September 11, 2001 – September 11, 2018

9/11 tribute Mamacita says: I’m guessing that many most bloggers will be posting tributes today, and telling the blogosphere ‘where we were’ when the planes hit the World Trade Center. Here is mine. This is actually the seventeenth time I’ve posted this on 9/11, so if it seems familiar, you’re not crazy. Well, not on this issue, anyway.

==

The morning began like any other; we stood for the Pledge of Allegiance, and sat back down to watch Channel One News, which had been taped at 3:00 that morning in the school library, thanks to the timer. But Channel One News didn’t come on.

Channel One News, a news program aimed at teens, did not come on that day.

Instead, the secretary’s voice, over the intercom, told the teachers to “please check your email immediately.” We did. And we found out what had happened.

I scrolled down the monitor and read the end of the message. The superintendent had ordered all teachers to be absolutely mum all day about the tragedy. We were not to answer any questions from students, and we were especially not to offer any information to them.

The day went by in a blur. Many parents drove to the school, took their kids out, and brought them home. Between classes, frightened groups of students gathered in front of their lockers and whispered, gossiped, and cried, and begged us for information. By that time, the superintendent’s order had been seconded by the principals, and we were unable to give these terrified kids any information. In the computer labs, the MSN screens told the 8th graders the truth, but they, too, were instructed NOT to talk about it to the other students. Right, like THAT happened. The story was being repeated by 8th graders, and it was being told we’re-all-going-to-die style.

At noon, many of the students were picked up by parents and taken home or out for lunch. Those few who returned had a big tale to tell. The problem was, the tale was being told by children, and few if any of the facts were straight. The atmosphere in the building got more and more strained. We are only a few miles away from an immensely large Navy base, where ammunition and bombs are made, and we’ve always known it was a prime target, which means, of course, that we are, too. Many of my children’s parents worked there. The base was locked down and those parents did not come home that night.  Buses dropped children off at the empty, locked homes anyway.

frightened children

Administrative stupidity did this.

Reasonable questions were answered with silence, or the statement: “You’ll find out when you get home.”  This, to children who weren’t even sure they still had a home to get to.  A rumor mill can be a horrible thing.

This, added to all the rumors and gossip spread by children, turned my little sixth graders into terrified toddlers.

As teachers, we were furious and disgusted with the superintendent’s edict. We wanted to call all the students into the gym and calmly tell them the truth in words and ways that would be age-appropriate. We wanted to hug them and assure them that it was far away and they were safe. We asked for permission to do this, and it was denied. Our orders were ‘silence.’ We hadn’t been allowed to hug them for years, of course, but there are times and places when hugs ARE appropriate. No matter, the superintendent stood firm: no information whatsoever.  Other administrators in other school systems were doing it right – calling assemblies and explaining calmly to their terrified children exactly what had happened, and assuring the children that they were safe

Not our administrators.  “Tell them NOTHING” was their edict, and we had to follow it or face the consequences, and the consequences for insubordination in this school system are devastating.

The day went by, more slowly than ever a day before. The students grew more and more pale and frightened. We asked again, and again he stood firm that no information whatsoever was to be given out.

By the end of the day, the children were as brittle as Jolly Rancher Watermelon Stix.

Jolly Rancher Watermelon Stix. Brittle as a traumatized child.

Jolly Rancher Watermelon Stix. Brittle as a traumatized child.

A few minutes before the bell rang to send them home, a little girl raised her hand and in a trembling voice that I will never forget, asked me a question. “Please, is it true that our parents are dead and our houses are burned down?”

That was it. I gathered my students close and in a calm voice explained to them exactly what had happened. I told them their parents were alive and safe, and that they all still had homes to go to.

The relief was incredible. I could feel it cascading all through the room.

I was, of course, written up for insubordination the next day, but I didn’t care. My phone had rung off the hook that night with parents thanking me for being honest with their children. That was far more important than a piece of paper that said I’d defied a stupid inappropriate order meted out by a man who belonged in the office of a used car lot, not in a position of power over children’s lives.

I'm the superintendent and I am stupid. Very, very stupid.

