THE CHRISTMAS BARREL
Next day the second train came. After its departing whistle had died away, Pa and Mr. Boast came down the street carrying a barrel between them. They upended it through the doorway and stood it in the middle of the front room.
“Here’s that Christmas barrel!” Pa called to Ma.
He brought his hammer and began pulling nails out of the barrelhead, while they all stood around it waiting to see what was in it. Pa took off the barrelhead. Then he lifted away some thick brown paper that covered everything beneath.
Clothes were on top. First Pa drew out a dress of beautifully fine, dark-blue flannel. The skirt was full pleated and the neat, whaleboned basque was buttoned down the front with cut-steel but- tons.
“This is about your size, Caroline,” Pa beamed. “Here, take it!” and he reached again in- to the barrel.
He took out a fluffy, light-blue fascinator for Mary, and some warm flannel underthings. He took out a pair of black leather shoes that exactly fitted Laura. He took out five pairs of white woolen stockings, machine-knit. They were much finer and thinner than home-knit ones.
Then he took out a warm, brown coat, a little large for Carrie, but it would fit her next winter. And he took out a red hood and mittens to go with it.
Next came a silk shawl!
“Oh, Mary!” Laura said. “The most beautiful thing—a shawl made of silk! It is dove-colored, with fine stripes of green and rose and black and the richest, deep fringe with all those colors shimmering in it. Feel how soft and rich and heavy the silk is,” and she put a corner of the shawl in Mary’s hand.
“Oh, lovely!” Mary breathed.
“Who gets this shawl?” Pa asked, and they all said, “Ma!” Such a beautiful shawl was for Ma, of course. Pa laid it on her arm, and it was like her, so soft and yet firm and well-wearing, with the fine, bright colors in it.
“We will all take turns wearing it,” Ma said. “And Mary shall take it with her when she goes to college.”
“What is there for you, Pa?” Laura asked jealously. For Pa there were two fine, white shirts, and a dark brown plush cap.
“That isn’t all,” said Pa, and he lifted out of the barrel one, two little dresses. One was blue flannel, one was green-and-rose plaid. They were too small for Carrie and too big for Grace, but Grace would grow to fit them. Then were was an A-B-C book printed on cloth, and a small, shiny Mother Goose book of the smoothest paper, with a colored picture on the cover.
There was a pasteboard box full of bright- colored yarns and another box filled with em- broidery silks and sheets of perforated thin card- board, silver-colored and gold-colored. Ma gave both boxes to Laura, saying, “You gave away the pretty things you had made. Now here are some lovely things for you to work with.”
Laura was so happy that she couldn’t say a word. The delicate silks caught on the roughness of her fingers, scarred from twisting hay, but the beautiful colors sang together like music, and her fingers would grow smooth again so that she could embroider on the fine, thin silver and gold. “Now I wonder what this can be?” Pa said, as he lifted from the very bottom of the barrel something bulky and lumpy that was wrapped around and around with thick brown paper.
“Jerusalem crickets!” he exclaimed. “If it isn’t our Christmas turkey, still frozen solid!”
He held the great turkey up where all could see. “And fat! Fifteen pounds or I miss my guess.” And as he let the mass of brown paper fall, it thumped on the floor and out of it rolled several cranberries.
“And if here isn’t a package of cranberries to go with it!” said Pa.
Carrie shrieked with delight. Mary clasped her hands and said, “Oh my!” But Ma asked, “Did the groceries come for the stores, Charles?” “Yes, sugar and flour and dried fruit and meat—oh, everything anybody needs,” Pa answered.
“Well then, Mr. Boast, you bring Mrs. Boast day after tomorrow,” Ma said. “Come as early as you can and we will celebrate the springtime with a Christmas dinner.”
“That’s the ticket!” Pa shouted, while Mr. Boast threw back his head and the room filled with his ringing laugh. They all joined in, for no one could help laughing when Mr. Boast did.
“We’ll come! You bet we’ll come!” Mr. Boast chortled. “Christmas dinner in May! That will be great, to feast after a winter of darn near fasting! I’ll hurry home and tell Ellie.”[/sociallocker]