Have you ever lived where it gets so cold in the Winter time that you can see your breath when you wake up?
I did once, in another life, my childhood life...
The little adobe house was almost as old as the scattered town itself. Standing alone on a one acre plot of land, just a hp skip and a jump from the mouth of a windy canyon. It's thick wall's already yellowing from time, were no match for keeping the bitter cold out, not when the North Winds began blowing dried leaves into giant drifts, skirting the little house.
Inside a miniature wood stove had been situated in the center most part. "The heart of the home", Papa called it. But it looked more like the kitchen to the little girl called 'Caboose'.
That wasn't her real name, just an endearment name her Papa gave her, and it stuck. Her real name was Maybelle, She thought it sounded like a cows name.
On cold nights when the winds blew particular cold, everyone would gather around the little stove for warmth and evening story time. Its door pulled open to allow for maximum heating capabilities, was the perfect place for propping feet, warming stockinged feet.
While Papa wove magic into his tails, Mama would climb the newly built stairs to the newly built rooms in the little old attic, to fetch every ones night clothes, and leave a hot brick under the blankets at the foot of each bed. She said it was to cold for little bodies to change in any of the four tiny rooms down stairs, "And out of the question up stairs!"
That's where the girls slept, two to a bed two twin sized beds to a room. Grampa Ben had come during the summer to help add on those two badly needed rooms. The girls loved those room's, even though there was no insulation between the slopped walls and the ceder shank shingles just inches away.
Maybelle new Mama was right about those rooms being cold. Why, you had to keep your nose under the heavy layers of wool quilts, just to keep it from freezing off in the night! So she was very glad Mama gather the night clothes to the warmth of the kitchen for them. But it bothered her that Mama would just smile and say her feet were toasty enough, when asked to come sit a spell.
One particularly cold night, toward the end of October, Maybelle had been having a terrible bad dream, and woke up feeling very worried for Mama. So sneaking down the stairs, quiet as a mouse, to make sure mama was alright, she peeked to see mama sitting on the edge of the bed in er night clothes, with her shoes still on, and talking soft with Papa.
Maybelle knew Mama was alright now, but just couldn't turn herself around to go back to bed. Instead she watched as Mama blew out the lamp then leaned down to take off her shoes.
A tiny hand flying to catch the gasp that escaped as her Mama's shoes had come off revealing bare feet! Horrified she stood frozen on the spot watching as Mama rubbed her feet hard, then tucked herself into bed. She was sure Mama's toes would be nestling close to the hot brick tucked in the foot of each bed earlier at night.
Hurrying as fast as sneaking would allow, Maybelle climbed back to her bed where she buried her seven year old self under the covers and snuggled her heaving back against her sister's sleeping back and cried herself to sleep.
next morning found Maybelle running an errand for Mama, "Caboose Honey, I need you to take this bag of bread to Gramma Violet and Grampa Ben's for me. It seems I've over baked again." she smiled and winked, "You stay and help with chores if she asks, but don't just be under foot."
Once inside Gramma Violet's bright warm kitchen, it was obvious to her wise old eye's that little May, as Gramma called her, was very sad.
"What's wrong May? Are you not feeling well?" She puzzled. Bursting into tears at the same time she flung herself into Gramma's welcoming arms, she choked out her troubles, around heaving breaths and rivers of tears, "My Mama hasn't got no sock's to help keep her feet warm Gramma!"
If Gramma was shocked, surprised or sad, she never let on as she soothed little May. Once calmness was restored, a cup of warm milk offered and happily accepted. As the two sat quietly, a sudden sparkle twinkled in Gramma's old eye's, and Maybelle knew there was a solution coming.
"Child, Christmas time in coming right up. I think its time your learn to crochet. And it should be a pair of house slippers. But I don't want you to tell an soul, ya hear?" she smiled kindly, "I'll talk to your Ma and tell her I need your help here for a while. It will be our Christmas secret. Are ya game?"
May almost choked on her milk. "I ain't ever had a big Christmas secret before! Do ya really think I can learn crocheting Gramma? Really?"
Nodding she smiled, "Yes child, you can. And I'll be doin the teachin. You can use one of my old hook's, and I'll get you some yarn."