I’m the superintendent and I am stupid. Very, very stupid.

The next day at school, in my room, we listened to some of the music that had been ‘specially made about the tragedy. I still have those cd’s and I’ve shared them with many people over the past few years. It is true that kids cried again, but it was good to cry. It was an appropriate time to cry. We didn’t do spelling or grammar that day. There are times when the “business as usual” mindset simply is not appropriate.

I wish administrators would realize that kids are a lot tougher than we might think. Kids are also a lot more sensitive that we might realize. It’s an odd combination, and we as educators must try our best to bring the two ends of the emotional spectrum together and help these kids learn to deal with horrible happenings and still manage to get through the day as well as possible.

9/11 tribute torch

We will always overcome.

Ignoring an issue will not help. Morbidly focusing on an issue will not help. Our children are not stupid, and to treat them as such is not something that builds trust. Our children deserve answers to their questions.

How can we expect our children to learn to find a happy medium if we don’t show them, ourselves, when opportunities arise?

I’m still so very sorry, children, that I was forced to participate in that dreadful conspiracy of silence when just a few spoken words might have eased your minds.

September 11, 2001 – September 11, 2018. God bless us, every one.

Hoosier Persimmon Pudding and Weather Predictions

Mamacita says: Autumn is almost here – not quite, but almost –  and it’s time to make persimmon pudding.  Most of you don’t live where there are persimmons, and I’m betting that many of you don’t even know what a persimmon is. That’s probably not your fault, because persimmons don’t grow in too many places; however, southern Indiana is a persimmon tree’s favorite home, and the trees grow healthy and prolific here. In this community, most people pick the persimmons 

Jane Goodwin, Scheiss Weekly, Mamacitaoff the ground and run them through a special grinder to make the pulp. We can also buy commercially frozen pulp at any grocery store here, but it’s not fit to eat that way, and it’s best to use pulp you made, yourself, or that someone else just made. It keeps in the freezer for several years. My fantastic and generous Cousin Carol gives me persimmon pulp, fresh from her parents’ back yard, and I make homemade bread for her family.  I think I get the better part of the deal.

That’s right.  In southern Indiana we just go out in somebody’s back yard and pick persimmons up out of the dirt.  They’re best that way, and we rinse them off before we grind them up.

You pays your money and you takes your chances.

Hoosiers use persimmon pulp for many delightful things, but the favorite by far is Jane Goodwin, Hoosier Persimmon Puddingpersimmon pudding. It’s a specialty. . . a delicacy, as it were, that you’ll seldom find outside the Midwest, and in southern Indiana, you’ll find the best of the best.

Hint: Don’t EVER taste a green persimmon, unless you like the sensation a blast of raw alum gives to your lips and tongue. Persimmons must be ripe before they can be used. VERY ripe. Asking someone you’re mad at to just “touch your tongue to this green persimmon for a second” is a fun, albeit cruel (depending on the age of the taster) trick to play on someone. Raw alum on the tongue. Yum. It’s a sensation vaguely akin to being turned inside out by the tongue.

On second thought, everybody should try that at least once. How else can you appreciate the fun of doing it to someone else?  It’s scientific.  Besides, until you try it, you won’t believe the sensation.  It’s really not easily describable.

By request (ask, and ye shall receive) here is my very own tried-and-true persimmon pudding recipe again. I’ve tweaked it over the years until it became perfection in a pan.

Hoosiers can be very protective and possessive of their persimmon pudding recipes, but I’m not. People always ask me for it, so here it is:

Jane’s Persimmon Puddingpersimmons

First of all, preheat your oven to 325 degrees. NO HOTTER.

Get out a very large bowl.

Put the following ingredients in it:

2 C. persimmon pulp (Use fresh or frozen; the canned stuff is terrible.)

1/4 cup sour cream

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 C sugar (I use Truvia)

1 C brown sugar (don’t use fake)  (It’s brown sugar, so there are no calories.)  (Shut up.)

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt (don’t leave it out!!!!) (don’t use fake salt, either.)

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla

2 eggs

2 C flour

2 1/2 C evaporated milk (not sweetened milk)

1/4 cup softened butter (not oil) (not margarine, either.)

