listening for the mine whistle. If it blew twice, there was no work the next day. And more and more often, it blew twice.
William was a good man, but being out of work most of the time and worrying about money had made him short tempered. He and Anna had quarreled that morning, and he’d stormed off, walking to town to see if he could pick up a day’s work shoveling snow or washing dishes at the hotel.
Sophie tugged at her arm. “Mommy, Mommy, come. Papa Mazuruk’s at the door with the milk.”
Anna had been so lost in her thoughts she hadn’t even heard Teddy the dog barking. She hurried to the kitchen door. Steve Mazuruk was on the porch, his cheerful face red from the cold, his round eyeglasses steamed over and pushed down to the end of his knobby nose. The milk had a frozen hat of cream, and big soft flakes of snow blew in the door.
“Good afternoon, Anna. Happy Christmas, my Zaichiks.” He beamed at the children.
“Come in, Steve.” He stepped into the kitchen, stamping his boots on the rug and holding out the glass bottle of milk, and also a smaller bottle filled with rich yellow cream.
Anna began to shake her head and hand back the cream. She already owed Steve for the past week’s milk, they couldn’t afford the cream.
“Take, take,” he insisted. “For the top of the porridge, for the Zaichiks, for Christmas morning.” When she accepted the bottles, he used his fingers to clear the frost from his glasses, settled them on his nose and then reached down and lifted Thomas up, tossing him into the air.
“Happy, happy Christmas,” he bellowed, and Anna had to smile at his good nature. She’d asked what Zaichik meant, and Steve had said it was a small rabbit in the Russian language. So he was calling the children bunnies, and Anna loved it. She herself now called them her little Zaichiks now and again.
Steve and Lilya Mazuruk were their closest neighbors. They lived a half-mile away, down a hill on a farm by the Elk River. Although they were no real relation, they insisted the children call them Mama and Papa. The Mazuruk’s were the best neighbors anyone could hope for.
Sophie and Thomas were convinced the Mazuruk’s were rich, because they had running water in their house, a bathroom and a sauna in a separate small building off the back porch, and once when they visited, Mama Mazuruk gave them bananas, which Sophie and Thomas had never tasted before. It was true they were better off than most. Steve owned the local dairy, and also the only bakery in Michel.
But money didn’t buy happiness, as Anna’s mother had often reminded her. The Mazaruk’s only daughter, Mary, had died of spinal meningitis two years before. She was only eighteen. All they had left was their older son, Peter. He was an engineer on the CPR Railroad. Thomas adored Peter. He’d named his teddy bear after him, and the big man doted on Thomas whenever he saw him, but Peter didn’t come home often. William said he was a lady’s man, drinking and gambling when he wasn’t working.
“You will come for Christmas supper tonight,” Steve reminded Anna. “Mama, she cooks all day. I’ll shovel clean the path for you. Where is William?”
“He walked to town this morning to see about getting some extra work,” Anna said. “He should be back soon.” She glanced again at the frosted window, wishing William would hurry home before it snowed any more. The road to town would be drifted in, and it would be hard walking.
Steve shook his head. “He should come to me, your William. I need help at the dairy, he should come to me.”
But Anna knew that was the last thing William would do, because it was exactly what they’d argued about that morning. Anna had suggested William ask Steve if he needed part time help, and William had exploded.
“I will no take charity, Anna, and that’s what it would be. Ye know Steve would manufacture a job for me even if there was’nae one,” he’d hollered. “I’ll support me own family me own way.” And he’d stormed out, leaving Anna shaking. They hardly ever quarreled, and she’d felt sad and upset ever since.
“You come early to us, as soon as William gets home,” Steve insisted as he pulled the earflaps to his hat down and went out into the darkening afternoon. “Peter, he is home, and Mama, she waits for the Zaichiks.”
It was another long and worrisome hour later before the kitchen door burst open and William came in, unwinding his gray woolen scarf, brushing the icicles that his breath had made off the collar of his coat. He shucked it off and hung it by the stove, then bent to tug off his boots as Thomas clung to him with welcoming shouts of “Dada, Dada’s home, it’s Christmas, Dada, Santa’s coming tonight.”
“Let me just get these wet things off, laddie.” He winked at Sophie, ruffling her long blonde curls, and then picked Thomas up and turned him upside down, making the boy shriek with joy.
“There’s hot coffee in the pot, William, and I’ll heat you some soup,” Anna said, watching her tall, lanky husband tickle his son and hug his daughter. Was he still angry with her?
But in another moment, he’d set the children to making stars for the tree out of the silver cigarette paper from the pack in his shirt pocket, and when they were occupied, he came over and took her in his arms.
“Sorry fer being a holy terror this morning,” he whispered, cupping her head and kissing her hard. They’d been married eight years, and still his kisses and his touch sent electric shivers down her back. The baby kicked, probably irritated by being squashed between them, and Anna giggled.
William laughed as well, putting his palm over her belly. “Behave yerself, ye wee squirt,” he told the mound. And suddenly Anna felt better about everything, even though nothing had really changed. They still had no money, but they were warm, she had glass jars of fruit and vegetables and the fish William caught, all canned and lined up in the larder. There was sugar and rice and potatoes and apples in the storage shed. They had coal for the fire. They were warm and they wouldn’t starve. The mines would pick up again, William said they always did.