Maybelle knew all about 'Christmas secrets', she and all of her sister's each had a special box Papa had made for them, stored under their beds. Her sister's kept their secret projects in theirs she was sure. Hers didn't hold anything this important ever before.
"Come with me and we'll get you started." Gramma said as she headed briskly from the room. Little May hot on her heel's.
First to the yarn basket where Gramma let her choose a big ball of the yarn she had spun from the sheep Papa and Grampa Benn had sheared last spring. The next march was to the bedroom where Gramma retrieved a 'Secrets Bos' all her very own.
Sitting on the bed, the lid was lifted to reveal a new world of old treasures. Lifting a small bundle of broom straw warped in a tiny piece of homespun wool, unearthing a bundle made from a beautifully embroidered piece of muslin, which was lovingly lifted with reverent old hands. Maybelle knew it was a very important treasure from Gramma's actions and unspoken words alone. this bundle was unfolded as it lay on the bed, revealing a set of beautifully hand oiled, child's sized wooden crochet hooks. Gramma chose one hook and placed it gently but firmly into little May's sweaty little hand, turned and retraced the procedure just completed, in reverse.
"Come now child. And mind you don't loose that hook. My grandmother gave them to me when I was about your age. They are very important to me."
May Clutched it tightly to herself, walking as gingerly as if the worn wooden floor had transformed into egg shells.
Back to the kitchen little May sat on Gramma's lap with her gnarled old hands helping her yet unlearned hands learn the feel of hook meeting yarn. Morning became afternoon as time disappeared for the two of them. Grampa Ben's boots shuffling across the threshold brought them quickly back to reality. As lunch was prepared Grampa was also sworn to secrecy in the Christmas conspiracy.
Little May and Gramma spent time together every day, teaching, learning and talking. Soon Maybelle was working her slipper's while Gramma made hr knitting needles fly fairly fly on a few projects of her own.
Christmas morning arrived to reveal a room so cold Maybelle's breathe seemed to be frozen as it hung in the air before finally dissipating into wondered if it were possible for the hoer frost that blanketed the landscape, to someday be found covering the beds.
Knowing it was time to retrieve her secret packages from their hiding spot in her box, she reached as far as she could while keeping herself under the blankets. The last package she pulled from the box had been wrapped in brown paper and tied with a hair ribbon by Gramma Violet, then smuggled to May by Grampa Ben for her safe keeping, until Christmas morning.
The rule had always been that breakfast had to be eaten before gifts could be opened. Gramma and Grampa came early to spend the day. chatter was high as anticipation built. Finally, after what seemed like forever, everyone spilled into the room circling the little tree, Papa had brought in and Mama and the girl's had decorated the week before. Gramma asked if little May could present her gifts first.
"Why Caboose, thank you!" Papa said as he opened the package of cookies Mama had helped her make and wrap as gifts for each.
"What's this Punkin?", Mama asked with a curious tilt of her head as Maybelle lay a package on her lad, stepping back, fairly bursting at the seems.
As gently as if it night break apart in her finger's, the paper was pulled back to reveal oddly shaped house slippers, with stitches of the wide variety of newly learned tension. Lifting them to her heart with one hand and puling Maybelle into a tight hug, she whispered so only she could hear, "This is the most precious gift I have ever received. Thank you so much. How did you know it was what I dearly wanted?"
Next Gramma Violet passed a package she had brought to each of the family. Mama seemed a little embarrassed to be receiving a second package, and this one noticeably larger than the others. She looked questioningly into Gramma Violet's wise old eye's, then once again peeled back the paper to reveal a new shawl, and two pair of new sock's.
Tears spilled over as she touched each item and looked again toward Gramma, who in turn smiled through rear filled eyes of her own, as she answered the unasked question with a slight tilt of her head in little May's direction. Where she was dancing around holding, her very own little embroidered muslin wrapped set of wooden crochet hooks.
Every year for the rest of Mama's life, May would gift her with a new pair of house slippers and a flannel night gown.
Upon Mama's passing, her 'special box' that Papa had gifted his bride with so many years ago, was bequeathed to Maybelle. Inside the box lay a well worn shawl and the worn out pair of odd sized house slippers made from Gramma's yarn and May's uneven stitched from May's own unlearned finger's, with a note tucked inside, written in her mother's aged script:
"I prayed. He answered through you.
This is the most precious gift I have ever received.
I love you, my little Maybelle.