Put everything in that large bowl and mix thoroughly. Use an electric mixer if you don’t think you can get it blended by hand. Get the lumps out.

Pour mixture into a large buttered baking pan.

Put the pan in the preheated oven. Set your timer for 60 minutes.

After the timer goes off, stick a toothpick in the center of the pudding. Clean? It’s done.

Let it cool just enough to slice. Most people like to top it with whipped cream. Non-Hoosiers often sprinkle nuts on it.

You can also add coconut or pecans or cocoa to the mixture, but then it’s not Hoosier Persimmon Pudding. Your call.

Oh, and by the way. . . the persimmon seeds are saying that it’s going to be a mild winter.  That’s what I said.  The persimmon seeds can predict winter weather.    Try it and see.. It’s as reliable as the weatherman and maybe more so.  At any rate, this method has been around a lot longer than the weatherman.

Persimmon seeds can predict winter weather. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

Just to be on the safe side – no weather prediction is to be trusted -, be sure you put your snow shovel where you can grab it quickly.  Make sure everybody has warm coats and gloves.  If you put salt on your driveway or sidewalks, buy it now before the snow starts and the prices go up.  It’s also a good idea to make sure everybody at the office or factory or school or restaurant or whatever your place of business might be, knows the snow day policies.  I tell my students that if the weather conditions are dangerous, to stay home, no matter what the radio announcer is telling them the official stance is.  Nothing is worth a life.

However, if a student calls me at home and asks, I will always say “yes, come to class.”  Because they’ve been told how to find out and I didn’t take them to raise.  I also develop a mean streak when there’s a blizzard out there and someone phones me at 6 a.m. to ask me something that’s all over the radio AND on the syllabus AND was part of the lecture last week.

Oh, okay, I don’t really tell them that.  But I do snarl. At that hour of the morning, I can be very snarly.  How snarly?  I hope you never find out.

Bread and Discipline

The best bread is created by enthusiastic kneading. So are the best children.

Mamacita says:  If you want to create well behaved, disciplined c̶h̶i̶l̶d̶r̶e̶n̶ bread that is capable of  e̶x̶c̶e̶l̶l̶i̶n̶g̶  unparalleled flavor, soaring to the clouds with lightness of spirit, delicious down to the very  t̶o̶e̶s̶ last crumb in the bowl, you have to come down hard sometimes.  You don’t get good bread  c̶h̶i̶l̶d̶r̶e̶n̶  with nothing but gentle coddling.

Is bread the better for kneading?  So is the heart.  Knead it then by spiritual exercises; or God must knead it by afflictions.  ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare

Mamacita says:  My family always knew when  I’d had a particularly rough day in the public school;  almost the very minute I got home, I would get out the ginorous stainless steel bowl and start throwing flour, yeast, sugar, salt, butter, eggs, and milk in  it.   Then, I’d set it on the stove top – no burners turned on! – and wait for an hour.

An hour later, the mixture would have risen to the very tippy-top of that huge bowl.  Then came the therapy.

I would sprinkle flour over my very scrubbed kitchen table, turn the dough onto it, give it a name, and beat the shit out of it. The angrier I was, the better the bread was.

You see, with yeast bread, you really can’t knead it hard enough.  With quick breads, you really don’t want to mix them very much.  You can’t make quick bread when you’re angry.

But yeast bread?

I can’t put into words how therapeutic it is to use your hands to hit, hit, hit that pliable lump of dough, knowing in the back of your mind that what you’d really like to be doing is hitting something else, but knowing you’re not the hitting kind, so you make bread and hit, hit, hit it over and over again.  Fold it over and use the heels of your hands to push, push, push it into shape. Knead it through four or five songs; sing along if you want.  Knead rhythmically.  The bread, if it’s made of the right stuff, will respond.  Yes, it will change.

Unlike the real target of your anger, the bread will let you bully it into shape.

You can bully that lump of dough into loaves, into rolls, into doughnuts, into fancy star-shaped things of such lightness – because they’ve been properly molded, you see – that they fairly float up to the clouds.  You can require that lump of dough to become something people will beg for, request, ask for by name.  You can sprinkle sugar on it, melt butter on it, shake some cinnamon over  it . . . .

Whatever you do to it, however you shape it, whatever you sprinkle on it, will be wonderful, because before you made it presentable to society, you made bloody sure it was going to behave itself and do what it was supposed to do.

Once the dough has been taught to behave, it can then soar to the clouds.  It will then deserve butter, cinnamon, sugar, pecans, whatever you decide to enhance it with.  Without that severe kneading, your dough will not respond properly and anything else you do to it will be wasted effort.

Now, don’t get all huffy with me.  I’m not advocating hitting.  I might, however, be recommending some discipline and some self-control.  I might be hinting that nobody deserves anything until it’s rightfully earned.  I might be connoting that before anyone gets all fancied up, he/she should be ready to deserve it.  I might be outright, downright stating what I’ve outright, downright stated so many times before: nobody deserves anything he/she hasn’t rightfully earned.

Whether that be sugar and cinnamon, butter, toys-when-it’s-not-Christmas, parties, privileges, ice cream, a turn at the playground swings, a promotion, a life outside of a jail cell, a driver’s license, a good job, or a good grade: it doesn’t matter.  Earn it or go without.

I’ll say it again:  Life is full of choices.  Choose to get behind the wheel of a car when you’re in no fit condition, and you’ve also chosen to deny yourself most other privileges you might have had free reign over had you not been such a duck-billed jackass.

Once you’ve whipped your dough into shape,  you put it in the oven.  Don’t think for a moment that your job is over, because you have to watch over it carefully while it’s in there.  Take it out too soon, or leave it in too long, and all you’ve got is a mess.  Be vigilant.

And if you do your job, the dough will do its job, and everybody in the world will be better for its existence.

Here’s how to do it:

Step One:  H̶a̶v̶e̶ ̶a̶ ̶l̶o̶t̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶s̶e̶x̶ ̶u̶n̶t̶i̶l̶ ̶y̶o̶u̶ ̶g̶e̶t̶ ̶p̶r̶e̶g̶n̶a̶n̶t̶.̶

Step One: Get out a ginormous bowl.

Step Two:  Put 1/4 cup of yeast and a cup and a half of lukewarm water in the bowl.  Stir in a tablespoon of sugar.

Step Three:  To this mixture, add six eggs, two sticks of melted butter, four teaspoons of salt, and two cups of milk.  Any kind of milk will work, even buttermilk or milk that’s a few days past the freshline.

Step Four:  Start dumping flour in the bowl.   Begin with four cups, and just go from there.  Add flour and blend until you’ve got a bowl full of dough that just feels right.

Step Five:  Set the bowl on the back of the stove and go play Facebook Bejeweled for an hour.

Step Six:  Poke your finger into the dough.  If it leaves a dent that doesn’t fill back up, it’s ready to knead some more.  Knead it through three or four more songs.

Step Seven:  Start shaping wads of the dough into loaves, and put each in a well-buttered loaf pan.

Step Eight.  Roll out a wad of the dough and use your biscuit cutter to make rolls.  They won’t look like biscuits after they rise.

Step Nine:  If you have any dough left, roll it out thin, spread butter over it, and sprinkle it with sugar and cinnomon.  Roll it up.  Cut it into medallions, or stuff the intact rolled-up log into a big pan, or shape it like a heart.  Use your imagination.  Go nuts.  Speaking of nuts, you can sprinkle them on your rolled-out dough along with the butter, sugar, and cinnamon if you like nuts.

Step Ten:  Let it all rise again for about a half hour.

Step Eleven:  Turn your oven on to 375, and put the loaves in.  They will need about a half hour.  After 30 minutes, just keep checking.

Step Twelve:  After all your loaves are baked, turn your oven up a notch to 425.  Put your rolls in, and watch them carefully; they need about fifteen minutes.

Step Lucky Thirteen:  Last of all, put your rolled-up cinnamon goodies in the oven.  They will need about fifteen minutes, also, unless you’ve got a loaf, in which case it will need about a half hour.  Be sure your pans are well-buttered, because the sugar will leak out and stick.  If you like your buns sticky (heh) put some pancake syrup, honey, and vanilla in the bottom of your pan and set the sliced rolls on top.  Watch these even more carefully than you watched the plainer breads.

Step Fourteen:  Bag everything up because homemade breads get stale fast.  Set some aside for your family, and put the rest in a box.  Get in your car with the box and start giving your bread away.

Step Fifteen:  Accept the gratitude and praise gracefully.  Understand that without all that careful preparation, you would not have delicious and beautiful breads for your family and friends to eat.  Realize that everything worth doing requires effort and dedication.  Remember that to deserve recognition and praise of any kind, you first have to do something worthy of recognition and praise.

Remember that the lump of dough would be nothing but a grayish inedible smelly lump of ick fit only to bury in the back yard in the dead of night, in shame, if you didn’t do it right.  Understand that when you DO do it right, you’ve got wondrous treasure that other people will also recognize and desire.

Then take a good long look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself:  Am I kneading myself properly?  Am I kneading my children in such a way that they will know and understand how to do this by themselves when the time comes? Do we do what is right no matter what, or do we settle for what is easy?  Am I teaching my children, and myself, to work for what they want, or to go without it?

You’d better be.

Because if you expect things handed to you without effort, and are enabling your children to expect the same entitlements, you’re a bad, bad parent, a bad, bad person.

P.S.  That’s a real yeast bread recipe.  I’m making some tonight, as a matter of fact, and I feel better already.

And guess who I’m hitting, hitting, hitting, over and over and over again?  Yep, you got it.

SCUM.

The Presidents Speak. All of Them.

The official seal of the President of the United States

Mamacita says:  Each president our country has had, has contributed many quotations.  These quotations sort of set the scene for the kind of person that president is, the way that president intends to preside, and the policies, both personal and national, that president stands for.

We have had forty-five presidents now.  Each is represented by one of his quotations, while in office.  Enjoy.

1.  To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace. — George Washington (1789–1797)

2. I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessing on this house (the White House) and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof! — John Adams (1797–1801)

3. That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves. — Thomas Jefferson (1801–1809)

4. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. — James Madison (1809–1817)

5. It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising their sovereignty. Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and an usurper soon found. The people themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin. — James Monroe (1817–1825)

6. If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. — John Quincy Adams (1825–1829)

7. As long as our government is administered for the good of the people, and is regulated by their will; as long as it secures to us the rights of persons and of property, liberty of conscience and of the press, it will be worth defending. — Andrew Jackson (1829–1837)

8. The less government interferes with private pursuits, the better for general prosperity. — Martin Van Buren (1837–1841)

9. A decent and manly examination of the acts of the Government should be not only tolerated, but encouraged. — William Henry Harrison (1841)

10. Let it be henceforth proclaimed to the world that man’s conscience was created free; that he is no longer accountable to his fellow man for his religious opinions, being responsible therefore only to his God. — John Tyler (1841–1845)

11. No president who performs his duties faithfully and conscientiously can have any leisure. — James Knox Polk (1845–1849)

12. I have no private purpose to accomplish, no party objectives to build up, no enemies to punish—nothing to serve but my country. — Zachary Taylor (1849–1850 )

13. May God save the country, for it is evident that the people will not. — Millard Fillmore (1850–1853)

14. The dangers of a concentration of all power in the general government of a confederacy so vast as ours are too obvious to be disregarded. — Franklin Pierce (1853–1857)

15. I like the noise of democracy. — James Buchanan (1857–1861)

16. America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. — Abraham Lincoln (1861–1865)

17. If the rabble were lopped off at one end and the aristocrat at the other, all would be well with the country. — Andrew Johnson (1865–1869)

18. Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate. — Ulysses S. Grant (1869–1877)

19. It is now true that this is God’s Country, if equal rights—a fair start and an equal chance in the race of life — are everywhere secured to all. — Rutherford B. Hayes (1877–1881)

20. Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained. — James A. Garfield (1881)

21. I may be president of the United States, but my private life is nobody’s damned business. — Chester A. Arthur (1881–1885)

22. It is the responsibility of the citizens to support their government. It is not the responsibility of the government to support its citizens. — Stephen Grover Cleveland (1885–1889)

23. We Americans have no commission from God to police the world. — Benjamin Harrison — (1889–1893)

24. Officeholders are the agents of the people, not their masters. — Grover Cleveland (1893-1897)

25. Unlike any other nation, here the people rule, and their will is the supreme law. It is sometimes sneeringly said by those who do not like free government, that here we count heads. True, heads are counted, but brains also . . . — William McKinley (1897–1901)

26. The only man who makes no mistake is the man who does nothing. — Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909)

27. Politics, when I am in it, makes me sick. — William Howard Taft (1909–1913)

28. If you want to make enemies, try to change something. — Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1913–1921)

29. Our most dangerous tendency is to expect too much of government, and at the same time do for it too little. — Warren G. Harding (1921–1923)

30. Character is the only secure foundation of the state. John Calvin Coolidge (1923–1929)

31. Absolute freedom of the press to discuss public questions is a foundation stone of American liberty. — Herbert Clark Hoover (1929–1933)

32. Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort. — Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933–1945)

33. We need not fear the expression of ideas—we do need to fear their suppression. — Harry S. Truman (1945–1953)

34. There is nothing wrong with America that the faith, love of freedom, intelligence and energy of her citizens cannot cure. — Dwight David Eisenhower (1953–1961)

35. If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. — John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1961–1963)

36. You ain’t learnin’ nothin’ when you’re talkin’. — Lyndon Baines Johnson (1963–1969)

37. Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember, others may hate you. Those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself. — Richard Milhous Nixon (1969–1974)

38. A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have. — Gerald Rudolph Ford (1974–1977)

39. We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles. — James Earl Carter, Jr. (1977–1981)

40. We are a nation that has a government—not the other way around. And that makes us special among the nations of the earth. — Ronald Wilson Reagan (1981–1989)

41. The United States is the best and fairest and most decent nation on the face of the earth. — George Herbert Walker Bush (1989–1993)

42. There is nothing wrong in America that can’t be fixed with what is right in America. — William Jefferson Clinton (1993–2001)

43. Recognizing and confronting our history is important. Transcending our history is essential. We are not limited by what we have done, or what we have left undone. We are limited only by what we are willing to do. — George Walker Bush (2001-2009)

44. My job is not to represent Washington to you, but to represent you to Washington. — Barack Obama (2009 – 2017)

45.  It doesn’t really matter what (they) write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.  — Donald Trump (2016 – present)

Love Alone Can Awaken Love: A Father’s Day Story

The Star of Bethlehem

Mamacita says:  This is, technically, a Christmas story, but I always think of it as a Father’s Day story.  It’s early to be posting about Father’s Day, but here we are.  This story is about love, pure love. It’s about the love of a man for his wife, which became possible because of the love of a father for his son.

This is one of my favorite short stories. It was in the Literature book my 6th graders used for many years; I was sorry to see that for the latest edition, new my last year of teaching public school, the editors had chosen to remove this story. Their reasoning? “Too many kids these days have no father and would probably not understand the story.”

I am horrified.

Here is the story that was removed from this Literature series. I hope you all love it as much as I do.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I never once heard you say that you loved any of us, but I always knew you did because of your actions. And sometimes, in spite of your actions.

==

“Christmas Day in the Morning”  by Pearl S. Buck

He woke suddenly and completely.  It was four o’clock, the hour at which his father had always called him to get up and help with the milking.  Strange how the habits of his youth clung to him still!  Fifty years ago, and this father had been for thirty years, and yet he waked at four o’clock in the morning.  He had trained himself to turn over and go to sleep, but this morning, because it was Christmas, he did not try to sleep.

Yet what was the magic of Christmas now?  His childhood and youth were long past, and his own children had grown up and gone.  Some of them lived only a few miles away but they had their own families, and though they would come in as usual toward the end of the day, they had explained with infinite gentleness that they wanted their children to build Christmas memories about their houses, not his.  He was left alone with his wife.

Yesterday she had said, “It isn’t worthwhile, perhaps–”

And he had said, “Oh, yes, Alice, even if there are only the two of us, let’s have a Christmas of our own.”

Then she had said, “Let’s not trim the tree until tomorrow, Robert — just so it’s ready when the children come.  I’m tired.”

He had agreed, and the tree was still out in the back entry.

Why did he feel so awake tonight?  For it was still night, a clear and starry night.  No moon, of course, but the stars were extraordinary!  Now that he thought of it, the stars seemed always large and clear before the dawn of Christmas Day.  There was one star now that was certainly larger and brighter than any of the others.  He could even imagine it moving, as it had seemed to him to move one night long ago.

He slipped back in time, as he did so easily nowadays.  He was fifteen years old and still on his father’s farm.  He loved his father.  He had not known it until one day a few days before Christmas, when he had overheard what his father was saying to his mother.

“Mary, I hate to call Rob in the mornings.  He’s growing so fast and he needs his sleep.  If you could see how he sleeps when I go in to wake him up!  I wish I could manage alone.”

“Well, you can’t, Adam.”  His mother’s voice was brisk.  “Besides, he isn’t a child anymore.  It’s time he took his turn.”

“Yes,” his father said slowly.  “But I sure do hate to wake him.”

When he heard these words, something in him woke: his father loved him!  He had never thought of it before, taking for granted the tie of their blood.  Neither his father nor his mother talked about loving their children – they had no time for such things.  There was always so much to do on a farm.

Now that he knew his father loved him, there would be no more loitering in the mornings and having to be called again.  He got up after that, stumbling blind with sleep, and pulled on his clothes, his eyes tight shut, but he got up.

And then on the night before Christmas, that year when he was fifteen, he lay for a few minutes thinking about the next day.  They were poor, and most of the excitement was in the turkey they had raised themselves and in the mince pies his mother made.  His sisters sewed presents and his mother and father always bought something he needed, not only a warm jacket, maybe, but something more, such as a book.  And he saved and bought them each something, too.
He wished, that Christmas he was fifteen, he had a better present for his father.  As usual he had gone to the ten-cent store and bought a tie.  It had seemed nice enough until he lay thinking the night before Christmas, and then he wished that he had heard his father and mother talking in time for him to save for something better.

He lay on his side, his head supported by his elbow, and looked out of his attic window.  The stars were bright, much brighter than he ever remembered seeing them, and one star in particular was so bright that he wondered if it were really the Star of Bethlehem.

“Dad,” he had once asked when he was a little boy, “what is a stable?”

“It’s just a barn,” his father had replied, “like ours.”

Then Jesus had been born in a barn, and to a barn the shepherds and the Wise Men had come, bringing their Christmas gifts!

The thought struck him like a silver dagger.  Why should he not give his father a special gift too, out there in the barn?  He could get up early, earlier than four o’clock, and he could creep into the barn and get all the milking done.  He’d do it alone, milk and clean up, and then when his father went in to start the milking, he’d see it all done.  And he would know who had done it.

He laughed to himself as he gazed at the stars.  It was what he would do, and he mustn’t sleep too sound.

He must have waked twenty times, scratching a match each time to look at his old watch — midnight, and half past one, and then two o’clock.

At a quarter to three he got up and put on his clothes.  He crept downstairs, careful of the creaky boards, and let himself out.  The big star hung lower over the barn roof, a reddish gold.  The cows looked at him, sleepy and surprised.  It was early for them too.

“So, boss,” he whispered.  They accepted him placidly and he fetched some hay for each cow and then got the milking pail and the big milk cans.

He had never milked all alone before, but it seemed almost easy.  He kept thinking about his father’s surprise.  His father would come in and call him, saying that he would get things started while Rob was getting dressed.  He’d go to the barn, open the door, and then he’d go to get the two big empty milk cans.  But they wouldn’t be waiting or empty; they’d be standing in the milkhouse, filled.

“What the –” he could hear his father exclaiming.

He smiled and milked steadily, two strong streams rushing into the pail, frothing and fragrant.  The cows were still surprised but acquiescent.  For once they were behaving well, as though they knew it was Christmas.

The task went more easily than he had ever known it to before.  Milking for once was not a chore.  It was something else, a gift to his father who loved him.  He finished, the two milk cans were full, and he covered them and closed the milkhouse door carefully, making sure of the latch.  He put the stool in its place by the door and hung up the clean milk pail.  Then he went out of the barn and barred the door behind him.

Back in his room he had only a minute to pull off his clothes in the darkness and jump into bed, for he heard his father up.  He put the covers over his head to silence his quick breathing.  The door opened.

“Rob!” his father called.  “We have to get up, son, even if it is Christmas.”

“Aw-right,” he said sleepily.

“I’ll go on out,” his father said.  “I’ll get things started.”

The door closed and he lay still, laughing to himself.  In just a few minutes his father would know.  His dancing heart was ready to jump from his body.

The minutes were endless — ten, fifteen, he did not know how many — and he heard his father’s footsteps again.  The door opened and he lay still.

“Rob!”

“Yes, Dad –”

“You son of a –”  His father was laughing, a queer sobbing sort of a laugh.  “Thought you’d fool me, did you?” His father was standing beside his bed, feeling for him, pulling away the cover.

“It’s for Christmas, Dad!”

He found his father and clutched him in a great hug.  He felt his father’s arms go around him.  It was dark and they could not see each other’s faces.

“Son, I thank you.  Nobody ever did a nicer thing –”

“Oh, Dad, I want you to know — I do want to be good!”  The words broke from him of their own will.  He did not know what to say.  His heart was bursting with love.

“Well, I reckon I can go back to bed and sleep,” his father said after a moment.  “No, hark — the little ones are waked up.  Come to think of it, son, I’ve never seen you children when you first saw the Christmas tree.  I was always in the barn.  Come on!”

He got up and pulled on his clothes again and they went down tot he Christmas tree, and soon the sun was creeping up to where the star had been.  Oh, what a Christmas, and how his heart has nearly burst again wtih shyness and pride as his father told his mother and made the younger children listen about how he, Rob, had got up all by himself.

“The best Christmas gift I ever had, and I’ll remember it, son, every year on Christmas morning, so long as I live”

They had both remembered it, and now that his father was dead he remembered it alone; that blessed Christmas dawn when, alone with the cows in the barn, he had made his first gift of true love.

Outside the window now the great star slowly sank.  He got up out of bed and put on his skippers and bathrobe and went softly upstairs to the attic and found the box of Christmas-tree decorations.  He took them downstairs into the living room.  Then he brought in the tree.  It was a little one — they had not had a big tree since the children went away — but he set it in the holder and put it in the middle of the long table under the window.  Then carefully he began to trim it.
It was done very soon, the time passing as quickly as it had that morning long ago in the barn.

He went to his library and fetched the little box that contained his special gift to his wife, a star of diamonds, not large but dainty in design.  He had written the card for it the day before.  He tied the gift on the tree and then stood back.  It was pretty, very pretty, and she would be surprised.

But he was not satisfied.  He wanted to tell her — to tell her how much he loved her.  It had been a long time since he had really told her, although he loved her in a very special way, much more than he ever had when they were young.

He had been fortunate that she had loved him — and how fortunate that he had been able to love!  Ah, that was the true joy of life, the ability to love!  For he was quite sure that some people were genuinely unable to love anyone.  But love was alive in him, it still was.

It occurred to him suddenly that it was alive because long ago it had been born in him when he knew his father loved him.  That was it: love alone could waken love.

And he could give the gift again and again.  This morning, this blessed Christmas morning, he would give it to his beloved wife.  He could write it down in a letter for her to read and keep forever.  He went to his desk and began his love letter to his wife” My dearest love. . ..

When it was finished he sealed it and tied it on the tree where she would see it first thing when she came into the room.  She would read it, surprised and then moved, and realize how very much he loved her.

He put out the light and went tiptoeing up the stairs.  The star in the sky was gone, and the first rays of the sun were gleaming in the sky.  Such a happy, happy Christmas!